With advancements in generative design, software algorithms, and robotic construction, the current construction processes are going to change quite a bit over the next three to ten years.

To quote Bill Allen: “Rather than Building Information Modeling (BIM), we are going to see Building Information Optimization. Rather than manually drawing walls, doors, and columns for what we think is a good design, we will feed the computer “rules” instructing it to give us a building’s optimal footprint, structural load capacity, and thermal performance. Things that took months will be done in a day.” Construction and buildings become smarter, and we can clearly see some trends that will highly impact construction. Our Chief Technical Officer, Robin, looks around in the world of construction.

In some places you’ll see an odd construction worker opening a laptop on the construction site. But this is even now a rare sight. Mostly paper plans are still used. And even though construction professionals can never find the right information printed on those plans, taking a fairly costly laptop onto a dust and mud ridden site is not an option for them. If all relevant information and the possibility of evaluating this information with AI to heighten efficiency are available, getting it to the construction site is only a logical next step.

How will building methods change?

An other evolution to be discovered on the construction site is the implementation of robotics. ETH Zurich has been researching this for over a decade. Weingut Gantenbein was built in 2006, with the help of ETH’s bricklaying robot. Even the design was pushing forward. The façade was designed by letting a computer drop a bouncing ball in a box. Where the ball touched the side the indents formed the wall surface. These technologies have still not reached mainstream builders, but are getting a rejuvenated interest with the coming of 3D-printed houses. The 3D-printing technology for construction is widely interesting because of its capability, like robot bricklaying, of translating digital plans in to real world fabrication. This means designers get more freedom in the form of their buildings. And let’s not forget the possibility of monitoring material use and avoiding waste. This will inevitably lead to a more sustainable usage of materials. 3D-printing can also be used in the prefabrication of building elements.

Here the downside is the transportation of concrete based elements which have a large carbon footprint because of their weight. 3D printing technologies like internal mesh generation can help this problem. This hollows out the internals of a bulky form and replaces it with a mesh or grid for structural soundness. Doing this saves material, weight and printing time.

Waste management: big steps to take

We touched upon waste management a little already. On construction sites these days however, waste management is still a prehistoric affair. At best several containers are used to sort the different materials. At worst all waste sticks together from the adhesives and cement used on site. So there are two main focuses here: circular material usage and upscaling the sorting and recycling efforts.

At best, circular materials are building elements or blocks that can be recuperated from a building in an end-of-life situation, but are still usable. This means that these elements should be of durable design and their integration in the building should have been done in a reversible way, so without breaking or destroying the elements. It is then key to not only build a database with a BIM-model but to be able to identify elements and their specifications in a physical manner, e.g. with RF-ID’s, tags, QR-code …

For sorting and recycling there are some advancements made in the automatic scanning of materials and separation by robotics. These technologies can also be used on a smaller scale in household situations.

Engineers looking at blueprint 3862135

Coordination: more efficient, more flexible, more on time

In the construction site of Tomorrow, where all materials have sensors and workers and machines can be monitored, the execution should be more efficient then before. What are current coordination bottlenecks: material orders and timing, worker timing, progress follow up … The way progress follow up could be automated, should involve comparing the BIM-model with the actual build status of the building. This could be achieved by intense scanning of the site. There are companies doing this with robots roaming the site and scanning the building in 3D. This scan is then compared to the model. This could be a huge help for project managers to intervene in planning issues.

The communication between project managers and workers on site could also be addressed. Automatic messages can be sent to workers when the manager intervenes, to get the timing on track. This could result in a day or half-day schedule and to do list, which makes solving timing issues more flexible. The daily scans of the site can also improve the management of site organization. Where materials are off loaded and stocked can be more aligned with the necessities and the day job.

Smarter safety

All this monitoring can also have huge effects on the safety on construction sites. When the location of people, materials and machinery is monitored live and there is a digital twin of the ongoing construction site, AI computers should be able to identify hazardous situations. For example: when workers are to close to overhanging payloads on a crane, floor openings with insufficient railings, theft of materials or tools … This means safety coordinators who come to the site once every one or two weeks, get a very powerful tool in hands to enforce safety regulations. With smart wearables workers can also be easily notified of emergencies when they need to evacuate the building individually.

Better awareness on health and pollution

For monitoring health and pollution on the site, there or sensors available that monitor a load of interesting aspects like light, temperature, humidity, pressure. But also sound for noise disturbance, gasses (carbon monoxide CO, nitrogen NO2, ethanol, hydrogen, ammonia, methane, propane, isobutane) and particulate matter (0,3 micrometer dust particles). This monitoring will not only benefit the health safety of workers on site but will also benefit awareness on air quality. This is an aspect that durability assessment tools as BREEAM focus on as well. Moreover the monitoring of the presence of inflammable gasses mitigates high risk building methods.

So there are lots of innovations going on which can benefit the manufacturing sector. At Living Tomorrow we will look deeper into this innovations and see which role they can play for the buildings of tomorrow.

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