The construction landscape is being rebuilt. The pandemic and associated fallout have forced rapid adaptation in an industry that has historically been slow to accept change.
AEC professionals are facing unique challenges in 2022 –concerns that have reached levels no one could have predicted even a handful of years ago. Here are four evolving issues that AEC companies are up against in 2022, plus corresponding tech solutions that are helping the industry adapt.
Problem: Labor shortage
In the aftermath of pandemic shutdowns that rocked every industry including construction, some of the aging workforce has opted for retirement while others have struck out for new endeavors. Now, as construction has picked back up, the workforce can’t keep up with the sudden demand – a demand that’s only set to increase with federally funded Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) projects on the horizon.
Difficulty finding and hiring skilled labor isn’t necessarily a new issue for contractors, but it’s fair to say the labor shortage is reaching critical levels in 2022. The most recent Commercial Construction Index report (Q4 2021) indicates 62% of contractors report a “high level of difficulty” in recruiting skilled workers – up from 55% the previous quarter. And the effects are real: 45% of these contractors report turning down work due to not having enough trained labor on hand.
For a while, UAVs were largely viewed as expensive novelties. As these devices have become increasingly functional, affordable, and mainstream, contractors are quickly realizing how UAVs can not only help compensate for a lack of workers but also increase productivity in the process.
Tasks that would traditionally require a handful of people and several hours or days of fieldwork can now be accomplished in a fraction of the time:
- Site surveys: Survey crews are spread thin, meaning projects could be backed up for months as owners and teams wait on the initial site surveys and plans. As more crews transition from manual surveying methods to UAVs, surveys can be completed faster with fewer crew members and quicker deliverable turnarounds.
- Earthwork and grading: Monitoring elevations and cut and fill volumes are essential to the site development process. Instead of relying on crews to painstakingly run spot elevations and manually calculate earthwork, contractors can capture live topographic data with UAVs and get real-time feedback on elevations and earthwork volumes.
- Construction site inventories: Instead of tying up valuable personnel with the task of manually checking material stockpiles around large construction sites and then waiting for reports, a project manager can run a UAV daily or weekly and get an immediate handle on inventories.
As contractors search for ways to fill the labor gap, UAVs are proving themselves to be a valuable option that allows teams to do more with less.
Problem: Inspections and site visits in the age of remote work
When the pandemic hit, travel all but skidded to a halt. In response to new restrictions and social distancing measures, cross-country consultants and local inspectors alike were forced to re-evaluate how they performed site visits and inspections. As a result, these AEC professionals began integrating more photo and live video inspections and observations into their workflow.
Two years later, remote is the new normal –especially for project team members that aren’t local. According to the Airlines Reporting Corporation, corporate travel in January 2022 was still 50-60% below 2019 levels. It’s likely a combination of companies’ lingering pandemic guidelines plus a realization that quality technology can allow much of this collaboration to be done digitally. If contractors haven’t gotten on board yet, 2022 is the year to make sure their sites can be easily and efficiently accessed remotely by inspectors and consultants.
Solution: High resolution 360° jobsite cameras and mixed reality (MR) technology plus cloud-based collaboration apps and software
Reviewing site photos or videos isn’t new, but the process isn't known for being overly efficient. Previously, a consultant in Boston might get an RFI for their project in San Francisco, and after a few days of trying to get a handle on the full scope through poor quality photos and coordination calls with other team members, they still might end up having to hop on a plane to go see the issue in person.
Thanks to technology, AEC professionals are trading in grainy photos and clunky FaceTime jobsite visits for high-tech options. Consultants can log on and view the latest 360° high-resolution photos or “walk the site” with a contractor via a streaming smart lens device with the option for mixed reality (MR) BIM overlay on the physical environment. Remote observers can zoom in, capture photos, make notes, and have everything uploaded to the digital working set of plans in a matter of minutes or hours.
Not only are consultants and inspectors saving time and money by reducing travel, transforming job sites into digitally accessible on-demand environments is dramatically speeding up projects. By having the BIM model and real-time jobsite conditions at their fingertips, team members can streamline coordination and decision making.
Although certain in-person inspections and meetings will always be required, 360° high-resolution cameras, MR streaming, and cloud-based collaboration software are solving the issue of meshing remote work with jobsite inspections –and increasing communication and productivity in the process.
As construction workers are retiring or finding new industries, the boom in residential construction and the prospect of an abundance of federally funded infrastructure jobs are leaving contractors scrambling to hire. As a result, the industry is set to have a flood of new workers in 2022, which is creating a major safety concern.
In a hazardous industry such as construction, inexperience inherently comes with a lot of risks. A CPWR study of Tennessee construction workers published in 2019 found that 45% of work-related injuries were sustained by employees who were in their first year on the job. The findings correlated with results from similar studies in Ohio (46%) and Washington (48%). Worker wellbeing is always a top priority for contractors, but considering the high risk of injury for first-year workers, safety is more important than ever heading into 2022.
Solution: Wearable sensors
Wearable sensor technologies are becoming integrated into construction workers’ clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE). When connected to the internet of things (IoT), these sensors and their data can help alert workers and supervisors to a variety of potential hazards:
- Physiological sensors: Data centered around heart rate, respiration rate, and body temperature can help workers avoid overexertion and heat exhaustion.
- Environmental sensors: Keeping tabs on air quality, loud noises, and exposure to dangerous gasses, such as carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide, can alert workers to potentially harmful environments.
- Geospatial sensors: Monitoring location and proximity can help workers understand when they’ve entered a restricted area or are in the vicinity of heavy equipment.
By taking advantage of these technologies, inexperienced construction workers can get a handle on the wide range of jobsite hazards and hopefully avoid some of the injuries and health issues that put workers – especially those in their first year – at risk.
Problem: Data management
What’s one thing all of these tech solutions have in common? The mass amount of digital data they’re bringing in.
Whether it’s raw image files from UAV scans, digital documentation of deviations and RFI's, or the physiological and geospatial data from wearable sensors, the magnitude of data coming in from all corners of AEC is overwhelming. In order to take advantage of the potential benefits – increased productivity, enhanced safety, and more – you first have to organize your data and understand what conclusions can be drawn.
Solution: Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is the key to transforming all of that data into tangible results. Machine learning algorithms can comb through data, detect patterns, and make decisions. And the best part is, the more input the programs see, the more refined the output becomes.
AI is reshaping all aspects of data collection and interpretation in the AEC industry:
- Geospatial AI can comb UAV imagery and automatically identify features, saving time for drafters creating CAD deliveries or project managers scoping site inventories.
- As cloud-based project platforms collect information on deviations and RFI changes, algorithms learn to be on the lookout for similar issues on future projects. When it comes up again, the program can recognize the issue and alert team members even before an inspection can catch it.
- As more data is collected by wearable sensors, AI algorithms can better predict potential safety hazards in the field.
Out of all the unique problems facing the AEC sector in 2022 and beyond, the absolute biggest issue is going to be making sense of digital data. As AEC tech continues to inundate the industry with an increasing amount of data, be on the lookout for AI solutions that can convert this raw data into real benefits.
AirWorks is at the forefront of using geospatial AI to help AEC teams make the most of their aerial data. Let our patented feature extraction algorithms transform your raw aerial imagery files into customized CAD deliverables in up to half the time of traditional drafting methods.
Find out more about how AirWorks and AI can completely transform the way you work.