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Fast Track Construction – A Digital Revolution

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Dr. S Kalirajan

 

Dr. S Kalirajan
Head Special Initiatives (Nuclear)
L&T Construction, Chennai, India

 

 

Introduction

Construction has been changing and evolving rapidly during the past 20 years and its dynamic advances will continue. The construction sector has traditionally been relatively slow to invest in research and development. Due to lack of major innovations the construction industry suffers from sluggish productivity growth and relatively low financial returns. It has been slow to embrace the process and technological innovations that could help it to do better, with respect to profitability and performance. Traditionally, the sector has tended to focus on making incremental improvements. But this will no longer work. Projects are becoming larger and more complex. The growing demand for environmentally sustainable construction means traditional practices must change. The shortage of skilled labour and supervisory staff is only imminent. These are deep issues that require new ways of thinking and working.

Fast track construction is one such solution that can solve this problem providing certainty about delivery on time, on budget and to the targeted quality and safety. Delay management, resource management, choice of technology are three most important strategies that affect the fast track construction.

New technologies are constantly changing the construction landscape. Digitalizing workflows has substantial benefits. “Reduced time” is the most valuable benefit of construction fast tracking. The digital push is accelerating even if the major players of the construction industry are still confused and hesitant about the impacting change due to new technologies over time.
Pressure for change has evolved with new technological capabilities, rising client expectations, new generation of craftsmen and professionals, booming startup environment, supportive legal framework, increasingly large infrastructure projects.

Fast Track Construction

Fast tracking is the process of overlapping sequential activities or phases in parallel to compress the project schedule. Burgmann (1982) defines fast tracking construction as ‘A system of overlapping the normal sequential phases in design documentation, tendering and construction so that the total timescale is not significantly larger than the longest of the individual items’.

The main purpose of fast track construction is to shorten time of completion of project and reduce cost overrun. Fast track construction continues to evolve in response to growing industrial demands. Fast track project is best suited to large scale projects, where the design stage take years before the construction stage takes place. Ensuring delivery of projects on time, on budget and to the targeted quality and safety has always been key to a successful project in the construction industry.

The following are essential strategies for fast track construction

i. Resource Optimization
ii. Resource Levelling
iii. Technology

A. Resource Optimization

Resource optimization is the utilization of available resources in an efficient way so that the organization achieve its goals and also the projects get executed as planned without any delay. There are 7M’s to be optimized which are:

i. Men
ii. Material
iii. Money
iv. Machines
v. Mechanization/Automation
vi. Methodology of Construction
vii. Management

The need to optimize resources is particularly evident when the organization’s demands tend to saturate and exceed the resources currently available. Optimizing the 7M’s ensures construction time, cost, quality and safety.

B. Resource Levelling

In project management, resources and time are two critical aspects influencing the success of a project. Resource levelling as per “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (PMBOK Guide) is defined as “A technique in which start and finish dates are adjusted based on resource constraints with the goal of balancing demand for resources with the available supply.” Resource levelling is needed in construction to avoid the difficulties associated with the large variations in resource usage

C. Technology

Digital technologies are gradually entering the construction industry and they are changing how infrastructure, real estate and other built assets are designed, constructed and operated. Those technologies include building information modelling (BIM), prefabrication, wireless sensors, automated and robotic equipment, and 3D printing. The economic and social impact could be substantial, as the construction industry accounts for 6% of global GDP and employs more than 100 million people worldwide. Within 10 years, full-scale Digitalization could help the industry save an estimated 12-20%, equal to between $1 trillion and $1.7 trillion annually, according to The Boston Consulting Group

Various technologies changing the phase of the construction industry which are discussed below include:

1. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
2. Drones
3. Robotics
4. 3-D printing
5. Block chain
6. BIM
7. IOT
8. AI, ML & ANALYTICS
9. Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR)
10. Mixed Reality (MR)

Design

BIM (Building Information Modelling) is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC)professionals the insight to more efficiently plan, design, construct and manage (life-cycle) buildings and infrastructure. BIM can follow a knowledgeable approach to decision making, solving communication problems and improving relationship between AEC professionals. BIM embedded planning and scheduling helps in visualising and interpreting construction sequence facilitating information sharing, reduce missing data, reduce safety risks in design phase, improve document management and integration and provides great predictability of project time.

Next-generation 5-D BIM is a five-dimensional representation of the physical and functional characteristics of any project. It considers a project’s cost and schedule in addition to the standard spatial design parameters in 3-D. It also includes details such as geometry, specifications, aesthetics, thermal, and acoustic properties. A 5-D BIM platform allows owners and contractors to identify, analyse, and record the impact of changes on project costs and scheduling The intuitive, visual nature of 5-D BIM gives contractors a chance to identify risks earlier and thus to make better decisions. For example, project planners can visualize and estimate the impact of a proposed change in design on project costs and schedule.

The use of 5-D BIM technology can be enhanced further through augmented-reality technology via tablets or wearable devices. A wearable, self-contained device with a see-through, holographic display and advanced sensors can map the physical environment, for instance. Companies are developing BIM-like design and construction solutions for these platforms. In this “mixed reality” environment, users can pin holograms to physical objects and interact with data using gesture, gaze, and voice commands. (Figure-1 illustrates 5-D BIM Objectives and glimpse of dashboard)

Contracts Management

Block chain and Smart contracts play a major role in contract management. Embedding a block chain based platform into the project execution practice, which can initiate payments based on digitally approved work, contractual terms and smart contract actions thus reducing manual process of payment, decreasing time and increasing cash flow.

 

The block chain helps in fast tracking construction ensuring provenance for structural materials, and to create a verified chain of custody transparent for all parties in the supply chain.
Tracking various components with unique ID through block chain and embedding every information as shown in figure:2 below can even be combined with BIM so that particular asset with its pertaining information can be identified in the build-in structure with the help of that code.

Openness and transparency are frequently discussed in the public service domain. With the increasing adoption of e-government and open government initiatives, public opinion is in favour of developing innovative solutions that can increase openness and transparency in government activities with minimum cost to citizens

Also, smart contracts implemented in an Ethereum block chain platform can be used in Government tenders so that it enables a fair, transparent, auditable tendering scheme which can be used to evaluate performance and financial cost implications

Project Management

UAV’s/Drones can be very helpful in inspection of site, maintenance, conducting site ‘walk-throughs’ to identify potential hazards and surveying. Drones help to inspect structures without stopping operation. Time lapse cameras can be used to monitor different stages of the construction project, progress of a building site from its foundation to the final result.

Internet of Things (IOT) helps in connecting job sites that gives unprecedented access to information about the infrastructure and the buildings being constructed. This ensures connected data, safety and saves time. IoT, LORA, RFID etc. can be used for monitoring the major activities and embedded into workings of:

Concrete management system

This application can be built to plan, monitor, and control concreting and its allied activities on site. The application uses live feeds from RF, GPS systems from the batching plants, transit mixers and boom placers to provide accurate and real time data needed for project progress monitoring

Workmen Management System

The safety and security of everyone on site, is utmost important on any job sites. To track the real time location of workers; RFID/LORA technology have been proved as a successful solution.
Tracking and Monitoring of workmen is essential in present scenario with Projects being more complex, technically challenging and expanding over huge areas. With more works being carried out in confined and challenging areas, Workmen tracking with RFID has the following benefits:

– Better Safety and Regulatory compliance
– Immediate assistance during emergency need
– Better workmen productivity
– Better decision making to utilize man-hours of work for specific tasks
– Transparency in Work timing and Contractor Billing
– Asset Management system

With increasing scale and complexity of jobs in infrastructure industry, a critical need for e-management of fabricated steel assets is foreseen as these assets play significant role in enabling any construction project. This application uses QR code technology integrated with a mobile application and a web portal to keep track of the usage and movement of fabricated enabling structures across project sites. This breaks the conventional, manual way of inventory management processes and brings in a transparency to material availability across sites a click away. Thus, bringing a revolutionary change on decision making for competitive bidding, enhances site planning, and improves reusability reducing the probability of new fabrications

Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR)

VR/AR &MR helps in conceptualizing-built environment, process design options, so that the actual construction can be viewed and compared in the eyes of a virtual world. We can inspect construction site in real time to see if all the construction has been done according to plan using AR.

D) Improving Operational Efficiency/ Improved Performance
Data Analytics

Huge quantities of data have been stored in the past and continue to be acquired today which come from people, computers, machines, sensors, equipment’s and any other data-generating devices. The main problem is cleansing the data and deriving information from it. The data analytics can provide more helpful indications of risk levels before a threshold is exceeded and an alert can also be generated. They also offer insights that traditional systems simply cannot. Data analytics help increase productivity and make decisions on work sites, becoming thus an effective assistant for workers. The data helps define possible risks, improve project management, reduce costs and time spent on a working project.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive Analytics has the capability to analyse vast amount of data and provide capability to forecast. It has the ability to track real-time data and change it into meaningful insights for prediction so that it becomes a game-changing solution for the construction industry. Predictive analysis is very helpful in risk analysis and risk management for which the outputs are displayed through probabilistic approach. It also helps in tracking of construction equipment’s and assets, optimize business, provide accurate budgeting and planning.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI can contribute more towards fast tracking construction. For example, AI can help in Initial success of the tenders for construction firms by assessing previous project bids, replicating what was successful in these bids, and avoiding those elements of failure. AI is used to better predict outcomes, design complex projects, and automate day-to-day decision-making tasks

Robotics

Robotics in construction is evolving at a rapid phase. Already robots that lay bricks, fix and clean glasses are used in the construction industry. Currently, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is widely used across industries to perform repetitive manual tasks thereby, accelerating work and providing space for the employees to indulge in more creative and important work, saving time and cost. Also, instead of having to pull out a tape measure to check specific placements, the Robotic Total Station (RTS) shoots a laser and communicates the correct placement ensuring that all of a building’s elements are placed correctly according to the 3D model, including floors, columns, plumbing, and electrical

Conclusion

Stakeholders along the construction industry’s value chain – architects, designers, engineers, building material suppliers, contractors, operations & maintenance companies – need to adopt new technologies with a proper strategy and make the right moves to thrive amidst the disruptions the technologies and trends could cause. However, the myriad potential changes in the industry will make it difficult to predict the future. Wide range of technologies and digital applications help accelerate construction process.

With shrinking skilled workforce and archaic practices, it will be unimaginable task to build more complex and mega infrastructure projects with existing technology. We must adopt these new, more advanced ways of doing things so that each person in the whole organization, in the whole project, has access to the data that they need very quickly and that is the key, because their demand is going to drive technology process and go from a drawer in-and-out world to a more data-driven world.

Fast tracking of construction through innovative disruptive technologies will create certainty about delivery on time, on budget and to the targeted quality and safety. It is upon us to decide if we are ready for the change.

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