Q&A: Construction Technology Trends

Atul Khanzode, PhD, leads DPR’s strategic technology initiatives related to virtual design and construction, operations and preconstruction, and works on some of the key consulting engagements for DPR.
For large-scale projects in particular, UAVs are helpful in tracking construction progress. Companies like Skycatch and 3D Robotics help DPR capture images that can be used for work planning.

DPR’s Atul Khanzode leads DPR’s strategic technology initiatives related to virtual design and construction (VDC), and has a decade of experience applying VDC and lean methods on complex projects across the world. Khanzode shares his insights on how technology is pushing the industry to provide greater service at lower cost, not only during construction, but also for the total life of a building.

Do you see any existing or new technologies that are helping to change the construction process?
Change is constant on the construction technology front. A high level of building information modeling (BIM) continues to change the construction process for the better with more issues being resolved collaboratively during earlier stages of projects that are leading to better “lower cost” implementation in the field. Data from models are being used for automated layout, which has demonstrated potential to increase layout productivity in the field.

There is also an evolution towards a life-cycle view of buildings versus a first cost view—where owners are paying more attention to long-term building performance. In addition, we are seeing an interest from owners in getting more from investments in BIM in the area of facilities management and ongoing energy efficiency in facilities.

The use of tested technologies is playing a key role in adding reliability to the process, allowing us to better predict project outcomes for our customers. One of the challenges, however, continues to be communicating this value proposition to owners, especially the ones who do not routinely buy construction services.

What are some of the technologies you are currently using?
It’s not so much about the specific technologies we’re using, but more about how we are applying those technologies to enhance the delivery process for our customers. There are so many applications available today compared to even a few years ago. Each of our projects with their unique complexities provides an opportunity to implement the latest technologies to eliminate waste and improve efficiencies on our projects.

We continue to research and test new technologies in the field, including radio-frequency identification (RFID), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) and augmented reality. Our goal is to continuously improve the application of the most relevant technologies to deliver better value and savings to our customers and partners.

How are you using UAVs, which have become quite popular in recent years?
For large-scale projects in particular, we are using UAVs to track construction progress. We work with several different companies, including Skycatch and 3D Robotics, to capture images that can be used for work planning. On some projects, we even have daily aerial images that clearly identify where work has been completed on site. We also overlay our logistic site plans over our captured aerial images, which has been very helpful in communicating work in progress to our teams and has become an invaluable resource to communicate our progress and plan our work.

How do you see the industry evolving?
The rapid advancements in technology are creating new frontiers for the industry in how we design, build and operate facilities. With increasing pressure on margins, teams must figure out how to provide the same high level of service, but at a lower cost. We’re looking at how to go from integrating multiple specialists early on to develop buildable designs, to exploring automation using the technologies that are available to bring a more disruptive change to our industry.

We also see a dramatic shift in how we use technology for automation and better prediction of building performance. The evolution and affordability of cloud computing is allowing us to develop deeper insights into problems that we were not able to tackle previously, such as the optimization of a building structure across multiple attributes.

We’re seeing more automated prefabrication, modularization, implementation of component-based approaches, use of data to drive behavioral change, and value, not just during the building process, but also over the life cycle of a facility. We are investing and actively exploring these innovative approaches.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the industry?
I see two big challenges we face as an industry today. First is helping to change the focus of buyers of construction services from first cost to life-cycle value. The cost to design and construct a facility is a much smaller percentage (roughly 10 percent) of the total cost to operate and maintain a high-performing facility for its end users and create an environment that results in occupant satisfaction. The second challenge is the way construction services are procured in a fragmented manner. To get the type of disruptive benefits the technology tools promise, we need to change the way we procure construction and create a more collaborative and integrated approach to deliver higher-performing buildings that are fun to work in and also sustainable, easy to operate and economical to build.