Accelerated Technologies of the Construction Industry amidst the Pandemic

By Edward Masajage

Civil and Environmental Engineering Graduate, Avrateq Visuals Member

masajaeddy@gmai.com,

+256785178111

Keywords: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Covid-19, Java

Abstract

The construction industry is one of the most vital sectors to a nation’s development in the world and it employs a lot of people to work together in the same area to execute projects. Therefore, with the break out of the Covid 19 pandemic it was no surprise that the construction industry got affected as a result of the lockdown measures established by the governments.  The projects were delayed in relation to completion and handover, developers were not facing the cost rise only, but also afraid of the spreading of COVID-19 in projects since they had to take care of the health and safety of their workers in the workplace. Although we thought that the pandemic would cause radical changes in the way we work and approach technology, the event has mostly served as an accelerant of existing construction technology trends. Engineers, designers, and other experts involved have to evaluate how technology can be fully leveraged and depended upon to stimulate business continuity and remote project execution as a recovery measure to support the sector’s transformation towards sustainability.

  1. Software and hardware integration

The thrust to implement software programmes into engineering discipline began as an education concern for the future as engineers prepared to enter the twenty-first century. Thanks to the dotCom wave that has acted as a platform to interconnect people of the same genre like engineers working with software developers and programmers in upgrading native programming languages into high level languages such as C#, C++, Java, Objective C, Python, etc. to be able to incorporate engineering methods and mathematical models that may require to perform repetitive tasks. With the breakout of the pandemic, “Building in cloud” has instead become a pivot of every project stage, from project proposal to maintenance as the advancement in Building Information Modelling has enabled industrial experts to collaborate over the Internet. These programmes have been categorized according to their functionality.

SOFTWAREPRODUCTION COMPANYFIELD OF APPLICATION
AutoCADAutodeskDrafting
Microsoft OfficeMicrosoft
ETABSCSIDesign and Analysis
STAAD PROBentley Systems
SAP 2000CSI
Tekla teddsTrimble
ProkonPty
ProtastructuresPty
PrimaveraOracleProject Management
Microsoft ProjectMicrosoft
3Ds MaxAutodeskModelling and architecture  
MayaAutodesk
SketchUpTrimble
Cinema 4DMaxon
BlenderBlender foundation
Twinmotion Epic Games)3d Rendering
LumionLumion)
VrayChaos Group)
Corona RendererChaos Group)
Be MXROADBentley SystemsTransportation
VISUMPTV
Autodesk InfraworksAutodesk
GeoSlopeGeostudio 
PlaxisBentley Systems
Geo5GTS CADBUILD LTD
RevitAutodeskGeotechnical Engineering
Tekla BIMTrimble
ArchiCADGraphisoft
Navis worksAutodesk
CivilCAD 3DAutodeskBuilding Information Modeling (BIM)
ArcGISCourtesy of Esri
QGISQGIS DT)
Google Earth(Courtesy of Google LLC
Ptc MathCADMathsoft, PTCSurveying and Infrastructure
MATLABMathWorks
ZoomZoom Video Communications, IncConferencing and Virtual Communication
Google MeetGoogle LLC
Microsoft TeamsMicrosoft

1.1 Planning, Analysis, Design and Management of Structures

Any structure is supposed to go through the process of planning, analysis and design before it can be implemented. Even during implementation, the structure is supposed to have a properly planned project management schedule. Each of these processes can be undergone manually by the use of pen and paper but that can prove to be tedious. On the other hand, a batch of software were designed to aid in the speed of these processes whilst maintaining accuracy. Some of these softwares are explained below with the significance of each stage.

  • Utilisation of the softwares

These software programmes have been released mostly for MacOS, Windows and sometimes Linux. Smooth running of most of these programmes requires a strong and faster computer to handle the graphics design and rendering processes. The considered computer hardware requirements may include a CPU of AMD Ryzen/FX or Intel Xeon/Core i3 to i9 of 6thgen and above, a GPU of Intel Graphics series, Nvidia GeForce series or AMD Radeon series, at least 4GB LPDDR3 RAM and 500GB of SSD storage.

2.2 Hardware Intergration

2.2.1 3D-Printing

The 3D contour crafting technology has demonstrated the possibility to build a house in just 20 hours. In 2004, Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of South Carolina developed an FDM-3D printer, mounted on a robot arm that extrudes concrete layers instead of plastic to create a 3D model. Today, a variety of methods have been introduced at a construction scale like extrusion (concrete wax, foam, polymers), powder bonding (polymer bond, reactive bond, sitering) and additives welding. With the help of advanced 3D model developing software and accurate design information, this technology is evolving rapidly at all scales. From rapid prototyping, component manufacturing to full-scale project printing (Courtesy of DUS Architects) and has exhibited all the qualities needed to use additives manufacturing on construction sites: reduce costs, wastes and accidents, low labour costs, increased accuracy, faster construction speed, complex architecture. During the period of the pandemic, where many employees were not allowed on site, 3D printing of structure was the best approach for implementing most projects since it does require a lot of workers.

Figure 1: 3D Printer

2.2.2 Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Robotics deals with design, construction, operation, and use of robots as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback and information processing. Development of robotics includes the use of reprogrammable microcontrollers (Courtesy of Arduino, Raspberry PI or Intel Galileo), Integrated Development Environments (Courtesy of Arduino, PlatformIO, Eclipse, Atmel Studio, Zeus or Programino) and electronic components like actuators, relays, capacitors, sensors or resistors. Rapidly moving from science fiction, robots have started moving into construction in a number of areas. From autonomous rovers that can increase detailed site inspection (Courtesy of Doxel, SummuS Render,or Pipelinefx), mechanical arms that perform highly repetitive tasks like bricklaying (FastBrick Robotics) and steel-bending (AC Robotics), drones that conduct site survey with cameras and infrared sensors (Courtesy of Doxel), autonomous vehicles that transfer material from one point to another (Courtesy of Volve) to exoskeleton to withstand vibration plus other unfavorable working positions (Courtesy of EKSO BIONICS).

Besides being a system embedded in machine learning and neutral networking algorithms, well let’s just call them thousands of “if statements” and series of interconnected APIs

The rise of Artificial Intelligence is also beginning to have an impact on construction. From the major leaps taken in predictive concept designs at project planning stage (Courtesy of Graphisoft ArchiCAD) to the growth of intelligent buildings that learn how best to operate to give maximum efficiency, productivity and breakthroughs have been realised over decades.

2.2.3 Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality

Virtual Reality (VR), a 3D virtualization technology that involves a detailed simulated reality experience that is used to generate multi-projected realistic imagery, binaural sound and other visual effects to immerse a user’s presence in an artificial digital environment. This concept has been adopted into the construction industry by engineers, architects, interior designers, and Clients with the support of Smartphone applications (Courtesy of Graphisoft BIMx, Autodesk Fusion360,

Arki or SmartReality) and VR gears (Courtesy of HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard or OSVR) to be able to step into project models and analyse proposed structural components. Increased demand of more realistic interaction dragged Silicon Valley into the development of Augmented Reality (AR). A camera-based interface that detects real objects depending on their colour, contrast, shape and size to attach related 3D model layers with QR code tagged identities (Courtesy of AUGmentecture, Fologram, Augment or Gamma AR). Along these mobile apps, less cumbersome WebXR interfaces have been developed to increase the experience on a wide variety of cellular gadgets (Courtesy of Ar.js, 8th wall, GeoAR.js).

Figure 2: Representation of a Mixed Reality of Virtual and Augumented Realities

2.2.4 Architectural Augmented Reality

The Reality-virtuality continuum of both AR and VR led to the creation of Polyplexity <Mixed Reality (XR)> that anchors virtual objects contemporary to real-time objects and allows users to interact with the combined environment. Engineers and Structural designers have used the technology to Geo-locate project plans and generate GPS coordinates (Courtesy of BlueBeam ATLAS and Umbra 3D), virtual construction and real time rendering of project trials (Courtesy of Enscape) or structural navigation and 3D model reconstruction from 2D imagery (Courtesy of Microsoft AI, Volume or Google DeepMind) using XR gears (Courtesy of Microsoft Hololens, Magic Leap, Nokia Point & Find or zSpace). These technologies are used to test unique designs, enhance safety and consumer satisfaction while minimizing project time and cost without compromising the Quality. Since there was no travelling allowed, this technology allowed planners to connect with their clients remotely using software and gears to make informed decisions upon the projects.

Figure 3: Architectural plan visualised in augumented reality.

  • Blockchain Technology

The discussion about the potential impact of the Blockchain technology on the construction industry is getting more and more intense lately. This technology continuously attracts more and more attention due to its incredible versatility and transparency. Various projects have been initiated to leverage the advantages of different distributed ledger technologies with regards to logistics, insurance, identity management, media services, data sharing and digital data authenticity. The Blockchain technology functions as a trustworthy contract administrator introducing an error-free process (Courtesy of Smart Contract), provides increased accountability and better control of the project, implements a network protocol that gives real-time project updates, say, delivery of materials on site and enhances BIM amongst modern projects. According to Construction Manager magazine, there are already two projects initiated by   DotBuiltEnvironment: the ConstructCoin (BitCoin for Construction) and the    TraderTransferTrust (project banking app). However, the construction industry that didn’t seem to be fully prepared in terms of infrastructure and administration systems to embrace this technology trend, a lot of innovations rose in this line through the initiation of NFTs and cryptocurrencies became a medium of exchange for purchasing like portals, spaces and infrastructure in the metaverse. Such technology allowed for discussion forums to emerge within where experts were able to communicate with one another in a more interactive way.

  • Conclusions and Recommendations

Although the Covid 19 pandemic has caused adverse effects to the construction industry by inducing limited access to construction site, industrial experts were able to innovate ideas and accelerate the existing technology trends to continue execution of different projects. However much as the pandemic era has come to an end, a lot of these technologies have been proven effective and cost-effective.

I would therefore recommend experts and artisans to continue using them.  I would also urge the technology companies to provide sufficient information about the software, enable easy access to project data, package price renegotiation and building learning platforms.

Editor’s note

Edward Masajage graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Uganda Christian University in 2020. He is an aspiring structural engineer and a CAD engineer for Avrateq.

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