ConstructConnect Canada president Mark Casaletto was on hand at CanaData West in Vancouver on Oct. 11 to take a look at the digital revolution currently transforming the construction industry.
Casaletto began by stating the Canadian construction industry is fast growing, robust, and gaining global recognition, which Is a fundamental driver of the sector's digitization.
"The question isn't 'is it digitizing; I don't think there's a debate on that. The real question is where is it happening and where will it have the greatest impact in the short term?"
Construction has historically been very late to the game in terms of change, innovation and is not as productive as other industries, Casaletto said. This is not a Canadian issue but a global phenomenon.
One of the challenges of the industry how to innovate more quickly to close the productivity gap, he said.
Other than agriculture, construction is one of the least digitized industries but there are trends changing this, Casaletto said.
Mobile trends in the construction space include mobile internet, which took some time to be adopted but is now accelerating. Cloud computing, given the many and various stakeholders in projects, has been a significant driver for the industry. Autonomous vehicles and quantum computing will also be a big driver for the industry, as well the "Internet of Things" and advanced robotics.
Construction has a lot of people leaving the industry who are not using mobile internet, and new entries into construction are bringing mobile savvy into the industry, he said.
"There are many large industries that are very large and siloed, like construction, but have been completely disrupted," Casaletto said, pointing to Netflix, Uber, and AirBnB as examples of formerly "undisruptable" industries.
"I can't think of an industry more ripe for disruption than construction," he said.
Social media is being used by a majority of people in the industry, though not necessarily for work. However adoption rates are much higher than they were even a few years ago, he said. People are coming into the industry expecting social media use to be a given.
"That behavior is coming into our space," he said.
One of the factors keeping change at bay is that construction has been a risk-averse, litigious industry, Casaletto said. But those attitudes are changing. Employers aren't as worried about security on mobile, as well as attitudes towards mobile generally.
Mobile allows collaboration in real time, and "there are a tremendous amount of companies looking at ways to automate construction processes, and those companies aren't necessarily in the industry," Casaletto said.
Digital drivers include contractor use of technology, particularly smartphones. There is also a skilled labour shortage in British Columbia, and technology can address that shortage. Robotics could do simple tasks, and automated driving could also lease labour pressures.
There is also a demand for environmentally sensitive construction, with a greater emphasis on life cycle construction, as well as buildings that use smart materials and monitoring.
The internet of things can "eliminate equipment loss, reduce fuel consumption, extend asset life with data, create job cost reconciliations and optimize asset allocation and fleet size," Casaletto said.
User experience is also important, he said "because the easier it is to get to stuff and understand it, the more valuable it is."
60 per cent of Canadian companies are not investing in construction, Casaletto said, but those companies who are investing are concentrating on drones, 3-D scanning and prefabrication.
Geoloaction, the use of high amounts of data to find the optimal site for a building, is a growing trend, and it ties into Building Information Modeling (BIM).
The Internet of Things can be "Big Brother stuff" because it involves the ability to track objects and people, Casaletto said, but the upside could be "huge."
Casaletto highlighted a Vancouver firm called BuiltSpace, which chips every object in a building and allows for easier and ore efficient building management.
Remote operation is another trend, he said, which addresses both labour shortages and health and safety concerns. Mining is already automating underground vehicles, and companies like Caterpillar is moving this technology into construction, Casaletto added.
Supply replenishment is another vector that RFID chips could address, allowing a real-time supply than in effect never runs out. Equipment servicing and repair is also improving as real-time data monitoring and capture keeps an eye on equipment 24/7 and "could be a tremendous cost saving for the industry," he said.
"Big Data" will work around the siloed nature of the industry, Casaletto said, and the growth of BIM and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is bringing these worlds together.
The challenge with BIM, he said, but at first there was doubt BIM would take hold in Canada. Now, Casaletto said, more people are using BIM than not, and "I wouldn't be surprised 24 months from now if it's a majority."
A local example of digital migration is Finning Digital. Finning is one of the largest Caterpillar dealers in Canada, but they have set up a completely separate department called Finning Digital which is now using telemetry data to assist clients to take best advantage of their work site. The sites are mapped by drones, and equipment is "smart enough to know when it's time for a checkup."