There are many reasons why it’s time to rethink infrastructure. Policymakers around the world are ready to reimagine the current setup and find better infrastructure solutions that would mean a more inclusive, efficient, innovative, and green infrastructure. To improve the quality of human life, the health of the planet, and the state of our economy, these infrastructure challenges need to be addressed with the most powerful tools we have - policy, raising public awareness, and of course - technology.
Today, we’ll zero in on the last item - technology. Modern infrastructure innovation relies, like many other industries, on developments in software that make processes more efficient, profitable, and sustainable. Previously, we talked about sustainable construction materials, such as laminated timber, recycled plastics, hempcrete, and so on. This time, we’ll keep the focus on technology and address how BIM, 3D printing, and construction robotics will shape the future of global infrastructure.
[Related article - An R&D Guide to Automation in Manufacturing for 2022]
It’s the tough job of an innovator to find and validate disruptive tech and track down new investment opportunities accordingly. Hopefully, we can help innovators better understand what technologies are changing global infrastructure and how.
The usage of BIM has allowed architects, construction professionals, and engineers to design, plan, and construct projects such as buildings, bridges, highways, etc., more efficiently with the help of intelligent 3D modeling. It’s no wonder, then, that the market is forecast to reach at least $16 billion by 2027, and likely more. So what is this technology, and why is it so popular? And for starters, what does BIM stand for?
What is BIM?
BIM stands for Building Information Modeling, and according to Autodesk, a leader in the industry:
“Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the foundation of digital transformation in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. ”
Digital transformation is the digitization of processes and operations thanks to novel technologies and software that have marked the last few decades. In the same fashion, BIM technology allows construction projects to be developed holistically and comprehensively with the help of digital modeling. BIM begins in the planning and design phases of an asset and continues to be used for intelligent insights throughout its entire lifecycle, including construction and operations.
But how exactly does it work?
So while CAD is often used in architectural projects to make 2D or 3D designs of a building, it creates a static model that doesn’t bear detailed information about the general infrastructure, and it doesn’t yield any additional intelligent insights. On the other hand, BIM software makes CAD models intelligent and dynamic by introducing information about the building’s systems and providing insights about potential infrastructure solutions. For instance, the intelligent insights provided by BIM technology can range from taking into account what wall is load-bearing to suggesting what materials would be needed to install certain systems like HVAC.
How will BIM change global infrastructure?
In the words of Dave Clifton of SpaceIQ:
“In an age where buildings themselves are getting smarter, it’s vital for facility professionals to get smarter about how they manage them. BIM informs the best possible approach to facilities management and maintenance, by providing complete context for buildings and the many systems that govern them. BIM insights offer the epitome of information-driven decision-making.”
BIM will change the global infrastructure in three ways– better infrastructure development for new projects, better repairs on existing assets, and better communication between inventors and stakeholders.
More efficient planning, design, and execution
BIM applications are critical in infrastructure development. The intelligence of its digital modeling will allow civil engineers to keep track of entire construction projects spanning large geographical areas. And this is not something to take for granted. Some years ago, they halted construction on a highway in Macedonia because, amongst other things, highways meant to converge would have missed one another due to a miscalculation.
But it’s not just in the Balkans that this sort of thing can happen. Road infrastructure construction and maintenance suffer in many countries due to a lack of digitization, communication between departments, research, and investment in technology. BIM application has the potential to remedy a lot of this in a simple and clean way.
Using BIM technology to repair existing assets in the pursuit of green infrastructure
BIM isn’t only used in the construction of new projects, but also for remodeling. Green infrastructure demands that we build new things less, and fix old things more. Insights provided by BIM help engineers better understand how something, be it a building or a bridge, can be repaired more efficiently.
Increasing numbers of companies around the globe have come to recognize the importance of BIM for infrastructure modeling insomuch that in some countries, BIM is becoming a contractual requirement for major public infrastructure projects.
BIM as an asset in communicating the innovator’s vision to stakeholders
On that note, this type of intelligent digital modeling will not only allow for more efficient, productive, intelligent, and green infrastructure development. It will also change the way innovators pitch ideas to stakeholders. According to Graitec:
“Collaboration with BIM is greatly enhanced allowing infrastructure companies to present initial stage design ideas to stakeholders and planners so they can visually ascertain the impact of potential infrastructure projects.”
This is a great advantage for visionaries trying to relate what they imagine with others, so BIM technology is sure to smoothen this process, also.
BIM companies from our platform
3D printing is no news to sustainability, and in this case, sustainable infrastructure. This is because using 3D printing to create materials is much more energy-efficient and less wasteful than traditional methods like subtractive manufacturing, where parts are hacked off of bigger materials to arrive at a product. That’s why 3D printing is also referred to as additive manufacturing - you add rather than subtract layers to create an object.
What is 3D printing and how does 3D printing work?
3D printing is the process of creating a physical, three-dimensional product based on a digital model by adding layers of material. In addition to energy efficiency - which means fewer emissions - and reduced waste, 3D printing also helps to manufacture cost-effective products in a shorter amount of time. Plus, some 3D projects recycle old or faulty products and materials to create new ones. These are some reasons why 3D printing in construction and green infrastructure development is pretty big.
Another thing to take into account regarding 3D printing in construction is that it works in conjunction with BIM technology. When engineers use BIM, they feed the software ample information regarding the specifics of the project. This means that sufficient information exists concerning the physical structure so that it’s easier to translate that into a digital model that can become a physical 3D print.
How will 3D printing change global infrastructure?
3D printing has already changed global infrastructure thanks to the broad array of 3D printing applications designed by forward-thinking innovators. For instance, recently a group called Iberdrola Renewables started construction on a powerline that distributes renewable energy. However, they found that concrete - a major polluter - was still necessary for creating the network. So how could they find sustainable infrastructure solutions?
By using 3D printing. They partnered up with a young company called Hyperion Robotics to make the concrete parts with 3D tech. This allowed them to use 75% less structural concrete than they would with traditional methods. This technology also allowed Hyperion Robotics to use reinforced concrete with lower carbon content and instead add materials such as “ashes, mining residues, and demolition waste, reducing CO2 emissions and costs by 90%.”
And there are many other examples of innovative 3D printing applications for sustainable infrastructure, like building materials from local soil. Moreover, many believe that 3D printing could help emerging economies - where there is a large infrastructure gap - to develop infrastructure projects that are efficient, low-cost, and sustainable. But if we could break it all down in a sentence, 3D printing has the potential to create infrastructure solutions that are greener, simpler, and more cost-efficient.
3D companies from our platform
While manufacturing has thrived thanks to automation, the technology hasn’t been as swiftly welcomed in the construction industry. In fact, you could say that construction is late to the party when it comes to automation and digitization. And yet, many processes in construction resemble those in manufacturing - there’s a lot of heavy lifting, repetitive and dangerous tasks, and so on. But it’s exactly these processes that are aided by automation in manufacturing and that will be an integral component in the future of construction.
Of course, it’s not just the future we’re talking about - automation tools such as construction robots are already being adopted in the sector.
What are construction robotics?
Construction robots, a subset of industrial robots, are automated machines that help with various construction tasks and processes. There are different types of construction robots designed for different purposes. They can help in wall building and welding, monitoring and security, repetitive tasks, etc. In other words, they can undertake tasks that fall under the four D’s: dirty, dull, dear, and dangerous.
Construction robotics include industrial robots - including articulated robots, cartesian robots, and cobots - for manufacturing and construction tasks; drones for security, inspection, 3D mapping, and monitoring; self-driving vehicles for light and heavy-weight construction work; and finally, humanoid laborers that can work in harsh environments and complete certain tasks unassisted, like using power tools and installing drywall sheets. The specific robot model that can do this is called HRP-5P.
In a nutshell, robotics and AI in the construction industry are combined to automate workflows and address certain infrastructure challenges, such as a shortage of skilled workers.
How will construction robots change global infrastructure?
There are a couple of ways in which construction robotics will change the course of sustainable infrastructure development. First of all, as we mentioned earlier, construction robots can fill the gap left by the shortage of skilled workers. What’s more, by taking on more dangerous tasks, robots would make construction safer for human workers.
Second, construction robotics could reduce the negative environmental impact and thus contribute to sustainable infrastructure. This is because automation improves efficiency and reduces waste. It can also help improve the quality of products and consistency of workflows, which means that they’d also be desirable contributors to the so-called bottom line.
Construction robotics are sort of an all-around winner when it comes to innovators choosing tech and investing in infrastructure solutions. They have proven their efficiency and effectiveness already, but there’s also a lot of room for the growth and innovation of this technology in the future of construction. Plus, as robots are still not that widely used in this industry, a company that jumps at the opportunity could gain a competitive edge.
Construction robotics companies from our platform
Valuer can help you find sustainable infrastructure solutions
Innovators need to create a funnel of viable business opportunities consisting of technologies and companies that will shape the future of global infrastructure. To find something that’s not only future-proof but also likely to make ripples in the industry, give our platform a spin. You can explore specific technologies, sift through innovative startups with the explore industries tool, search for startups that resemble a company you already like using the search for look-alikes feature, or just type in whatever you’re looking for and let our AI-powered search engine help you discover companies using specific technologies.