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Construction Science Fiction: August 20, 2044

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As Bob Sirut pulls on to the job site for one of his last times, he cannot help but think about his almost 40 years in construction. Soon he will be retiring. It seems like just a few years ago that he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Soon after that he got his first internship on a construction job site. He is still amazed at how today’s job site and the construction industry have changed.

Just look at his current project—this state-of-the-art data and research facility for the new software division of the Construction Technology Institute will rival the greatest level of technology in any building in the world. And completing this 350,000 square meter project with a seven month construction schedule would have been impossible prior to the new construction processes employed on this job site. It is almost humorous to think that even metric measurement on job sites was unimaginable years ago.

Pulling up to the job trailer, Bob is pleased to see that the job site is starting to come alive with people, robots and the indispensable inversion quad-copter. The fear of robots replacing skilled craftsmen has certainly been dispelled. There are as many skilled craftspeople as ever on the job site. The difference is the skill sets. Today’s skilled trades are all about database management, robot maintenance and programming. The master carpenters of 30 years ago are still on site—now they program laser printers as opposed to running routers and planers. The other skilled trades are the 3D-laser-printer operators. This process of 3D laser printing for all types of materials on site, from curtain wall embed plates for concrete to cabinet countertops, has changed manufacturing, delivery, quality and schedule efficiency.

The change in skilled trades on the job site has also changed the dirty, dusty job trailer to more of a computer lab. Today’s job trailer consist a combination of data docking ports for “Smart Hardhats,” inversion quad-copter and data projection wrist visualization devices. The Smart Hardhats are the evolution of the early concept of “Google glasses.

The Smart Hardhat allows our field crew to walk around the job site with access to a hologram image of plans, details and all necessary project information. Probably the best feature of these hard hats is the safety features. As a tradesperson approaches the project site, they are alerted to the safety issues in their immediate area. If they breach a safety requirement, their hardhat warns them and, if necessary, issues a written report on the employee’s activity.

Additionally, the data projection wrist visualization devices are amazing. These projectors contain all the information about the project on your wrist. They’ve replaced cell phones, tablet PCs and cameras. These devices even create virtual meetings on site! All of the participants can access the meeting as holograms, view conditions on site through the wrist camera, and conduct meetings in a matter of minutes as opposed to traveling to the site. This one device has saved everyone—from the owners to the design team—thousands of dollars in staff efficiency.

Walking outside, Bob hears the gentle hum of the inversion quad-copter starting for the day. These devices are one of the biggest evolutions on the job site. When he started, everyone was talking about drone aircraft and quad-copters. The inversion quad-copters are a multi-inversion propulsion device that holds stable not by blasting air down like quad-copters, but by inverting the air intake upward, holding the craft more stable. This simple change eliminated the problems with down blast created by the early implementation of large helicopters and quad-copters used to deliver materials at job sites.

Today, the largest inversion quad-copters deliver a variety of prefabricated building components to the job site. These range from structural steel framing systems and mechanical system racks to complete rooms, virtually eliminating cranes. The smaller inversion quad-copters perform delivery of 3D-laser-printed materials to on-site robots for installation with a true on-time delivery system that is linked to the master schedule database.

The other use of the inversion quad-copter has been the daily laser scanning. At established times, the data documentation inversion quad-copters leave their data ports and perform laser scanning of the construction progress. This laser scanning delivers a wide variety of reports back to the project team. Not only does Bob get a daily report of the actual progress on the job site based upon materials installed, he also gets a data deficiency report if something has been installed incorrectly. Not a common experience in today’s construction world, but a robot can still have an occasional bug that needs fixing. This daily reporting process eliminates the “punch list” of the past.

The other major attribute of the daily laser scan application is the process eliminating pay applications. Upon completion of the daily laser scan, an accounting report is generated based upon the progress and a daily invoice is produced for each trade contractor. This invoice generates an automated pay application process for approval and an automatic direct deposit payment is issued daily to all trades and suppliers. Billing is faster, more efficient and more profitable. Additionally, since so many materials are now generated on site with 3D laser printers, the need for stored material costs and advanced ordering are basically eliminated. The integration of the team from designer to supplier to contractor has finally been bridged by the evolution of BIM into a fully integrated database documentation system. As the designer develops conceptual designs and selects components, the database contacts potential suppliers who analyze their ability respond to the design intent with either 3D laser scanning or prefabrication. In effect they start bidding the project as the design evolves. Real time estimating is finally a reality!

As Bob enters the building, the biggest difference is the condition of the job site. No debris or construction materials stored on the various floors. The application of on-time delivery has eliminated a huge amount of construction site material. In fact, the days of multiple dumpsters on a job site are gone. An on-site recycling trailer handles excess material or waste by sorting them, getting current market prices for mandatory recycling materials and selling the materials through the Internet. The net return is instantly deposited to the project accounting system.

The various floor plates of the project are alive with tradespeople managing robots doing everything from stud and drywall installation, where prefabrication is not possible, to door hardware installation. These small track-based devices have come a long way from the early units, which were not much more than radio controlled cars that could follow a plan to do stud layout. Probably one of the most amazing aspects of these trade robots is that they communicate directly with their 3D printing partners and the inversion quad-copter for delivery to each floor or room to make the installation as efficient as possible. As Bob approaches the third floor research laboratory, he watches an inversion quad-copter hovering outside the building holding a prefabricated clean room module. As it hovers, the robots slide the module into place. Almost instantly, eight various trade robots begin making the critical connections to complete the installation. This would have been a two-month process early in his career. This module will be complete before the end of the day, including quality control.

The combination of the total integration of the team into one data-based documentation process has allowed these projects to be much more efficient and profitable. From the conceptual design phase to the owner turnover of the project, all the data is managed and maintained. As Bob completes his walk around the job site, he is proud that today’s construction site is safer and more efficient and the level of quality is unmatched—globally! He also appreciates the fact that many mundane tasks from the past are gone. No need for daily progress reports, monthly pay applications, safety reports or punch lists! We have truly progressed construction from obsolete to embracing technology at every level of our trades.

Walking back to his office, Bob is somewhat sad that his last project is proceeding so well. They are ahead of schedule, and when it is turned over to the owner, he will walk to his retirement. Ironically, he is looking forward to his next project, which is to teach the now ancient art of woodworking by hand—something he learned from a master carpenter 30 years ago.

 

WHALEY
Mike Whaley has more than thirty years of experience in the Architectural and Construction industry. Today he is president of TURIS Systems, LLC, a technology consulting company for contractors, design professionals and owners. His background in every aspect of the A/E/C industry gives him a uniquely qualified perspective on the future of our industry(s). Over the last eight years, his visionary guidance and direction has empowered his team to the forefront of technology for the construction industry. Now his focus is on the implementation of facility management and BIM and as always, what is next?

To see all of the submissions to Imagining Construction's Future, click here.

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