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2020: The year of digital transformation for the engineering and construction industry

28th November 2019 | Conor Firth

2020: The year of digital transformation for the engineering and construction industry

The demand for construction and engineering is on the rise as the world population continues to explode and migrate, with Deloitte reporting that more than 200,000 people move into cities across the world every day, and that only 25% of the infrastructure that will be needed by 2050 currently exists. 

This has left the industry begging the question: how do we rise to demand, and increase profitability? The answer, as is often the case in these modern times, has surfaced in the form of ever-advanced technology and digitalisation. 

Digital transformation in construction and engineering has been steadily changing the face of the sector for years, and will truly come into its own in 2020 to utterly transform the way that future projects are delivered, making them more cost-effective and efficient. 

Phil Brown, the Chief Executive of Causeway, commented that as a result of new digital technology in the sector, “…many businesses and clients are transforming their commercial performance by reducing operating costs, managing risk, enhancing supplier relationships, increasing productivity, and boosting service delivery.”

So what are the big digital transformations can we expect to see in 2020? 

Connected Construction 

2020 will be the year that construction sites, projects and teams become more communicative and efficient through “connected construction”.  

Connected construction sites use a powerful, connected dashboard that employs cloud-based technology to allow a “continuous flow of information and analytics” to be shared with all participants of construction and engineering projects. 

This allows different teams working on large projects to have access to the same, real-time information, thereby breaking down silos between departments, meaning time and money is saved on miscommunications and extensive back and forth emails, meetings or phone calls. 

Creating a truly intelligent connected construction site in 2020 could mean arming sites, team members and machinery with sensors and tags that are able to feedback with live data onto the shared dashboard. This will allow more extensive project monitoring and efficient organisation. 

Connected construction has multiple benefits, including monitoring live environmental conditions on-site, planning workload intelligently, being able to view project progress in real-time, enhanced collaboration between leaders and teams, and safer working conditions due to transparent communications and visuals. All of these benefits contribute towards saving time, and cutting costs long term.

Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR / AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Virtual and augmented reality gives project teams and leaders the power to take a look at the reality of their plans through digital exploration. This means that individuals are able to explore site plans, and assess them in advance. 

Not only is this incredibly advantageous to save time, money and effort should a fault be discovered, but it is also a huge leap for health and safety standards. If sites can be walked through digitally before construction, it is possible to anticipate any hazards and safety measures/training that will be required.  

Artificial intelligence is also pushing progress in the construction and engineering sector slowly but surely. The industry is notorious for being resistant to technological changes, and McKinsey notes that although the construction and engineering sector has been slow to adopt AI, this should change over the next few years. 

McKinsey also stated that AI has huge potential to:

  • Deliver project alternatives and plan projects accurately
  • Use video data and image recognition to identify health and safety risks to inform future training 
  • Analyse data collected from sensors and observation to deliver real-time solutions

Robotics and Autonomous Vehicles 

The use of robots as well as the automation of construction sites presents the possibility of saving on labour, as well as uninterrupted progress of repetitive tasks by using machinery that can work around the clock without downtime, with far superior results to human efforts.

The ability to replace human labour with robotics is not only beneficial to your bottom line, it may also be necessary in the years to come. It’s no secret that finding qualified labour is becoming an industry-wide challenge, and using automated machinery to assist with heavy and repetitive tasks leaves fewer, yet more skilled jobs, for human team members.

An example of autonomous construction machinery can be seen in the US, with San Francisco based company Built Robotics. Their autonomy stack turns construction vehicles into autonomous robots that can perform tasks such as “digging trenches, excavating foundations, and grading building pads.”

However, while robotics and automation have the power to increase the efficiency and profitability of construction and engineering projects, the levels of adoption up until now have been incredibly low. Built Robotics’ Erol Ahmed commented that while introducing robotics into the construction and engineering sector has been “challenging” they are “…finding tasks that can be automated in these spaces.” and encouraging their further use.

In summary 

While the engineering and construction sector has been steady in adopting technology and digital progress in the past, the increasing rate of demand and tightening profit margins are forcing faster adoption of technologies that could both improve the speed and profitability of projects.

Connected construction sites, AR, VR, AI and robotics are all set to take the stage in 2020, and while there is still a long way to go, it is set to be an exciting year full of digital and technological progress for construction and engineering. 

Goodall Brazier has extensive, specialist experience in the construction and engineering sector, and our expert talent management professionals have access to the most talented leaders in the market who can help drive technological and digital innovation within your business.

For more information on how Goodall Brazier could help your construction business take advantage of digital progress through talent management, contact us today.