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Dec 4

Pandemic Accelerates Use of Technology by AEC Firms

May 04, 2022 - By Ben Goldfarb, Vice President of Nauset Construction
Automatic Brick Laying Robot (ABLR)

It’s no secret that the construction industry lags behind other sectors in the adoption rate of new technology. Cost and learning curves associated with implementing modern technologies into a business with already thin margins is a contributing factor. However, one positive aspect of the pandemic is that it has encouraged forward-thinking AEC firms to take a harder look at implementing innovative solutions. The current labor shortage and supply chain issues are also contributing towards this paradigm shift.

One of the best indicators is the increased use of Building Information Modeling (BIM). Although BIM has been in use for decades, the market size for the software is exploding, and is expected to triple from $6.91 Billion in 2021 to a projected $18.73 Billion by 2028, according to a recent report by market research firm BrandEssence. BIM is an intelligent software modeling process that allows AEC professionals to plan, design, and construct a building within a single 3D model, enabling real-time collaboration between architects, engineers, and construction professionals. As firms look to increase efficiencies, the use of BIM generates better collaboration, communication, and provides project visualization (including clash detection of MEP, architectural and structural systems), while mitigating risks, improving cost estimation, and reducing overall costs.

Another software solution making an impact is Construction Estimating Software such as Bluebeam, Procore, STACK and ProEst. The technology is increasingly being adopted to prevent lost revenue due to the inaccurate and inefficient estimating inherent in more traditional forms of estimating, like spreadsheets or manual documentation. MarketWatch reports that global revenues from this technology segment will increase by nearly 40% in a short span of time, from $837.8 Million in 2019 to an expected $1.16 Billion by the end of 2026.

While firms have realized tremendous benefits from these software solutions in terms of increased efficiencies and improved quality, they lack the wow factor when compared to other technological advances soon expected to radically change the industry.

Robotics, 3D Printing, advanced sustainability and green construction, artificial intelligence (AI), drone technology, digital twins, virtual and augmented reality, and the development of new construction materials populate the lists of the top construction industry trends for 2022. Here are a few that, while not yet in wide use, are especially intriguing:

Brick-laying Robots

The concept of brick-laying robots is not new, however there are several start-ups working to perfect the technology for commercial use. UK-based start-up Construction Automation has developed an Automatic Brick Laying Robot (ABLR) that can lay bricks, blocks, and mortar, and claims to be the first robo-bricklayer that can build around corners. Skilled workers are still needed to operate the machine, load bricks and mortar, and handle tie bars and pointing. The technology uses sensors to measure and align each individual brick so that it is precisely centered. The firm has field-tested the product in home building with success but has yet to scale up for larger commercial uses.

A U.S.-based firm, Construction Robotics, has developed the SAM100 (Semi-Automated Mason), which also works alongside a skilled worker. According to the Company, up to 3,000 bricks per day can be laid. The SAM100 makes the construction process of building a wall six times faster than a bricklayer working on their own and has been used in commercial projects.

Rebar-tying Robots

Another U.S.-based startup, Advanced Construction Robotics, Inc., hopes to relieve the repetitive and backbreaking tasks of rebar installation using artificial intelligence and robot vision. The company has two products, TyBot and IronBot to provide solutions. TyBOT eliminates the need for manual mapping and calibration by auto-locating, auto-positioning, and tying up to 110 rebar intersections per hour. IronBOT, on the other hand, relieves the burden of the heavy lifting by placing 5,000-pound bundles of both transverse and longitudinal rebar.

3D Concrete Printing

The viability of 3D concrete printing for large scale commercial projects still appears a long way off, but anyone in the AEC industry who has seen the videos of houses being constructed using this technology must be curious about the possibilities. 3D concrete printing promises to lower construction costs, streamline construction through digitization, reduce material waste, save time, and increase productivity by automating processes with less labor, eliminating formwork, and immediate setting 3D materials. The technology has also been used in bridge-building, as you can see in this video from Shanghai.

Automated Aerial Mapping

Boston-based startup AirWorks takes data that surveyors and engineers collect through remote means, such as drones, sensors or lidar scanners, and uses AI-powered software to identify and classify points in any aerial dataset autonomously at high pixel-accuracy. It later converts those data points into fully rendered CAD drawings in record time, according to the company. The software currently predicts site features at 86% pixel-accuracy, but their in-house quality control team can turn that 86% into a 100% accurate deliverable, which allows surveyors and civil engineers to finish their work much faster.

Embracing Change

Although many of these technologies are in early stages of adoption, its clear to see the value of these innovations. As part of Nauset’s corporate culture and goals, the firm continues to research and invest in advanced technology and employee training such as Autodesk Build and Passive Building, allowing our people to build with confidence while focusing on the success and changing needs of our clients’ developments.

Automated Aerial Mapping