June 18, 2015 │ Philip Hopkins
New generation software is driving a revolution in construction, tackling the decline in productivity exacerbated by the increasing complexity of commercial projects.
The technology has enabled the development of building information modelling (BIM) and 3D printing, enhancing collaboration between designers, architects, engineers and builders.
Software companies such as Autodesk, Aconex, Bentley and Procore – and, at the smaller residential end, BuilderTREND – are active.
Leigh Jasper, chief executive of Melbourne-based Aconex, said Australia was a world leader in the field.
Brett Casson, an infrastructure development executive with Autodesk Australia, said the new technology in three-dimensional space was ground-breaking.
"We can visualise things we are not able to do with drawings. The third dimension helps us avoid design problems; it reduces risk," he said.
Software was also showing how productivity would be boosted by increased safety on the construction site.
"The worker is wearing a sensor, a machine has a sensor. If they come too close . . . an audible alarm goes off and the machine will stop," Mr Casson said.
Robotics would also play a key role.
"Some of the mundane tasks that happen on-site will become automated, using robots. A robotic bricklayer can lay up to 1500 bricks a day, the same as three men," he said, minimising waste.
Mr Casson said Autodesk technology also enabled drones to survey an area.
"When that drone flies, it captures imagery, that imagery creates an orthoimage, and looks at the analytics of what's happening on-site at any point of time," he said. "Using our technology, they create a 3D model of that site. At any point in time, they can feed back into the design model."
Aconex, which listed in December, developed its software in Melbourne, where it employs about 140 people; a sizeable chunk of its worldwide staff of 500. Its projects include Eureka Tower and the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, the Panama Canal expansion and Dubai International Airport.
Mr Jasper said software was driving three key trends in construction: collaboration, mobility and BIM.
Previously, each company working on a project had its own silo of information.
"There were multiple versions of the truth," he said, which led to disputes.
Now, with the project team working off the same version, the productivity benefits were huge.
Mr Jasper said this meant people on the construction site had project information at their fingertips.
"The construction worker is now a knowledge worker," he said, as changes could be made on the spot through their computer or iPhone instead of returning to head office. "Collaboration, mobility and BIM are all linked."
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