In 1965, semiconductor industry businessman Gordon Moore observed that the number of components per integrated circuit was doubling every year, expanding the tech industry’s capabilities at an exponential rate. This was later revised to a commonly held belief that transistor counts would double every two years — and they did, from 1971-2011, creating a cell phone more powerful than a vintage supercomputer.
While it’s widely believed that this growth must slow at some point, our world has evolved exponentially fast. How does this apply to the construction industry?
Construction is rapidly changing, as well. In my relatively short 15-year career, we’ve gone from filing cabinets and reams of paper to becoming one of the first customers to use a web-based software platform that brings all of the documentation for a project into a single, customized project website. The transition to this software started about six years ago, and it has now become a standard in the construction management industry.
Over the past few years, the surveying trade has started to transition from physical measuring and “shooting grade,” which could take days, even weeks, to setting up a scanner or flying a drone and documenting a building in a computer program — all in a matter of hours.
Additionally, many designers are now drawing all of their building plans in three dimensions, better documenting their designs and the end user’s experience. The goal of 3-D Building Information Models (BIM) is to take what was a 2-D experience with paper drawings and convert it to something more easily read and coordinated.
So what’s next? Virtual reality. The next step being explored in the BIM process is the ability for designers and building owners to put on a headset and actually enter a building design virtually. More than just pretty pictures and finish selection, this technology could allow trade contractors to lay out their assemblies, simply by putting on a headset and walking a project. What if I could walk over to the spot where a wall or hanger is shown in virtual reality and simply install it there, per the model? It’s possible, and people in West Michigan are testing this technology right now. What about troubleshooting or a complicated system install? Imagine an expert anywhere in the world putting on a headset and seeing what the installer on site sees, walking them through wiring up a control panel, setting complicated instrumentation, or starting up equipment rather than flying in from across the country.
All of these technologies continue to shrink our world and help the end users “experience” their buildings before the first piece of equipment hits the site. Bringing the assembly and finished product experience forward into the planning stages allows us to address conflicts early in the process and reduce surprises in the field. The construction industry is changing quickly, and we believe it has the potential to evolve even more quickly in the next 15 years than it did in the past 15 years.