How Technology Has Changed Construction

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Technology increased construction speed and efficiency.
Technology increased construction speed and efficiency. (Image: global technology image by patrimonio designs from Fotolia.com)

Construction is a multi-faceted endeavor that requires participation by a wide variety of people performing an almost limitless number of processes and operations. A single project may have hundreds of steps involving thousands of people. Technology is changing construction by helping people stay connected, increasing the speed of the decision-making process and automating functions.

Increased Collaboration

Construction has often been called a “siloed” industry, where each participant in a project manages their own part of the project while keeping their information largely to themselves. The Internet began changing that in the mid-90s when the graphical Internet arrived and people could use hyperlinks to navigate the growing number of sites. The Internet created a centralized, easily accessible place where project information could be shared much more quickly.

Computer Aided Design

All work that happens on a construction project is planned ahead of time. Those plans take the form of drawings. Originally the drawings were done by hand, a time consuming-process that required even identical details to be redrawn time and time again. CAD changed all of that by automating the process used in drawing, and by making each piece of a drawing capable of being a separate and infinitely reproducible item. This meant drawings of construction details that would work in more than one place, or that would work in more than one project, could be quickly pasted where needed and modified slightly to fit the new location.

CAD replaced hand-drawn construction documents.
CAD replaced hand-drawn construction documents. (Image: architects tools image by Chad McDermott from Fotolia.com)

Lasers And Global Positioning Systems

Setting up building corners and delineating building perimeters so foundation work could start used to rely on string and steel tape measures, and were calculated from measurements drawn from the property boundary lines. Lasers and GPS have made that work much more accurate and much faster. Heavy equipment used to rely on the operators to accurately read grade stakes, and set equipment blades and buckets at the right angle to get cut and fill operations and trenches right. Laser- and GPS-equipped machines now make fine adjustments to the machine's settings so the work is done more accurately the first time.

Lasers and GPS guide construction equipment.
Lasers and GPS guide construction equipment. (Image: bulldozer image by dwags from Fotolia.com)

Personal Computing

When computing power reached the personal level, instead of being bound up in climate controlled rooms, construction began moving from slide rules and legal pads to spreadsheets and word processors. Along with that shift came a wider distribution of the tools that used to be reserved mainly for engineers, accountants and architects. Project managers could run a program on a laptop that calculated beam sizes based on loads, and foremen could manage payroll and assign job codes accurately and more quickly than using paper-based systems. Today's smart phones are adding still more computing ability where it is needed the most-on the job sites. Managers are now doing punch lists, performing safety checks and tracking time with their cell phones.

Mobile Communications

Wireless and cellular technology have freed construction workers and managers from wire tethers. They can now be in touch with employees, vendors and sub contractors from the office, or anywhere the work is happening. This has increased decision-making speed and is driving down the costs of projects because information is more timely and accurate.

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