COVID-19 has steadily accelerated digital adoption, so much so that the post-COVID world is already looking different from the pre-COVID world - with work from home becoming a more approved and viable option as seen with some of the major technology and non-technology companies.
Construction companies have kickstarted their post-covid operations with new guidelines for work and remote working technologies are the focus of technology investment. Construction progress monitoring is one such area where technology intervention is delivering promising results and is being prioritized by leaders in construction businesses to step up their digital transformation initiatives.
With more investments and demand from the industry, the cycle of innovation has picked up fast. Business leaders have got a bouquet of offerings to evaluate. There are tools and technologies at various levels of automation that can help track construction progress. The segments are defined below:
In the upcoming sections, we will go through each one of these product types and analyze how they help Construction Businesses and what are the limitations of these platforms.
BIM Management Platforms
Building Information modeling (BIM) has been a major leap in innovation from the 2D drawings of the building architecture. The 3D model allows developers to see and evaluate a digital representation of their project, the exact measurements, and the feasibility of the construction design. BIM plan has been mandated in many other countries and is a norm for all large-scale constructions taking place around the world.
Having said that, it must be acknowledged that the BIM has its own limitations. For instance, updating architectural models is common, and based on design reviews and contractor inputs, the BIM undergoes updates very often. However, with several versions of BIM, keeping the latest version available with teams working on-site and other locations is difficult. Consequently, communication issues arise and deviations crop up in the projects. BIM doesn’t validate the project requirements either. It could be painstaking to go through every last detail for compliance once an architectural model is proposed for construction. Moreover, it is one thing to have a BIM ready, but without an integrated execution plan and task management tracking, the BIM and the project management plan are in two silos.
These drawbacks require additional features and intelligence to be built on top of the BIM. BIM management platforms help construction companies get access to these specific functionalities. The project execution schedule can be updated on the BIM with the help of the platform. Tracking progress and schedule is simplified. BIM updates are also simplified. As soon as a new version of BIM is uploaded in the application, it automatically aligns it to the existing project making the changes available to everyone across the organization. The platform aligns BIM to the project requirements and makes it easier for validations and compliance management as far as the design is concerned.
Overall, BIM Management Platforms do eliminate several inefficiencies in the project as elaborated above, however, these solutions have several drawbacks. The biggest of these drawbacks have to do with the limitation of BIM in tracking real-time construction progress. A BIM is a representation of ‘what is to be’. The project management team and other stakeholders need to keep track of the progress happening on the construction site. Progress monitoring helps in understanding if the schedule is being adhered to and the building is being constructed as per the plan. For a long while, the construction progress monitoring onsite was done manually. Project Managers made regular site visits to inspect the ongoing work and prepare inspection reports. This is still a preferred way and will remain mainstream, however, businesses realize that with the support of technology, the construction progress monitoring can be done faster and more efficiently by the responsible teams.
Photo Documentation and Virtual Walkthrough
Photo Documenting the construction site periodically seems to be a good solution to track construction progress on the job site. For that matter, capturing site images is a practice prevalent among site inspection teams, contractors, and subcontractors. With mobile cameras becoming ubiquitous, it has become a common practice to take site images and send them over on WhatsApp or save it in a computer folder. This works for quick reviews but fails in every other way to deliver a reliable tracking mechanism.
Firstly, the images are intermittently taken for different segments of the construction project and saved in an unorganized matter across multiple folders. How does one know which two images are the ‘before and after’ of a floor wall? On what date it was taken? Businesses have made attempts to get the images organized by hierarchy, location, and time. It hasn’t worked well for them because the entire work of organizing images is done manually. It takes a lot of time and still doesn’t deliver a connected picture of the construction progress.
Photo documentation platforms eliminate these challenges for Construction Businesses. They use 360-degree cameras to capture the entire site. The process is extremely simple as anyone in the site can carry a camera, walk around different rooms, lobby, corridors, and get a data file containing thousands of images stitched together. With further processing using software and algorithms, the capture is made available for inspection. A more significant benefit realized by project managers is the historical record-keeping of the construction cataloged by date. The platform has the intelligence inbuilt to align 360-degree captures from different dates by matching the location from which the image was taken. Project Managers and other stakeholders can take a virtual tour of the site from anywhere, compare the progress across different dates, and make business decisions faster than before.
Photo documentation doesn’t entirely solve the construction monitoring pain points. For example, photo documentation technology uses advanced cameras for collecting data of the interior, however, these cameras are not suitable for capturing the exterior of the buildings. Also, photo documentation is effective for getting a general overview of the interior work, but it doesn’t help much in understanding specific details about the construction - whether the measurement of the walls is right, whether the installations are done as per plan. Construction projects use drones and advanced technology to get around these limitations.
Drones Mapping Platforms
Drone Mapping platforms are greatly suited to capture the exterior of the construction project. Drones navigate the entire construction site, take hundreds and thousands of pictures of the location that is further stitched to create a coherent, navigable 3D view of the building and the area. The 3D model can be made available to project stakeholders digitally.
Drones have three specific advantages that make them extremely useful for Construction Monitoring. The first advantage is SPEED. Drones are several times faster than traditional manual (or scanner) based site surveys. The speed also allows for easy site scans as many times as needed. Scanning ease also helps in preparing robust documentation and time-lapse progress records of the construction site.
The second advantage is ACCURACY. Drone captures can provide a centimeter-level accuracy, which is a must for construction projects. The onsite flybys capture the site in 2D and 3D, generating a point cloud that contains millions of data points accurately describing the site. With modern software, the point cloud can be compared to the Building Information Model and other plan documents to arrive at a highly objective construction progress analysis. It also allows comparing the construction work to the BIM to understand if deviations have crept in.
The third advantage is ‘REACH’. Terrains are often challenging to reach and survey. Typically, gas pipelines, tunnels, and bridges may be located in remote landscapes - drones play a significant role in capturing such locations. Moreover, drone scans can be made available for viewing across any place globally, improving reviews and coordination activities by several notches.
Drone platforms and photo documentation platforms solve two different challenges related to construction progress monitoring. So, prima facie it seems that construction businesses need to use two different platforms to get the entire picture of the construction progress. However, with another 10 applications, it may be unproductive to add more disparate technology platforms to the queue. More platforms lead to more silos of data. Silos of data need more effort to consolidate, and data consolidation becomes a major project in itself. Therefore, unified platforms for construction monitoring have been receiving more interest from the construction businesses.
Remote Construction Progress Monitoring Platforms
As we are seeing, the products are evolving and consolidating at the same time. There are Construction Progress Monitoring platforms that offer interior photo documentation while integrating the drone captures to the photo documentation. What Construction businesses achieve is a seamless view of their Construction site. They can play “God Mode” on their digital devices and navigate the construction site as if they were present there physically.
An important point to note over here is that the consolidation of these technologies are happening in many different ways. For example, some platforms integrate and align the BIM with the 360-degree camera view. As a construction progress reviewer, you may track the BIM and the real construction side-by-side and get a clearer understanding of the construction progress with respect to the proposed plan.
As a construction business, you can make a choice based on your requirements and the features offered by such platforms. Having said that, remote progress construction monitoring has advanced further to AI-powered platforms that act as a Digital Twin of the construction site. Lets understand what Digital Twins are and how they help in taking construction businesses towards a perfect construction progress monitoring solution.
Digital Twin for Construction Management
A Digital Twin, in its perfect sense, means a living, breathing 3D digital model of a real-world asset. For construction projects, the model represents the construction site. By now, it would be clear as to how the model is created. The scans can be taken using cameras and drones and then advanced software applications create a model from the raw data. Therefore, a Digital Twin encompasses the technologies used by BIM Management, photo documentation, and drone mapping platforms to prepare the Twin. It is a one shop stop for the Construction companies.
Having said that, the feature that differentiates a Digital Twin from the other platforms is the “living, breathing” nature as mentioned above. The changes that happen onsite, are communicated to the Digital Twin while the changes in the Digital Twin and the BIM are communicated to the onsite construction team which then installs the modifications in the job site. Digital Twins can consume data from LIDAR scans, RFID and several other types of IoT devices to replicate a very close approximation of the job site.
The AI-powered revolution has taken the software technology industry by a storm, and Construction software technology is no different. AI in Digital Twin utilizes the information from the BIM and from the construction site to identify the construction adherence to the plan Schedule. This functionality is helping construction businesses identify deviations and defects in the job site work very early in the construction lifecycle, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have otherwise been wasted in demolishing and reworking those defective areas. Integrate data from ERPs, financial, and planning systems with Digital Twin seamlessly, and the Digital Twin becomes a powerhouse of information. Artificial intelligence has applications in analyzing this data as well. 3RDi uses AI to deliver such high-impact insights about your construction project.
Digital Twins can be created for any type of construction projects - for real estate commercial projects, energy projects such as solar plants, infrastructure projects such as roads and utility installations, and industrial projects. Certainly, the application of the Digital Twin varies across these sectors. 3RDi has piloted many such projects where Digital Twin has been used for progress monitoring by a Real Estate Residential project, while a Digital Twin for Solar plant was used during the construction and then in the operations phase as well. More about the Digital Twins developed by 3RDi can be found here - Building Construction
All in all, Digital Twin is the ‘Power Tool’ construction businesses have been waiting to get access to, for so long. Site progress tracking, photo documentation, record keeping, defect identification, and AI-powered insights on integrated data, a Digital Twin is capable of delivering a truly unified construction management platform to the builders of tomorrow.
The big question remains. As a construction business, how do you take a decision on which type of product is the best for you? The study presented above is a guide to identify your needs and map it to the product features that fulfill your requirements. However, beyond features, there are several important factors you need to consider before betting your business processes on a software application. For example, why do you want a software application? Is it for automation, saving cost, or delivering quality construction? How far are you seeing in the future? Is it for the next 2 months, 1 year, or 5 years? How strongly a product is placed to offer you more advanced functionalities when you need it? Possibly a simple photo documentation product does the job for you today, but how about the next project, where progress monitoring success is the key requirement? Certainly, ease of use and ease of deploying is critical to the adoption of the product across the organization.
The world is certainly moving towards unified platforms for better returns on effectiveness and better exploitation of the tons of data being generated in house. At 3RDi, we deliver state-of-the-art digital twin solutions for construction businesses spanning across real estate, industrial, energy and infrastructure sectors. Our products are compartmentalized for businesses of various sizes so that they can get started with a Digital Twin with only the set of features they need, while having an option to integrate additional features when required. A live demo of the product can be requested here