Digitization in the Construction Industry

By Andrew Maximow, Chief Drone Officer

Could 2020 be the watershed moment when the construction industry finally goes digital? Or is this conversion to digitization only temporary? Will we eventually go back to the manual, paper-based ways of doing things?  In recent years at Firmatek, we concluded the construction industry is not widely embracing remote sensing technologies such as cameras, drones, and LiDAR — even though this tech can be used for reality capture in real-time, accurate imagery/data used in inspections, and project progress used in support of BIM (Building Information Modeling) systems.

Why have we not seen wider adoption in construction?  Perhaps the timing isn’t right?  On paper, remote sensing and BIM makes perfect sense.  Who doesn’t want to improve quality and complete projects on time, ahead of schedule, or under budget?  Of course everyone does. However, the reality is that things are still done manually with people “eyeballing” project progress and shuffling paperwork.  Opportunities in this space arise  on a project by project basis through hand-to-hand combat that competes with existing project dollars. Because of this, going digital is often times deemed a necessary evil.  At the management level, the weak value proposition has not translated into a competitive advantage. But it’s not all bad. There are several bright spots with early adopters setting up pilot projects enabling Virtual Design & Construction managers with the necessary HW/SW tools to collect data, process, and integrate in new workflows that deliver timeliness, on-budget, and high quality project performance.

Undeterred, technology innovation continues to move forward at an aggressive pace. Companies like Matterport and OpenSpace are pioneering products and services in the indoors reality capture space, while the use of mobile and drone-based cameras and LiDAR capture the outside world. Companies like GeoCue, FlywheelAEC, and Firmatek offer products and services that capture construction-grade (cm level) accuracy and insights enabling the promise of BIM. Project management software companies like Procore get it as well.

In addition to innovation, the COVID19 crisis has certainly created an unprecedented sense of urgency in construction from mandatory shutdowns and lockdowns across some states, to lack of skilled workers, material supply chain shortages, delays, and of course, getting paid.  In short, this is a multi-billion dollar impact!  CEOs of all major construction firms have sounded the alarm in recent weeks about using technology to communicate, document, project-manage, process change orders, and process payments. In general, this will spark new ways of conducting business that have traditionally been done manually or in person. In many ways, construction is grounding to a halt unless we quickly implement advanced technologies.  Long-time construction industry innovators such as, Eric Law, Sr Dir, Tech & Innovation, Swinerton said,

“For 20 years I have been pushing for paperless construction. In that time the industry has made great strides.  However, the shift to paperless has accelerated at an unprecedented rate in the last couple weeks due to COVID-19. In talking with several of our project managers, they have reported that paper for exchanging information has evaporated overnight from their projects. The last holdouts — delivery tickets, 3rd party inspectors, regulatory agencies — have not only ditched the paper but many are looking at how they can do their job without visiting the site.   Unfortunately, COVID-19 will take a toll on lives and the economy, but there will also be positive impacts left behind as people adapt to this challenge.”

Product companies like OpenSpace and Procore are offering their products for free during the crisis, hoping to seize the longer-term opportunity by betting that the construction industry does not go back to its old ways. One thing is for certain, CEOs and leaders in the construction industry are overhauling their strategies around a skilled, yet scarce workforce and supply chain dependencies to avoid another crisis such as this.  Strategies for long-term and immediate success should include advanced technology and services for 2020 and beyond.

See also: The Value of Geospatial Mapping in Construction

About Andrew 

Andrew Maximow joined Firmatek as Chief Drone Officer. Andrew spent his professional career in fast-growth technology domains, progressively moving from engineering to leadership roles. Prior to joining Firmatek, Andrew served as a managing partner with Texas-based drone services company, Drone Dynamics, and led the Enterprise Services team at 3D Robotics. Andrew possesses BS & MS degrees in Industrial & Systems Engineering.

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