Digitalisation of Construction – Creating an industry that’s fit for the future


Irish construction output is continuing to grow (reaching €23bn in 2019 according to recent reports1), but while output is growing, the workforce isn’t expanding as quickly. Part of the driving force of this growth is development and investment in innovative digital tools improving productivity. Karol Friel, Sales Manager at Topcon Positioning Ireland, discusses the technologies available today enabling us to work more efficiently, safely and accurately than ever before, helping to up-skill teams and keep projects on-time and on-budget.

As we all know, data is king in construction today – from design to completion, being able to understand the precise workings of a project is what ensures we are working in the best, most efficient and safe way.

Karol Friel

We operate in a world where we call on specialists, subcontractors and suppliers to fulfil the often complex needs of our projects. We all understand that managing multiple parties adding to the build and adjusting designs can be difficult, and know just how quickly the impact of one single item out of tolerance by the smallest measure can escalate – in terms of both time and money.

Through the tech available today, like high-level scanning, data management software and aerial mapping with drones, we have the capability to share real-time data – including any updates to plans – with every supplier, stakeholder and subcontractor almost instantly.

Scanning for build verification has previously been costly and time-consuming, with businesses relying on outside specialists and data processing that can take a significant amount of time to compare as-built data to design. Naturally, this has meant verification often happens irregularly, allowing time for mistakes to mount and continue in a ‘domino effect’ and spiral into larger issues before they are spotted.

Today, there’s a digital solution enabling near real-time verification at any point of build. A combined robotic total station and laser scanner in one tool automatically registers point clouds, making it easy for the data to be processed through software that can compare a captured data set against designs, in the form of the Topcon GTL-1000. This kind of tool can exist alongside verification software that can flag points out of set tolerances to millimetre accuracy to enable instant correction. Many major contractors across Europe are now reaping the benefits of this digital workflow, working faster and more accurately than ever before as they embrace digital. What the next decade may hold for this type of workflow is unknown, but we’re edging closer to real-time verification than ever before.

It is digital tools like augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) and automation that will become more and more commonplace in our industry. The benefits of these technologies are instantly obvious with teams being kept safe and processes fast-tracked without sacrificing accuracy. This digital advancement, in solutions like Topcon’s X-53x Automatic Excavator, is making processes easier and enabling more advanced works, while also allowing those less-experienced to work on complex projects and those with a wealth of experience to become experts. It is these technologies that are becoming critical in future-proofing the construction industry against skills gaps. As well as enabling the existing workforce to develop their skills, digitalisation of our industry will undoubtedly prove attractive to the next generation of engineers, surveyors and architects (a tech savvy and digital hungry generation).

So, if digital is bolstering our workforce now and in the future, protecting our investments in people and new tools, and enabling us to work better and faster, what’s stopping blanket adoption?

More often than not, the main hurdle is the upfront financial investment. What’s more, the reality is that it’s often difficult to prove that money has been well-spent, if the time savings we make through improved efficiency are almost impossible to track because we’re avoiding mistakes in the first place

Best practice would stipulate that data is captured at every stage with digital tools, making the final result future-proof by providing a digital representation as reference for future planning and maintenance, making it much more valuable to clients. This is the type of system – where digitalisation is embraced and data is valued – where we are able to capture true Digital Twins.

1 – Mitchell McDermott 2019 Industry Fact Card.

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