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Construction contractors have experienced tremendous benefits in newer, more technologically advanced machines and equipment

The inevitable future of construction

In many respects, the future for New Zealand is so bright, the country should wear dark sunglasses.

New Zealand boasts a comprehensive network of roads (around 93,000 km) and railways (4000 km) that connect the major cities and are linked to ports and airports.

There have been high capital costs to achieve this over the years. However, the efficiency of the country’s current internal transport system has played a critical role in New Zealand’s economic growth.

But there are cracks in the sunglasses. The transportation infrastructure requires ongoing maintenance and upgrades to accommodate growth – add to that the pressures of an ageing urbanising population. The Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Plan 2015 outlines the expectations.

As Lindsay Crossen, former chair of the National Infrastructure Advisory Board, states in the Infrastructure Plan report: “Tackling the challenges ahead will require strong leadership demonstrating higher levels of collaboration in infrastructure planning, development and funding. Long-term plans help to support this by establishing clear goals, a shared understanding of the issues and opportunities, and an agreed way to approach big decisions. Getting it right will make a big difference for New Zealand.”

Clearly, the construction industry will be crucial to fulfilling the needs and goals of the country’s future.

Technology the key

Construction has been changing and evolving rapidly during the past 20 years and its dynamic advances will continue. The successful contractor in the future will operate quite differently than today. The key to all of this is technology.

“Construction contractors have experienced tremendous benefits in newer, more technologically advanced machines and equipment,” says Kris Maas, director of construction product development for Topcon Positioning Group.

“The highly successful contractor has adopted precision measurement systems, GNSS machine control, and geospatial management and collaboration software to ensure seamless coordination among all involved in their projects – these have revolutionised grading, excavation and paving.”

There appear to be five technology areas shaping the future of construction.

Data

Acquiring, using and sharing data in real time gives contractors the advantage of enabling their machines to ‘talk’. Through connected machines, contractors can remotely monitor progress, communicate with the operator, diagnose and repair problems, track machine location, and provide support.

Data collected can confirm quality results and help with bidding on future similar projects. There will be the time when a jobsite or highway can tell how it should be built through instant data, seamless communication and exact material amounts.

“Our MAGNET software solutions suite currently provides real-time connected support for hardware, as well as integration with our Sitelink3D service for instant data transfer and connectivity into active project sites,” Kris Maas says. “Additionally, Sitelink3D allows customers to plan, schedule, assign tasks and get reports, all in real time.”

Constructioneering

Constructioneering is a term Bentley Systems and Topcon use to refer to automating the digital construction process through surveying, engineering design, constructible model development, and as-built data collection within a connected data environment to improve construction execution and reduce project costs.

It is the creation of collaborative systems to bring all the digital data into forms that can be seamlessly shared with machines, operators, supervisors, civil engineers and project owners.

Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are an example of the type of data that will be collected. Drones can provide virtual reality perspective and data about jobsites too difficult or dangerous to reach.

Smart roads

Roadways will do more than carry traffic in the future. As solar collector ribbons they may very well be contributing to fuelling the vehicles of the future. Or embedded wireless technology could maintain an electric car’s charge. Metal street name signs will become nostalgic artefacts of times past, since the self-driving vehicle will be told by the road what street it is on.

Roads will heal themselves as cracks form, since the concrete or asphalt mix will be embedded with tiny capsules of sodium silicate. When a crack forms, the capsules rupture and release a gel-like healing agent that will harden to fill the void.

Overcoming the skills gap

Technology can help with the labour shortfall and fill the skills gap of new employees. Take a smart, inexperienced worker and place them in the cab of a dozer or motor grader governed by GPS machine control with a 3D site plan displayed, and with proper training they will quickly become productive.

Technology has not only proved to save time and improve accuracy, but its impact on productivity has been significant. As technology permeates the construction industry there is a need for university and technology school graduate technicians. The need and challenge is there.

IoT – the Internet of Things

IoT refers to the communication connectedness of machines and objects through sensors via online. Think of IoT as the data aggregation and collection going into a central repository where intelligent decisions can be made based on what has been collected in real time.

Workers can be tracked in the field and ensure that they are protected from or at least aware of jobsite hazards and other potential injuries. Equipment sensors can monitor whether machinery is being productive or in need of repair or preventive maintenance.

The intersection of infrastructure and technology

“The future is getting closer to us – it’s inevitable,” says Kris Maas. “Topcon continues to develop new technologies and refine the innovations we’ve brought to the market, all with the objective of helping construction contractors to be more efficient, accurate and productive in what is referred to as the intersection of infrastructure and technology. The future expects that of us.”

Synergy Positioning Systems is the sole New Zealand agent for Topcon surveying instruments and machine control technologies  synergypositioning.co.nz


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