Simon Bae, Founder and CEO, Cupix.
Mother nature is working overtime these days. Wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, storms and cold temperatures were among 20 weather and climate disasters in the U.S. last year that cost $1 billion or more. Extreme weather impacts every aspect of our lives.
And the construction industry is no exception. In fact, it is one of the most vulnerable to adverse weather because of the frequency of outdoor work and the industry’s heavy reliance on labor.
Each year, weather delays 45% of construction projects worldwide, costing billions of dollars in additional expense and lost revenue, research shows.
Accelerating climate change will only make that worse, increasing the frequency and intensity of weather conditions that cause construction delays, researchers predict. Just last year, temperatures in the U.S. set more all-time heat and cold records than any other year since 1994, the New York Times reports.
While the construction industry faces more challenges from climate change, it’s also still reeling from Covid-19 related impacts. More than 9 in 10 contractors are experiencing at least one product shortage, up from 7 in 10 a year ago, the latest U.S. Chamber of Commerce data shows. Also, two-thirds of contractors are finding it difficult to find skilled workers—a situation not expected to improve even months from now. And 66% of contractors expect Covid-19 related project delays, up from 60% just three months earlier.
Uncertainty resulting from weather, supply issues and labor shortages have long been factors in the boom and bust construction industry.
But today’s environment is even more uncertain given so many factors in play all at once. That makes it even harder to plan and complete construction projects on time and on budget. What’s more, as construction sites and physical structures face greater pressure from extreme events in the future, the industry will need to respond with greater building resilience and improved designs, materials and maintenance. The physical infrastructure in place now was never designed with all this extreme weather in mind and increasingly will need to be retrofitted or replaced. Already, approximately 70% of all construction projects are retrofits and rebuilds, and that number will only skyrocket as the weather continues to get more volatile.
The good news is that the construction industry, which has traditionally lagged others in terms of digital transformation, is increasingly adopting technologies and tools that help mitigate such uncertainty.
These technologies will help catapult the construction sector, which accounts for 12% of global gross domestic product, to greater digitization that will increase the industry’s agility, which will pay off no matter what challenge arises in the future.
With technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, 3-D digital twins, the IoT, BIM (building information modeling) and cloud-based systems that enable seamless communication, builders and owners can anticipate, get ahead of and react faster to uncertainty and volatility—no matter what the cause.
Technologies Mitigating Risk
Various technologies are gaining ground in the construction industry to mitigate risk. Here are five core areas where technology can help to get you started.
One key to mitigating risk is proper planning. For example, BIM and 4-D simulation can help simulate processes, workflows and timelines. This enables contractors, subcontractors, owners and property managers to visualize and mitigate materials and workforce shortages, even the impact of huge storms, before they choke a project’s progress.
2. Job Site Changes
The global market for digital twins is expected to grow 38% annually to reach $16 billion by 2023, Deloitte estimates. In construction, a new breed of 3-D digital twin technology, which can be updated regularly with video from an off-the-shelf 360-degree camera mounted on an engineer’s hard hat, enables insight into what a project site looks like at any moment. If high winds or rainfall impact a job site, that information can be captured and be delivered to a remote office with full spatial context. This access to the site gives off-site experts the as-built specifics of a project—whether workers can access the site or not.
3. Remote Work
3-D digital twins reduce the need for workers to travel to sites because they see the site without being physically present. This improves the productivity of limited workforces. It helps ensure worker safety during unsafe weather or periods when the pandemic requires more distancing. By being able to remotely review a job site, project controllers can also make more informed decisions about when it is safe to return to a job site and adjust staffing or material delivery as needed.
4. Worker Safety
Global temperatures are rising, and an increased risk of heatwaves is one of the clearest consequences, as last year’s weather data shows. For every 1 degree rise in temperature above 28 degrees Celsius, construction worker productivity can decrease by up to 57%, research shows. To keep workers safe in hotter weather, humidity sensors are being woven into fabrics to sense relative humidity. Bio-sensing chips push monitoring of environment humidity even further. This information can be transmitted to safety personnel for monitoring and interventions, such as longer or more frequent breaks to help avoid heat-related illness.
Job site data that flows from drones, high-definition cameras, wearable sensors and other IoT-related devices can be fed to cloud-based systems. With all information in one place, contractors, owners, subcontractors and others can easily access the data. Documents and schedules can be updated in real-time to reflect labor, supply or weather delays. This increases workforce efficiency while also helping to keep everybody on the same page when it is hard to work together in person.
Reacting Faster, Preventing Downtime
Technology has enabled industry after industry to be more nimble. As supply chain and labor market issues continue to multiply, along with increased weather severity, disruptive technologies such as 3-D digital twins can help contractors make proactive and empowered data-driven decisions that mitigate disruption, improve worker productivity, safeguard employees, reduce costs and boost the bottom line.