Design and Construction Disruptors: How Technology is Changing the Industry

March 24, 2020

You’ve likely heard the word “disruptor” by now, something new that uproots and changes how we do business, producing a new, more efficient way of doing things. In the design and construction industries, new technologies are introducing sweeping changes to traditional processes. Let’s take a closer look.

The Future of Design and Construction

While a physical set of drawings and specs are still the final legal documentation for buildings, a “digital twin,” a full computer model of a building, is becoming the new normal before a shovel ever hits the ground. Far beyond a rendering that brings paper drawings to life, these digital replicas connect to existing utilities, model building systems, and even model how they will run once the building is built. The digital twin can be asked operating questions and flag issues with building systems, utility connections and even local building codes – all before the building exists. The entire construction process can be rehearsed before setting foot on the site. All of this information enables more accurate bidding and pricing. 

Tools and Applications

New tools and applications are evolving rapidly, causing a major shift within the industry. Many general contractors are now developing internal departments dedicated to incorporating these new technologies into their business practices. Development and ownership entities are increasingly expecting firms to implement these new technologies, and those who do not may be left behind. Clark Construction, for example, has worked to develop CODA, their own construction data platform. 

Laser scanning is probably the most widely used “new” technology already mainstream in the industry. Measurements and location of existing features can be developed and analyzed much more quickly than traditional measuring. Results can then be used to rapidly create models with incredible detail.

Image result for picture of a digital twin of a building

Prefabrication is another disruptor. BLOX is a company building component parts, such as fully assembled restrooms, which can be made off-site and dropped into location. Already common in hospital and medical office projects, this may become prevalent in multi-family buildings and has the potential to make huge strides in affordable housing.

A bathroom pod being installed on-site during a hospital expansion. Photos courtesy of Skanska USA

Code compliance is another factor that can be reviewed efficiently by way of a digital model. Instead of hand measuring for a certain required code distance, a model can scan an entire building, catch errors and ensure accurate locations. Much better than a city inspector giving you bad news!

Challenges in a Time of Transition

These exciting advances are coming fast, but not without some challenges. As design and construction industries learn and adapt, some of the issues they face include:

  • Quality control – A good model or digital twin relies on reliable information being collected and maintained. 
  • Paper legal documents – As of today, the final, legally binding document is a paper record set of drawings. A model is a living document. Whose job, or liability, it is to keep the model up-to-date and verify that record plans match exactly? 
  • Design risk identification – Who owns the risk if something isn’t right? With emerging technologies and project teams operating on different levels of experience in various programs, who is responsible if a code item is missed and construction occurs out of compliance? 

These are just some of the questions as more firms across design and construction disciplines learn to utilize new technologies, and as the technologies themselves vie to become the industry standard. Stay tuned – it’s a fascinating time to witness the continued evolution of design and construction.

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