We work in an increasingly digital age, sometimes called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. Like every other sector, the construction and built environment industry is constantly evolving and embracing new technologies.
Currently, rather than building everything on-site using traditional methods, industry leaders and contractors are moving towards Construction 4.0. They’re embracing digitalisation and modern, smart technology to connect all aspects of a build so that work is completed more efficiently and effectively.
Construction 4.0 is an evolving concept but, generally, it refers to the use of digital innovation within the industry. For example:
With offsite manufacturing and assembly, sections of prefabricated buildings are created in warehouses before being delivered to a construction site. This saves time and money and means that structures can spring to life much more quickly.
3D printing is also an example of Construction 4.0 in action, with bespoke parts increasingly being designed digitally and printed for use in a specific build.
Digital techniques such as building information modelling (BIM), laser scanning, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the ways new structures are planned and designed.
3D simulations and augmented or virtual reality (VR) displays allow people to view and test a building’s ‘digital twin’ before construction work begins. Data can be captured, analysed and stored ahead of a build, - speeding up processes and resulting in higher performance structures.
Construction manufacturing is increasingly turning to sensors, robots and drones to see jobs through to completion, as they are often faster and more reliable than traditional methods.
The sector is also making greater use of the Internet of Things (IoT), employing software, sensors and other technologies to exchange data with devices via the Internet and speed projects up.
What are the benefits of Construction 4.0?
Construction 4.0 looks set to transform areas of the construction industry in a number of positive ways.
Saving time and money
The 3D models created by BIM technicians and BIM managers allow projects to be planned in detail, improving decision making, avoiding inefficiencies and delays, and cutting down on waste. Automation saves time and money by reducing error margins and increasing the speed of output.
Raising standards and productivity
Automation can also lead to higher quality results. By programming and monitoring manufacturing processes using digital technology, production will become more consistent and efficient.
When planned strategically, digital processes can improve construction by reducing waste materials, lowering energy use and cutting carbon emissions.
Modernising the industry
The construction industry is often perceived as a male-dominated, manual labour intensive sector. By adopting digitalisation, the industry is improving its image and attracting a new generation of skilled professionals who are keen to shape our environment.
Improving site safety
Digitalisation can make construction safer. Automation often reduces physical risks to workers, and the use of augmented and virtual reality removes the dangers of site visits. Increased connectivity onsite means construction professionals are able to communicate more effectively and avoid unnecessary accidents.
By creating prototypes and digital models before a build starts, decisions can be made and mistakes avoided ahead of time, decreasing financial and reputational risks to clients and contractors. By testing 3D models, designs can assess the efficiency of a building by looking at its energy retention, ability to withstand weather events and even predicting future maintenance costs.
What are the challenges facing Construction 4.0?
Whilst Construction 4.0 offers many benefits, there are some barriers that need to be overcome before it is embraced more widely.
Impact on workers
Increasing automation could lead to a loss of many traditional, skilled jobs. Trade workers may be usurped by digitisation.Architects and engineers may experience a fundamental change in their roles, requiring them to focus more on offsite technology than onsite construction.
The initial costs required to invest in new digital technologies and adopt Construction 4.0 may be a barrier to some construction companies. Whilst large companies may be able to pay for advancements upfront, smaller businesses and self-employed contractors may find themselves unable to compete.
With new technology comes new skills. Employers will have to train their staff before digital innovation can be fully integrated into the workplace. Roles such as BIM designers and BIM engineers will be increasingly sought after, and education providers will need to cater for this demand and ensure there are clear paths to recruitment.
Change historically meets resistance. The construction industry will need to clearly communicate the benefits of Construction 4.0 technologies to bring their workforce into the future and ensure there is space for everyone to improve and adapt together.