Technological innovation is taking the construction industry by storm. Everywhere you look, digital devices of some kind are changing the way construction gets done, both on-site and behind the scenes.
Vancouver construction innovation consultant Helen Goodland says much of this technological disruption has caught the industry by surprise.
“I once heard someone say that construction moves forward by looking in the rear view mirror,” she said.
“Chances are we won’t see the disruption until it’s suddenly everywhere. So the companies that will have the most impact are not actually construction companies in the traditional sense, they will be tech firms or come suddenly out of left field.”
Clint Undseth, vice-president innovation of Stuart Olson, says his company is in the information management business, “not, strictly speaking, the construction business.”
“We’re using more and more digital tools for such functions as integrated scheduling, mobile connectivity and automated commissioning,” he said. “And we’re testing virtual reality and looking at using drones for site security and tracking project progress.”
More technology means some people will be reallocated from on-site work, says Undseth.
“The goal is greater productivity and sustainability,” he said. “More trained and specialized people will be needed in front-office functions but fewer for on-site services.”
A partial list of on-site services includes on-site and access road building; site preparation and rehabilitation; scaffolding; site security; portable toilets; temporary offices, lodging and catering; and post-project landscaping.
Lean construction, a construction system promoted by the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) in the U.S., is being used by Kinetic Construction Limited in B.C.
Mark Liudzius, vice-president of Kinetic and Victoria branch manager, says lean construction reduces waste and re-do.
“It enables us to get the team together sooner, so we can spend time on up-front planning, instead of on cleaning up errors later on,” he said.
According to LCI, lean construction “seeks to develop and manage a project through relationships, shared knowledge and common goals.
“Traditional silos of knowledge, work and effort are broken down and reorganized for the betterment of the project rather than of individual participants.”
Kinetic is using lean construction principles to build a 102-unit affordable rental housing project for the Greater Victoria Housing Society in Colwood, B.C. When it is completed, the structure will have all of the latest environmental bells and whistles.
Designed to Passive House standards, the building is expected to exceed the B.C. government’s Step Code 3 and it will produce zero net-carbon-ready emissions.
Liudzius, says that in line with the principles of lean construction, Kinetic is using pre-fabricated wall panels on the project.
“Pre-fab is a great example of lean construction,” he said. “It really speeds up the framing process. It takes less than one-half of the time of conventional framing.”
It also requires less on-site labour — a crew of eight compared to a crew of 20.
“Fabrication takes place off-site with specialized workers in a dry, warm and safe environment,” said Liudzius.
Another technology that reduces the need for on-site workers is Multivista Construction Documentation. Multivista was founded in 2003 by a B.C. electrician,
A spokesperson for the Vancouver Island based company says Multivista combines photography, video, webcam, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), 3-D (three-dimensionality) and 360-degree capability to create interactive as-built records of a construction project. The company takes architectural drawings, documents them and uploads them to a cloud-based platform. This then enables collaboration among all the team members on a construction project. Everyone on the team gets to see the same thing, allowing more to be done by fewer people.
While there will be fewer on-site construction services required in the future, they are certainly not going to disappear from the map.
“All civil work has to be done on-site — foundations poured, holes dug, that sort of thing,” said Nate Bergen, operations manager, Seagate Structures Limited in Langley, B.C.
A specialist in light wood frame and mass timber structures, Seagate installed all of the pre-fabricated wood at the University of B.C.’s tall-wood Brock Commons student residence project.
“You’ll always need somebody to connect all the different pieces of a project and that work has to be done on-site,” Bergen said. “And the amount of pre-fab that can be done will be limited by distance and transportation requirements.”