Construction firms are prioritizing technology to address labor challenges, waste, and sustainability. Forward-thinking firms that want to maximize their digital investment are turning to automation to quantitatively improve the way their teams work. For many, automation is associated with self-sufficient robots and autonomous vehicles. But that’s an incomplete picture of what can be achieved with automation.
There are use cases for automation throughout the construction lifecycle, from the back office to the job site. With better, faster access to the right information, construction teams can actually elevate their capabilities to solve the complex problems they face. Here are three surprising ways to use automation in construction.
1. Faster, More Accurate Inspections
The QA/QC process is essential to reducing project risk. But it can also be time-consuming and sometimes dangerous. Mixed reality technology allows site crews to inspect the job site in a safer, more efficient way. For example, with Trimble Connect AR an inspector can use a tablet or phone to view the model overlaid on to the physical environment. Or they can use the XR10 with HoloLens 2, which is a helmet outfitted with smart glasses, to view and interact with virtual elements on the job site. They can compare the model to the actual environment and see things that aren’t visible to the naked eye, like easements and buried utilities.
The process can be further automated by using drones or robots like Spot the Robot Dog to survey the site using laser scanners or LiDAR. Removing the manual steps involved in the inspection process means that they can be performed faster and more frequently, ultimately empowering teams to proactively reduce waste and inefficiencies.
2. More Efficient Equipment Operations
Once ground is broken on the job site, it’s important for every crew to work in concert to prevent errors and delays. But in reality, this can be hard to achieve. Machine control technology is making it possible. With machine control technology, equipment like excavators and skid steers can pull data directly from the model to perform tasks with little or no human intervention. And sensors and machine vision technology are improving, expanding the capabilities of autonomous and semi-autonomous construction equipment.
As the machine operates, sensors collect information, such as terrain data, so the machine can perform at higher levels of precision. That data can also be saved and used for future reference during the asset operations phase.
Sensors can also collect information on the health of the equipment and enable remote maintenance support. Viet, an Illinois-based civil contractor, is using Trimble Remote Assistant to diagnose and resolve maintenance issues without having to wait on a technician to come to the job site. The company estimates that the virtual process has reduced technical support cost by almost 200%.
“In many cases, [crews] can return to work while we work on an issue. It’s a huge advantage because we’re not stopping the operator, foreman or the overall production. Bottom line, improved uptime.”
— Britton Lawson, Director of Construction Technology at Veit
3. Improved Estimate Accuracy
It’s common to use spreadsheets to create estimates, meaning that estimators manually handle various versions of models and materials takeoffs. And ever changing market conditions impact materials and labor costs, making the task even more complex. Model-based estimating technology, like Trimble Estimation MEP, can connect directly to detailing software via APIs to automatically produce estimates. Estimation MEP contains a database of product data from component manufacturers, so the system generates estimates with the most up-to-date information, complete with product size, price, labor hours, and description.
Connected Construction Powers Automation
All of these automations rely on a Connected Construction approach. Connected Construction bridges gaps between disparate teams so that all stakeholders can access the right data at the right time. To bring the various technologies used on a project together, Connected Construction platforms like Trimble Connect and Trimble Quadri serve as the central hub for project information and for tools to link to.
To learn about how to implement Connected Construction in your organization, download the AEC Professional’s Guide to Connected Construction.