Image courtesy of Balfour Beatty Construction

Technology adoption quickened its pace with more construction professionals in 2012, fueled by growth in cheaper cloud- computing resources, faster networks and a variety of new tablet devices that have lower price points.

And then there were apps—lots more apps.

If 2011 was the year that tablets took off in construction, then 2012 could be called the year when even more apps found their way on to construction professionals' tablets and smartphones.

As ENR's Luke Abaffy noted in his story about PlanGrid 2.0, it's how you carry the plans on the tablets that has become a key driver in the adoption of tablets on jobsites. In this case, Abaffy notes that the new version of the software is distinguished by its lightning-fast plan rendering on the tablet.

In 2012, more firms built their own apps for specialized projects, such as MWH Global, which has a knowledge-capture group that leverages its data into new apps that clients can use. Other companies bought the app-makers themselves, such as Autodesk, which in June snapped up Vela Systems, maker of one of the more popular field management applications in construction.

As Tom Sawyer noted for ENR's story, the acquisition pulls into Autodesk's orbit a company known for leveraging cloud computing and mobile devices to link building information modeling with the physical activities of construction.

Tablets, Apps and More BIM on Jobsites
Balfour Beatty’s on-the-job use of tablets and building-information-modeling files—such as the firm's use of iPads on its work at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport—was one example of the spiking growth of tablets on jobsites this year.

And it wasn't just a few projects. More civil works are adopting BIM. As ENR noted in October, the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation, starting in mid-2014, plans to include civil 3D models as part of standard design for all new projects.

Not that it was all rosy for BIM adoption. As Richard Korman and Jonathan Barnes reported in September, BIM was a bust for a subcontractor on a major hospital project in Hershey, Pa.

As the story noted, the plumbing and mechanical subcontractor on the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Children’s Hospital project at Pennsylvania State University says the building information model prepared by general contractor L.F. Driscoll Co. revealed so many design errors and clashes that the subcontractor had to spend about $10 million—$2.5 million blamed directly on the late BIM model—above its contracted price of $18 million. The sub's price had been calculated based on customary paper plans.

More firms are making the investment in BIM tools, especially midsize contractors, but find themselves struggling with their complexity. That scenario was why Mike DeLacey, president of Microdesk, submitted a guest commentary, titled "Why BIM Will Become Even More Important in 2012," for ENR's FutureTech newsletter.

"Consider the concept of the 'master builder' " if you find yourself struggling to use BIM technologies, DeLacey wrote. As great as BIM tools are, "when used incorrectly and without proper training, BIM can slow down a project life cycle and frustrate staff."

His advice? "Make sure you pair new technologies with dedicated training for team members so that, as soon as you’ve signed an infrastructure contract, your team is ready to hit the ground running," he noted.

The Future of Tech
ENR also asked the industry to imagine the future through the lens of literature. As Sawyer noted in an article about a unique project, "Engineering News-Record wants to explore the future of construction and work through the lens of science fiction. We are asking our readers who invent the future of the industry every day to help us build a collection of new, previously unpublished, short science fiction—or even simply ideas for science fiction—to gaze into the crystal ball of construction's future."

ENR plans to publish in fall 2013 the best ideas and stories in an anthology, titled "Imagining Construction's Future: Science Fiction From the Readers of Engineering News-Record."