Pandemic shifts contractors to think digital
BY: Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director and innovation officer, Oracle Global Business Units
The change in requirements on worksites is driving construction companies to implement methods such as remote monitoring and artificial intelligence to achieve project delivery.
Faced with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry is starting to learn how to respond to a new and unprecedented era of disruption. Challenges ranging from handling disruptions in global supply chains to implementing strict physical distancing rules to keep worksites open, have resulted in slower progress on some projects.
While the project slowdowns have centred on factors such as health, safety and productivity, they also reveal something the industry already knows: the construction sector is one of the least digitised industries, with many onsite projects being executed using the same approaches as decades before.
With the ongoing unpredictability regarding job sites, project managers must look at innovative yet dependable solutions to achieve successful project deliveries. In many cases, it may require adjusting the means and methods traditionally used when executing projects.
There are a few solutions available that can help address the industry’s current challenges, ensuring construction projects can be executed with as little disruption as possible.
In place of onsite inspections, construction companies have begun to deploy tools including drones, laser scanning, light detection and ranging technology (LiDAR) to remotely monitor the progress, quality and security of their projects. These new technologies can enable teams to gauge what is happening versus what should be happening on the worksite to sub-centimetre accuracy. Along with conducting field inspections and scheduling reviews off-site, this allows for physical distancing and enables project teams to design work sequences for contractors so as to minimise unnecessary interactions.
In addition, cameras on worksites can provide real-time monitoring and security. For example, pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras allow users to monitor various areas of the worksite and zoom into areas of interest while at the same time creating panoramic images and time-lapse videos. Site cameras use thermal sensing and edge-based analytics to sense motion, which then trigger alerts. In addition, fixed cameras are increasingly being used to enhance remote collaboration between stakeholders while also capturing images and time-lapse videos to keep teams updated.
In case onsite inspections are necessary, construction companies have increasingly been turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to improve worksite safety. This is due to AI’s ability to create automated reports to help with mitigation plans and documentation, providing more safety coverage while eliminating the need to send additional people to the site.
Some companies are also attaching sensors to workers clothing or hard hats, which emit a progressively louder alarm to remind workers if they are too close to each other. The alarm will serve to gradually change the habits of workers to promote safe physical distancing.
In addition, in the event there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 on a worksite, an employer can use historical data captured passively by the worker’s sensor to identify every worker who may have been exposed.
To protect teams, operations and ultimately project outcomes, it is important that all project schedules are kept updated throughout the timeline of the project. This means disconnected data sources and offline recordkeeping will be minimised.
The updates should be comprehensive, documenting the status of all design, permitting, bidding, procurement, submittal, fabrication, delivery and construction activities. This can be quite time-consuming, so a schedule management solution is ideal to ensure a seamless and efficient integration to log the data. Ideally this work would be directed to a centralised centre.
It is remarkable that today’s high-tech buildings and infrastructure assets are being built using dated, low-tech processes. But now, as a result of the ongoing global crisis, construction companies are finding themselves pursuing – and in some cases fast-tracking – digital transformation in order to continue to operate. Whether it is to mitigate the direct impact of the pandemic on worksites or adopt new ways to approach project delivery, it is clear the digital agenda cannot be ignored.
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