Construction insights are in sight

Authors: Thomas Harring is President at Hexagon's Geosystems division.

In Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, the two iconic European cities of London
and Paris are more than just places; they are depicted as living characters with distinct cultures and personalities. The inhabitants of these cities are deeply influenced by their urban environments

For the construction industry today, this can serve as a valuable reminder: It is crucial that we consider not only what we build, but also who it is for and how we plan to utilise it. Whether it is infrastructure, skyscrapers, factories, homes or leisure facilities, construction not only reflects but also shapes the culture and the people who reside within it. The world we construct has the power to build and mould us in return.

In the past, establishing connections between cities was time-consuming. Travelling from Paris to London took three days — which made them feel worlds apart. Continuous efforts were made to bridge the gap between the two cities, culminating in the construction of the Channel Tunnel in the 1980s. The so-called Chunnel was a monumental infrastructure project involving the collaboration of banks, politicians, construction companies and societal will. To connect the cities, you had to connect the silos first. Today, travel time from Paris to London is a mere two hours and fifteen minutes thanks to the Eurostar
— the high-speed train that passes through the Chunnel.

London and Paris saw an opportunity to do something new and innovative, and they made it happen. They were ahead of the curve.

The better-world S-curve

The term “ahead of the curve” refers to an S-curve — a common growth path. The construction industry has been following a typical S-curve trajectory of launch, growth, maturity and eventual plateau. The key to continuous growth is leaping to the next curve before the current one plateaus.

For the construction industry, the next S curve must represent not only growth opportunities but also a path toward a more autonomous and sustainable future. Construction will make a significant contribution toward mitigating global warming and will drive positive change.

The path to the better-world S-curve lies closer than we realise, and timing is the key. But how do we know when to break away and embark on this transformative journey? Where do the insights come from? And how do we ensure the desired impacts? The answer lies in the progression from data to information to knowledge to insight. 

Optimist at scale

The construction industry is rooted in the belief that cities can be connected, bridges can be erected and solutions can be found. This optimism enables us to innovate at scale and with speed. We must ensure that today’s technologies, priorities and actions create long- term value for stakeholders in construction and society as a whole. That’s how we position ourselves for growth in the decades to come. To achieve this, we must break away from conventional practices, embrace innovative approaches and leverage data as the foundation for solving today's challenges.

Data, mostly comprised of zeros and ones, holds little value on its own. Yet, from data, we extract relevant information. Isolated information is still insufficient. We must further transform this information into knowledge to attain a comprehensive understanding of the situation or challenges at hand. Only then do we possess the precursor to insight — a 360-degree view that empowers us to make the right decisions at the right time.

Customer experience expert Jay Baer said, “We are surrounded by data but starved for insights.” Obtaining insights means extracting relevant information and knowledge from the large volumes of data. Poor interpretation of data can lead to poor decisions, trillions of dollars in losses and avoidable rework. Insights, in contrast, drive an accurate and deep understanding of a specific cause or effect, and are visualised in a way that helps decision-makers intuitively understand what is needed. We don’t need big data. We need big understanding.

Progress through autonomy

To gain a better understanding of customer needs, we teamed up with FMI Research to survey over 1,000 decision-makers from leading construction companies on their current and potential future use of autonomous technology. The survey revealed that the use of autonomous solutions in the construction industry is more widespread than anticipated, with over 84% of respondents utilising some form of autonomy. Our Autonomous Tech Outlook also showed that companies that integrate four or more autonomous workflows experience substantial benefits compared to isolated workflows.

The estimated industry investment of $162 billion in automation highlights the immense potential for disruption and opportunities in the construction sector. Reducing waste, especially in procurement and supply chains, is crucial both for the environment and business success. Progressive users of autonomous solutions report significant increases in sustainability, with some experiencing an improvement of 58%. The faster we innovate, digitise processes and adopt autonomy, the better for the planet.

From projects to products

We are witnessing major disruptions through industry convergence as we move into a new chapter — a tale of two industries, growing closer together and becoming more strongly connected: construction and manufacturing. This shift marks a transition from project to product.

Prefabrication dates back as far as 1889 when one of the most iconic structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, was built. Today, prefabrication is accelerating worldwide, moving construction away from traditional sites and into factories and changing the way we build. Entire sections of buildings or infrastructure can now be fabricated offsite and then transported to construction sites for final assembly. Modular construction holds immense potential for enhancing sustainability. Compared to traditional projects, where approximately 30% of materials end up as waste in landfills, the factory-based approach can reduce this waste to a mere 5%. That’s a substantial difference.

We can reimagine construction by using accurate CAD and BIM models for factory production and by implementing consistent 5D construction management to track costs, time and quality. This also supports safety and sustainability along the entire supply and value chain.

The city of the future

The engineering and construction industry is at an inflection point. Sustainability, government regulations, emerging technologies and smart cities drive large-scale transformations. The industry must adapt and jump to the better-world S-curve, the future of our industry.

The cities of the future are sustainable and interconnected spaces. Rather than transit spaces, they are vibrant hubs of social interaction and cultural innovation. Hexagon technology provides powerful insights that accelerate urban development and make cities more sustainable and livable and enable construction companies to enhance productivity, efficiency and safety throughout their projects. With advanced machine control solutions, real-time safety awareness and AI-powered data classification, Hexagon empowers heavy construction companies to get more work done with fewer resources while ensuring optimal safety. Hexagon's office and field solutions enable precise and waste-minimised execution of construction plans, while our digital reality solutions further enhance accuracy and facilitate maintenance. By leveraging Hexagon's comprehensive software portfolio, construction companies can streamline workflows, collaborate seamlessly, and make informed decisions based on real-time data, ultimately leading to the successful delivery of sustainable and innovative projects.

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