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Tech Transforms How We Build
 
Published Friday, July 28, 2017
by MARK QUIRK


DAQRI smart helmet. Courtesy photo.


Imagine a workplace where hard hats are used for more than just protection or where improvements made by an engineer back in the office are instantly available in the field. And what if that job were done in less time, for less money and in a safer environment?

Welcome to today, thanks to new technologies being used in commercial construction. Smart helmets are giving those in the field more information when they need it. Building information modeling (BIM),—a 3D model-based process that equips architects, engineers and construction professionals with the tools to better plan, design, construct and manage buildings and infrastructure­—is facilitating the free flow of information among parties involved in a project. And augmented reality is providing intricate details of a project not available on paper.

Construction sites have gone digital, and many NH firms are taking advantage of  new technology.

BIM
The architectural, engineering and construction industries are shifting from 2D drawings to 3D models because of how BIM software streamlines workflow and produces an economic benefit. The software allows multiple users to access the model, foresee potential construction problems and track the time they spend working on each project.

“It definitely will be widely used in the future,” says Kevin Radziwon, a senior project manager with Jewett Construction Co., Inc. in Raymond. “If they can simplify and perfect it, it’s absolutely brilliant.”

In fact, tomorrow’s industry experts are already being trained to use the technology. The University of NH, for example, offers a course in it. Although not a requirement, more than half of the civil engineering students at UNH take it, according to Robert Henry, the associate professor who teaches the class. He says it will likely become a requirement at some point.

There are some who feel BIM is already the industry standard. Joe Almeida, commercial studio manager at DeStefano Architects in Portsmouth, is among them. He says the true value will come when everybody is on the same page because that will facilitate collaboration to cut down on time and cost.

BIM offers a simulation tool that allows designers to model such things as the varying effects of sunlight and shadow throughout the year to better calculate a building’s energy consumption. Henry says the real value of BIM is being able to do cost estimating, operation maintenance and life cycle analyses more effectively.

With a shared model, there’s less need for a project to be reworked multiple times and virtual drawings don’t need to be duplicated for each building discipline. The model contains more information than a drawing would and allows each discipline to annotate and connect their intelligence to the project. BIM drawing tools are faster than 2D drawing tools, and each object is connected to a database. Finally, because items are added to the database, changing the size or number of windows, for example, becomes easier to calculate.

DRONES
For builders, the case for return on investment is easily made. Drones are cheaper to fly than manned aircraft and faster than human surveyors, and they collect data far more frequently than either, letting construction workers track a site’s progress with a degree of accuracy previously unknown in the industry.

With the right computing tools, builders can turn data from the drones into 3D structural models. The data allows construction companies to better schedule workers and resources onsite and minimize potentially troublesome issues simply by having a better view of the job site.

“You get some really unique perspective of the job site,” says Radziwon. “It allows us to stay on top of all aspects of the project.”

Drones are also useful to the marketing departments of the construction firms, as pictures can be taken during the construction and when finished to provide to current clients and to showcase one’s expertise to prospective clients. Contractors can use drone photos to offer a different perspective for a client.

Almeida says “there’s no doubt” drones are the way of the future. The real estate industry already relies heavily on them to show buyers a wider perspective of the properties they offer.  

ConstructConnect, an online construction magazine, identified drones as among the hottest 2017 construction trends because of their ability to “monitor worker productivity and safety and conduct inspections on bridges and tall buildings.”

AR/VR
Virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality technology is another hot trend in construction and yet another means to garner collaboration among engineers, architects and construction professionals before a project even breaks ground.

As with BIM software, using VR and AR technology allows professionals to flesh out a project and identify potential problems before a hammer ever hits a nail. Augmented and virtual reality software also allows construction companies to improve job-site safety by giving both managers and workers the ability to view the conditions of a job site. And, with OSHA increasing penalties for violations, construction firms are on a mission to increase worker safety.

“It’s impressive,” says Radziwon of augmented reality and virtual reality software. “It shows you conflicts ahead of time. It will identify all the stuff up front so you’re not paying at the end.”

WEARABLES
One manufacturer of smart helmets is DAQRI, a Los Angeles firm specializing in augmented reality. Their smart helmet, which they call an industrial Internet of Things device, links people, data
and machines.

The technology starts by enabling engineers to overlay maps, schematics and thermal images to see through walls, pipes and other solid objects. It also allows workers on site to transmit information and potential problems back to the home office via a range of sensors, cameras, measurement units and audio system.

Smart helmets are also viewed as a potential enhancement for workplace safety. Simply wearing the helmet replaces the need for workers to carry auxiliary tools like tablets, books, digital cameras and laptops, which can be dangerous to manage when a worker is performing a task. By having access to this information in a visual space, workers can have their hands free to perform operations or maintain balance.

Eric Cimon, director of marketing at Jewett, says a concern his company has with the helmet is that it might create unneeded onsite distractions. “We see safety as being paramount,” Cimon says. “We want to make sure it does not impede safety or impair vision. We want our workers to be [as] aware as possible.”

Most engineers agree there will always be a need for sketchpads and pencils. But while some tools survive the test of time,  there’s no doubt the industry is changing. Workers need more than a hammer and tool belt nowadays. Foremen need to constantly monitor their tablets, and it’s becoming crucial that the industry becomes as tech savvy as the millennials they are seeking to hire.


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