The recent focus on remote work across industries has paved the way toward several new developments in the areas of robotic process automation and industrialized construction.
Collaboration in the cloud, data-driven design and modular buildings are among the driving forces of innovation in the interrelated fields of architecture, engineering and technology.
Find out more about these transformative trends that have the potential to increase efficiency, productivity and sustainability across AEC sectors.
1. End-to-end digital workflows
Over the past year, most AEC firms have deepened their commitment to creating and maintaining a Common Data Environment for storing data and managing documents throughout project life cycles.
As stakeholders across these fields have adjusted to the demands of primarily remote collaboration, the role of workflow management software has become even more central to project oversight.
When the majority of collaborators were still working in the same locations, it was possible for most firms to fall back on paper methods at certain points in a workflow.
Recent changes to working conditions have led to more concerted efforts toward achieving end-to-end digitization. These temporary adjustments have resulted in lasting changes to the ways in which most organizations approach project workflows.
Transitioning to completely paperless methods makes it possible to connect stakeholders in remote locations and supports decentralized approval processes and site reporting.
As the vast majority of tasks become digitized, AEC professionals have come to realize the lasting value of the CDE generated over the course of a project life cycle.
Beyond planning, building and project finalization, this set of data is relevant to owner upkeep. A coinciding trend toward work automation has facilitated the form filling, document distribution and signature collection functions that are necessary for worksite compliance.
After the fact, all of these records contribute toward a more complete set of data.
2. Robotic process automation
While task automation software accounts for the majority of automation currently implemented across industries, the AEC sector is leading the charge toward more robust robotic automation.
This trend starts at the stage of computational and generative design and extends through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones to map and monitor worksites and early experiments with additive manufacturing and autonomous building technology in the field.
The positive effects of automating error-prone and repetitive tasks in digital workflows suggest a few benefits that may be associated with the roll-out of a wider range of robotic automation methods.
When rote tasks that formerly consumed the time of skilled workers are set up to occur automatically based on specified conditions or a schedule, stakeholders can devote more attention to value-added responsibilities.
Using intelligent technology in the field may have the effect of reducing worker exposure to physical hazards by making it possible to complete repetitive tasks automatically with minimal manual input or involvement.
Over the course of a construction project, these measures have the potential to reduce time to completion and maximize contractors’ investment in skilled labor. Worksite conditions are also changing based on other factors that include the rise of industrialized construction techniques.
3. Modular construction methods
The Design for Manufacturing and Assembly method is rising in popularity among AEC professionals. A prefabricated or modular approach to building goes hand in hand with the preceding trends toward workflow digitization and automation.
Industrialized construction typically takes place at a location other than the site where a finished structure will ultimately be located. This off-site approach can make it easier for contractors to control worksite conditions or implement robotic technology during the building process.
A few of the advantages that accompany an industrialized approach include reduced cycle time and increased quality, both of which are factors that could contribute toward reduced costs.
Eliminating inefficiencies from workflow processes that have the potential to cause costly delays and reducing waste through the use of leftover materials in subsequent projects are just two ways in which this method is already proving to be a compelling alternative to dedicated single-site builds.
When construction takes place at the same site where a structure will ultimately stand, the site is certain to experience more disruption and require more finishing measures to achieve completion.
A modular project completely confines materials storage and the consequences of fabrication to another location that is set aside for the industrial building process. As a result, this method can allow for faster project completion with minimal cleanup after on-site assembly.
The rise of digitization, workflow and robotic process automation and prefabricated building is empowering AEC professionals to maximize efficiency at every stage of project management from conceptual design through completion.
From the pursuit of paperless workflows that can proceed remotely across any number of locations to the outsourcing of tasks to autonomous digital and robotic technology and ongoing experimentation with alternative building methods, these three trends have already disrupted the AEC status quo and will continue to drive innovation in the near future.