Since the dawn of time, monitoring construction progress has been guesswork. But now, automation tools are providing a much clearer picture. Bahadir V. Barbarosoglu, Program Manager at Linesight, explains why investing in these technologies is worth the outlay
Everyone involved in the construction industry needs to modernise. Although the sector has made progress, moving from physical blueprints to CAD, and onto BIM, many companies still doggedly hang onto methods that are inefficient, instead of using innovative technologies that can save time and money and result in greater profitability.
Take the monitoring of construction activity for instance. While we are busy delivering buildings whose day-to-day use can be smartly monitored – for example, by cutting-edge automatic controls that adjust air conditioning for a particular room when people occupy it – when it comes to monitoring the construction progress of these buildings, the process is comparatively old-fashioned.
Construction monitoring usually takes the form of someone walking around a site, looking at things, counting them, taking and making notes, and compiling a report which is sent back to the greater project team.
This practice could be viewed as somewhat inefficient, as on busy construction sites, materials may be misplaced or possibly overlooked. In cases when multiple staff are assigned a similar task, there is the possibility of bias in perception of progress made, or a differing of opinion on both material stock levels and whether or not the project is on schedule.
Put simply, the industry is wedded to the practice of qualitatively assessing something that ought to be quantitatively evaluated. As a result, there will inevitably be anomalies that can potentially cause delays and cost overruns.
Automated progress monitoring
Technologies already exist that can make the assessment of a construction job more accurate and more efficient.
Some of us will be familiar with ‘Spot’, the four-legged robot developed by Boston Dynamics, which can wander around a building site, safely gathering images and data using laser scanning technology.
If we can capture quantities onsite and match them to a model that we have had from the beginning of the project, we can make an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison. Basically, the assessment is going to be objective and more accurate.
Doubters will point to the likely cost of such technology. There will be the cost of buying the hardware, there will be investment in software, and paying for related third-party services. A company might even need to create an in-house department to oversee this activity.
Another issue is how to allocate the cost – at a project level or at a business level? Allocating at a project level will bump up the overall cost of delivering a scheme. But if the company is large enough it might want to distribute the cost as an overhead.
There will be many construction firms who will baulk at the prospect of such investment. However, there are cheaper alternatives to ‘Spot’ that can help firms modernise their approach.
“Those companies that resist the introduction of automated monitoring technologies will struggle”
For example, it is easy to fix a panoramic camera to a hard hat, worn by someone who visits a site frequently. Photographs taken by the camera can be put through image processing technology, which overlays these with shots taken earlier at the same coordinates and identifies the difference between them. Measuring that difference, using photogrammetry technology, can be translated into quantitative measurements.
Capturing data visually and automatically not only gives you a better picture of your schedule, but it also cuts down the hours spent explaining the schedule to stakeholders. One can see the progress – or lack of it – being made on a site through the capture of information that has then been processed and analysed.
Take ductwork. Suppose somebody goes to a site and sees that the ductwork installation has started. To provide some progress reports, that person doesn’t necessarily need the complete data picture, but the hardware does have access to the model; it knows precisely the quantity of a particular component, in this instance ductwork.
And the hardware knows exactly what it sees in terms of whatever unit of measurement it’s using for the comparative task. This means the proportion of change is going to be more accurate than the data we are likely to get from a person’s physical observations.
In theory that person can open up their tablet, access the cloud model, take a look at how many square feet ductwork this building has, and measure the ductwork they can see.
In such a scenario the result may sound OK, but it’s just one activity that has been assessed accurately, out of 100 activities that need to be assessed accurately. In such instances, technology hardware can do a better job of maximising accuracy, while the time spent on scoping that activity is drastically reduced.
The benefits for those companies which have already taken the plunge are clear. They have amortised their investment outlay and subsequently been able to bid for jobs while carrying much lower costs.
As more firms realise the benefits of automated progress monitoring, from fixed or roving cameras to laser scanning, those companies that resist the introduction of such technologies will struggle. Just as BIM has superseded CAD, and CAD replaced physical blueprints, smart corroboration techniques will become the norm.
While boosting accuracy, automated progress monitoring saves time and, crucially, money. The more firms implement automated processes, the greater impact it will have on the wider sector.
Image credit: Oleksii Sidorov/Shutterstock
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