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Looking to the year ahead, there is a lot to be excited about in the world of civil engineering and construction technology.

Technology advancements and trends shaping 2017 range from innovations around 3-D BIM modeling and greater jobsite connectivity, to the growth of GPS technologies for small and mid-size contractors. In this dynamic environment, it’s important for contractors to know where to focus their time, energy and investment dollars for maximum impact. Here are four of the technology trends that will have the biggest impact on the construction market in 2017.

1. Increased BIM Adoption

BIM is a 3-D model-based process for creating and managing project information. The building information model is a digital description of the project to be executed. Objects in the model can be linked to related information such as aerial photos, 3-D laser scan data, design specification, cost data, supplier information, and the resources and productivity rates required to build the objects.

Contractors at all levels are becoming more aware of the benefits of model-based construction, which include minimizing errors and rework; reducing costs; and the ability to collaborate faster, easier and with remote workers. As a result, there will be a push to improve communication and collaboration among different disciplines when generating constructible models. Project owners, engineers and contractors need to be on the same page when building a model so it maintains its accuracy and includes pertinent information for all parties. Improved collaboration with various disciplines such as highway or railway designers, utility contractors or landscape architects also can bring added benefits to an integrated model strategy. New technology also will help to change requirements around design methodologies that then will help to facilitate this integrated model approach.

2. Site-Wide Connectivity with WiFi

While the speed and availability of cellphone coverage is improving, the cost of cellular service on a jobsite is still relatively high because contractors must pay for multiple users and assets. This is why new advancements and options to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to a jobsite, at relatively low cost, are truly groundbreaking.

Rugged wireless connectivity solutions are already available and being used to manage shipping containers at harbors and ports. Today, these wireless networks monitor inventory and continually process containers across the yard. The civil engineering industry will flock toward this caliber of reliable WiFi hotspot technology. WiFi will become more typical for GNSS corrections and data transfer, sharing of data between machines, or among machines, surveying, supervisor systems and the office.

These small, rapid-to-deploy WiFi solutions will allow contractors to deploy more technology on the jobsite, as well as enable more data-gathering and data-sharing technologies. This will drive greater change in terms of project visibility, and it will give contractors more flexibility at significantly lower costs.

3. 3-D laser scanning and drone-generated surveys

Professionals managing AEC projects are finding tremendous value in new 3-D scanning, drone-based data capture and associated post-processing software capabilities. Advancements in 3-D scanning and airborne drone-generated model technologies let contractors capture as-built measurements of complex geometries and structures in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional survey data collection.

Within minutes, contractors can have a complete recording of the current physical status of the construction project. New developments in processing software also have cut the time and resources needed to process, register and manage numerous scans of a construction project. In 2017, expect it to become easier than ever to convert scans into models that everyone can use and share.

On an intelligent jobsite, laser scanning technology can help facilitate several phases of the design/construct/maintain project life cycle. For instance, 3-D scanners and software can be used to create a 3-D site model of a new construction project showing how the new developments will integrate with an existing space. With a 3-D laser scan and accurate models, engineers can measure clearances beneath and around current structures—such as a bridge—using the 3-D data.

New 3-D scanning technology measures the position of large numbers of individual, closely spaced 3-D points. Depending on the application, users can choose from phase-shift scanners for indoor architectural applications, or time-of-flight scanners for outdoor or long-range applications, such as bridges and large structures, mines or quarries. Airborne drones can gather large numbers of aerial photos that can be combined with ground control data to create high-resolution imagery from which high-resolution point clouds can be computed and used to form surface models for work in progress, as-built reports and for periodic earthwork material quantities.

4. Adoption of machine guidance and GPS by small and mid-size contractors

Long gone are the days when only large contractors could afford machine guidance technology, GPS site positioning systems or modeling software. The fact is, construction technology solutions have become simpler, easier to use and less costly in the last few years. New solutions deliver the accuracy and reliability of enterprise-grade systems for contractors on a smaller budget or for those using compact equipment. For example, today’s small and mid-size contractors don't have to hire a professional surveyor for every project because of the availability of advanced site positioning systems. New controllers let field crews perform grade checks and other site positioning tasks on their own by providing accurate results at a lower price point than ever before.

New machine control solutions also can be deployed on smaller equipment such as skid steers, compact track loaders and mini excavators. Contractors building small sites with complex topography, such as sports fields, sidewalks or road intersections and roundabouts, will benefit from this technology by saving significant time and materials on the job. There’s an increasing trend to make field survey and modeling tools available for use on compact equipment and smaller jobsites. Newly developed functionality in these modeling tools let users build a model and use it on the jobsite with a minimal number of control points required. These solutions will give contractors of all sizes reliable, flexible and affordable options in leveraging construction technology to maximize productivity.

Civil construction contractors that keep a sharp eye on these and other technology trends will be well positioned to drive productivity, improve collaboration and lower costs across projects in 2017 and for years to come.

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