The Evolution of Communications in Construction
Poor planning equals poor performance’ or so the age-old business maxim goes. And this couldn’t be more relevant for how you strategise a communications infrastructure for the construction journey. In this latest feature, UK Connect’s PJ Farr, explores the top tech trends currently influencing the construction industry.
Badly installed networks, outdated software and poor connectivity can have a significant, negative impact on a project, from planning through to site and completion.
Problems range from reduced efficiency, inconsistency in activity, repeated mistakes in the build and poses a risk to worker health and safety. At a C-Suite level it can impact the bottom line and raise compliance issues.
As such, it is really important to ensure your communications systems and process are watertight. During a time of heightened awareness around worker safety and wellbeing, this should be a primary concern. Essentially, a site manager needs to know, in real time, who is where, doing what – and ensuring they are following H&S protocol and guidelines. This is only possible with a strong communications infrastructure.
Fortunately, existing and emerging innovations are helping to improve site communications, leading to a safer, more efficient and cost-effective way of building. Of course, there are several different technology solutions available on the market, but for this article I’ll highlight a few which I think are changing UK construction for the better.
I’ve got 5(G) on it
Recently, 5G has received a great deal of attention, and will be indispensable to the provision of the strong, reliable connectivity required to support an increasing reliance on big data, IoT and other technology solutions.
5G will boast faster speeds, better traffic handling and less network congestion. When accompanied with Wi-Fi 6, the newest standard in Wi-Fi technology, it presents a powerful proposition.
Fundamentally, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will enable users to communicate faster and more effectively, share large scale drawings, and run resource heavy applications without compromising on speed and performance. This agility will be crucial as demands for more stock increase and require a greater reliance on MMC and AI-driven volumetric house manufacturing.
Let’s get digital!
There have been pages and pages of editorial written about the importance of universal BIM (Building Information Modelling) adoption in the construction industry.
The intelligent 3D modelling technology that supports built environment professionals is a solution which fosters better project collaboration and ensures real-time updates to the design model are flowed through in a clear and obvious way. It delivers a smoother, more joined-up construction journey.
Importantly, each expert is in constant dialogue and can add its expertise area to the same model (e.g. architecture, MEP, civil, plant, construction and structures), enabling live evaluation of project evolution and working results.
Compared to 2D drawings, it perfectly supports clash detection and problem-solving during design. It improves planning, increases efficiency and reduces the margin for error.
Further to this, expectations are that further development of BIM features and subsequent technology will be the trigger for changes in construction project design, development, deployment and management.
Prior to the rise in construction technology, the sector had been notorious for being one of the least digitalised. Only in recent years has technology been built to handle the challenging environments, workflows and complications of such a physical industry and this continues to impact the sector. Mobile and cloud technologies being one.
By using appropriate software applications, cloud technology enables the possibility to work with data stored on remote servers. With internet connection and authorisation, access to these remote resources is supported by mobile technologies that enable anyone to sign in for cloud services.
These technologies allow essential data sharing, from the construction sites in real-time to all entities participating in the building construction process or to others responsible for contract realisation. For example, review tools necessary for engineers and architects [BB] or project management tools are of high availability, providing better collaboration, information sharing and, as result, better communication.
Significantly, mobile and cloud technologies have contributed to positive changes and evolution of the construction sector, by enhancing digital experience and business efficiency, enabling real-time information, providing Integrated Labour Delivery [ES] and improving organisation and productivity.
Already an integral piece of construction technology, the Internet of Things, (IoT) is transforming construction.
IoT is a system composed of multiple smart devices and sensors which share data with each other and can be controlled from a central platform. Its potential is huge and could mean a more intuitive, efficient and safer way of working.
Emerging smart technology now means machinery can perform repetitive tasks, such as bricklaying, and even maintain itself; imagine a cement mixer that knows how to order itself more raw materials when it starts to run low.
Aside from the obvious safety benefits, IoT devices can help make construction sites more sustainable. This could be via sensors installed in vehicles to automatically switch off engines when idle, or measuring wastage and using the information to better plan a development.
Furthermore, these measures have been proven to significantly cut emissions, an important consideration as we strive towards our net-zero 2050 target.
Go big or go home
A great deal has been written on big data, a term used to describe extremely large data sets which can be used to uncover hidden trends, behavioural patterns and unknown correlations. The information is then used to make more informed business decisions, and serve as the basis for artificial intelligence and automated systems. Essentially, it helps construction technology innovate and evolve.
For contractors, big data can be used in a number of ways. One example is historic data, which can be analysed to pick out past risk and errors, identifying corrections and informing future decisions, to avoid potential pitfalls. This can also apply to weather, traffic, community and business activities to determine optimal phasing of construction activity.
Importantly, the collected data can be fed back into BIM systems to schedule future maintenance activity, a vital process as we aim for the elusive ‘Golden Thread of Information’.
A holistic approach
Of course, none of the above work in isolation of the other. To plan an effective communications infrastructure you need to use a mix of these innovative solutions, working with a provider who understands of these technologies, as well as establishing the essential basics. This will ensure secure, reliable and fast connectivity, helping your sites work harder, faster and safer.
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