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Tech innovation in AEC is advancing at breakneck speed — but the industry is falling behind the curve.
New skyscrapers are popping up at record rates, with the number of buildings around the world over 200 meters rising from 286 to 634 in the past ten years. But with these massive projects comes increased complexity in design and construction. Technological advances in key areas like virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and building information modeling (BIM) have helped facilitate increased safety and efficiency when building large-scale structures. Yet, in spite of the many benefits they bring to the table, such technologies remain underutilized by the vast majority of projects.
This failure to embrace innovation is having a tangibly negative impact on AEC firms’ bottom lines. According to a recent study, only 5% of current construction projects are being completed on time and on budget. Virtual design and construction (VDC) technologies like BIM and VR mitigate project risk, bringing potentially costly or dangerous issues to light before construction actually begins, which increases project efficiency significantly.
When you consider that there is a direct correlation between late-stage changes and potential project delays, wastage, and higher delivery cost, it’s not difficult to see the potential value of a more tech-forward approach.
AEC tech like BIM and VR facilitate seamless, enhanced collaboration between engineers, architects, and other project stakeholders throughout a project’s lifecycle. Integrating BIM and VR enables immersive virtual meetings, real-time editing and design loops, and increased transparency around key project information as it becomes available. Unsurprisingly, 79% of firms who use BIM improved project outcomes and communication.
Large-scale projects like skyscrapers typically include hundreds of team members, all of whom are rarely in a room together. Using collaborative technology is necessary to ensure that everyone is always working on the most up-to-date version of a building design. Cloud-based tools can also increase efficiency by bringing payroll, reports, summaries, designs, and inventories online — making visibility into the process easier, as well as cutting down on administrative hassles.
One of the biggest advantages that a tech-forward working environment brings, though, is safety. Smart sensors on a construction site can monitor temperatures, contaminant levels, and the vital signs of workers. The OSHA reports that more than 30 workers a year suffer fatal heat stroke in the U.S. — as such, monitoring body temperature can be a life-saving safety measure.
Design accuracy is also incredibly important when it comes to improving project safety — this is where BIM and VR really shine. Tools like laser scanners provide an incredibly accurate reading of a given physical space, ensuring that measurements and estimations are made in accordance with the real-world environment — not a detached blueprint or computerized rendering. In fact, BIM has been shown to reduce CAD drawings rework from 48% to 2%.
BIM’s 3D modeling and 4D scheduling capabilities help enhance project safety as well — by providing a better understanding of the overall construction site and schedule, on-site teams will know when and where the hazards are during each phase of the project’s lifecycle. This allows for better coordination and planning around specific, potentially dangerous tasks, which helps reduce the likelihood of an accident or injury.
While the AEC industry has been relatively slow in terms of tech adoption, it seems we’re reaching something of a tipping point. The latest data suggests that adoption among U.S. firms is hovering around 72%, up from approximately 59% in 2014. But again, we’re definitely behind the curve — adoption among U.K. firms in 2014 was 98%.
The issue is not a lack of technology — it’s that implementing this new technology requires re-imagining processes. In the U.K., 90% of AEC professionals (those who use BIM and those who do not) say that BIM implementation requires changes in workflow practices and procedure. But the vast majority are willing to make those changes because the benefits are clear and tangible. If we want to increase the construction industry’s productivity and efficiency, leaders need to adopt these technologies, design new processes around them, and, perhaps most importantly, teach AEC professionals at all levels how to implement them most effectively in order to maximize their value.
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