Builders and contractors have long been considered slow to adopt new technologies, but the construction industry in recent years has started to more widely adopt a surplus of innovative technologies that improve precision and accuracy in the field.
Construction firms utilize technology at every step of the process, from design to construction management, financials and in the building process itself. A 2020 McKinsey report found investment in construction technology more than doubled over the previous decade, and the recently released Associated Builders and Contractors 2022 Tech Report highlighted the use of everything from robotics to drones and data analytics in construction.
Perhaps the most common technologies adopted by contractors in recent years are purpose-built software solutions and building information modeling. Purpose-built software solutions can perform a wide range of tasks for contractors, keeping accurate financials or tracking material, while building information modeling (BIM) provides accurate representations of building interiors and exteriors allowing contractors to better prepare for field work and reduce conflicts between contractors on larger jobsites.
Brian Kelly, chief operating officer at general contractor Manning Squires Hennig Co., said the firm utilizes 3D scanning to create precise models of the interiors and exteriors of structures for a project design specifically for mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) portions of the job.
“We do a lot of large, higher education work, typically in existing buildings that want to be repurposed or renovated in general,” Kelly said. “What will happen is we’ll go in and completely gut these buildings and then we’ll do the 3D scanning to essentially create a model of the existing structure, and that gets utilized with the MEP trades to model all of the mechanicals that have to go into these structures.”
Kelly said the scanning is particularly beneficial for repurposing older structures, which he said, “aren’t really built for modern mechanical and architectural demands.”
The main benefit of the 3D scanning is that it decreases conflicts and issues in the MEP design and construction process, Kelly said. The 3D scanning generates a full model of the building and allows contractors to plan systems within fractions of an inch. And, upon completion, the building owner has an accurate model of the building and its systems.
“It’s a process where the mechanical contractor can put his construction requirements on the model, and then the electrician gets it and he says ‘OK, now I see the building, I see the duct work and I see the piping, here’s where I can put my stuff,’ and then the sprinkler guy comes in and puts their stuff on the drawing,” Kelly said. “By the end of that process we have a document where everyone can go build their work and not conflict with one another.”
One added benefit of the modeling, Kelly said, is it cuts down on unanticipated or contingency costs.
Kelly pointed specifically to one recent project in which the firm used 3D scanning for exterior modeling. Manning Squires Hennig is recladding the lower 30 feet of the M&T Building in Buffalo, which will replace existing granite stone cladding with glass panels.
“We’ve 3D scanned the exterior of the building to essentially create the shop drawings and fabrication drawings for the new glass panels that will be going up,” Kelly said. “It was critical for that project because the glass panels are manufactured in Japan and then shipped over to the states for us to install on the building.”
Accuracy was paramount in the project, which Kelly said has taken more than a year and a half to get to the actual placement on the building. He said adjustments can be made in a lot of construction work if something is off by an inch, but in this case the panels had to fit perfectly.
“When you’re talking about that kind of process, that kind of fabrication, lead time and cost, the 3D modeling is huge for us to be able to do and ensure the product that’s coming is going to fit and look good,” Kelly said. “These came over in 12 containers across the ocean and every single one of them had to be perfect. The 3D modeling is key to that process.”
Peter Muench, vice president of preconstruction at LeChase Construction, said in addition to technologies that aid crews on the jobsite, the firm seeks solutions for the planning phase that help set projects up for financial success. Muench said planning is particularly important in the current market, with a greater need to anticipate potential cost changes as the industry has seen a trend of over-budget projects.
“To help eliminate the stress of uncertainty in planning budgets, LeChase adopted a software tool last year that provides predictive analytics to help clients understand a project’s initial costs, life cycle cost and the cost impact of individual decisions,” Muench said, noting the firm requested some modifications to the software to better fit its use. “The software allows us to provide an open-book approach where the owner, designers and our construction team have access to the same financial information.”
Muench said team members can access data and graphics that show the cost status of each element of a project and the overall project costs.
As an example, Muench said a client choosing window options would be able to not only compare initial costs but also downstream costs, such as installation and maintenance. Muench said the ability to factor in the full lifecycle costs helps ensure better informed decision-making.
Muench noted such tools are particularly important at a time when labor is stressed.
“It is more important than ever to eliminate even small accounting errors that can occur when people are faced with complex calculations where some savings may be additive and others are not,” he said. “Our system eliminates these human errors to ensure certainty of outcome related to project budgets.”
Matthew Reitz is a Rochester-area freelance writer.-