The Next-Gen Tools Powering Modern Industrialized Construction

In the 1960s, the world met the Jetsons and their flying cars. In the ‘70s, we were introduced to intelligent droids like R2D2, and flying cars once again in the ‘80s (vis-à-vis a time traveling DeLorean). By the ‘90s, science fiction technology moved into the laboratory to study dinosaur DNA, aliens, and asteroids, and by the early 2000s the digital revolution took us into the matrix.

The technology found in popular culture often sets the standard for our interpretations of and expectations for innovation in the real world. For decades however, the construction industry lagged all others in terms of game-changing technology to improve its processes.

Until recently, it appeared that the adoption of computer-aided design (CAD) was the sole eureka moment for the building industry, and contractors were happy to carry on with business as usual. Today, however, things are changing. Eventually CAD led to building information modeling (BIM), and although BIM was first viewed as a boon for the design community, it truly brought about a renaissance for those in the specialty trades.

BIM facilitated easy, off-site fabrication, producing a greater supply of prefabricated components and modular building systems. First came prefabricated piping assemblies, then multi-service utility racks, then modular equipment skids, bathroom pods, and hospital headwall units. As the benefits of prefabrication and modularization became more prevalent, equipment and tools began to adapt. Driven by tighter construction schedules and tough competition, contractors started seeking greater efficiency across all phases of their work. In many ways, fabrication has become manufacturing.

There are tools that streamline efficiency at every turn, and if there isn’t yet a tried and tested solution, companies will create one. For its new modular manufacturing facility in Boston for example, Cannistraro commissioned machinery that was custom-built to automate batch production. Functions like pipe cutting, bending, and end forming for copper products are now completed with the simple touch of a screen. And in the field, robots are becoming more popular. No longer just the work of Hollywood artists, robotic tools use GPS to lay out floors for new construction, capture existing conditions with pinpoint accuracy, and even build brick walls with the mason’s touch.

Recognizing that the Web and cloud provide new opportunities to share, communicate, collaborate, and create, the AEC community has ventured willingly into uncharted territory. Autodesk calls it “industrialized construction;” this technological awakening with laser focus on improving efficiency. Rooted in the teachings of lean manufacturing, the push for industrialized building systems denotes not only change, but also growth and excitement for an age-old industry.

Tom Palange is the director of marketing for J.C. Cannistraro, LLC.

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