Dean, Larsen and Toubro Institute of Project Management
The construction industry is undergoing a paradigm shift from traditional operations to integrating technology in project execution. Technology adoption is making a positive impact in terms of both speed and scale of execution.
In the 1800s, when the Statue of Liberty was erected in New York, it took 350 parts to be built separately and then assembled in Paris. It was later dismantled and shipped to New York, where it was reassembled. From design to installation, the 93-meter-high structure took 10 years to complete. The contrasting story is that of the Statue of Unity in Gujarat, India. Inaugurated in October 2018, it is the world’s tallest monument, standing at 182 meters. The image of the life-size model was digitally enhanced using 3D imaging technology. The statue’s external façade was created using more than 6,500 tiny bronze pieces, which are digitally tagged for future maintenance purposes. From modelling and engineering simulation to construction, the project utilized several digital tools to make it the most successfully executed unique project in recent times. It took only four years from conception to commissioning.
Over the past few years, the Engineering and Construction (E&C) industry, more universally called the built environment, has picked up momentum in technology adoption and automation, thanks to the leadership of companies like Larsen and Toubro (L&T).
Impact of New Technologies
Technology adoption in the E&C industry can be broadly categorized under six themes:
1. High-Definition Surveying and Geospatial Engineering- It is the use of cutting-edge technologies such as drones, Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite imagery, surveying robots, and laser scanning to create complex layers of interconnected geographic information. This information has changed the way engineers plan, design, and deliver major projects.
L&T’s infrastructure and utility projects substantially use Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology. LiDAR is a remote sensing method of using light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure surfaces and objects. Drones are employed in projects to examine terrains that are difficult to access.
2. Building Information Management (BIM)-Digital technologies and processes, such as BIM, have the potential to change the way professionals work and interact within and between firms. Globally, the adoption of BIM in E&C projects is gaining prominence. Many of the marquee projects of L&T extensively use intelligent 3D modeling and 4D schedule integration.
3. Digital Collaboration and Mobile Applications-Construction professionals use tablets and smartphones to increase jobsite productivity. These devices provide mobile accessibility and mobile construction management applications, thus allowing professionals to work interactively and dynamically. Data collected from the site is shared in real-time with project participants and up-to-date and more accurate site reports are generated.
Most of L&T’s group companies leverage mobile-friendly collaborative tools to ensure that project team members receive real-time data and provide real-time inputs.
4. IoT and Data Analytics -The industry is embracing Internet of Things (IoT). L&T has over 60,000 pieces of construction equipment that are equipped with GPS-enabled sensors.They track location, operational status, and through-put that is helping achieve operational efficiency. A recent good example is a record daily output ra te of 7,300 cubic meters, achieved through substantial usage of IoT and data analytics on an extensive barrage project in Telangana, India.
5. Operational Efficiency: Electronic tagging, the use of radio frequency identification for spools and tagged materials, and connecting them to material management systems assist enterprises in decreasing material surpluses and avoiding material shortages.
The Integrated Project Management System (IPMS) employs a common data environment and integrates the project delivery components. The operational efficiency of built environment projects is achieved in ongoing projects through streamlining, aligning, and integrating workflows in projects, as shown in Figure 2.
L&T businesses have implemented IPMS that provides real-time daily reports, engineering progress data, procurement progress data, and site progress data. During movement restrictions as a result of the pandemic, the inspection of products was also done remotely using digital tools and work processes, which helped in the early delivery of products.
6. Connected Workforce- The construction industry is going beyond simply putting a GPS on a helmet to track workers to setting up a comprehensive connected ecosystem using sensors, drones, and data analytics. L&T has established a digital ecosystem to connect 700,000 construction workers in India.
COVID-19 has helped the industry speed up technology adoption. Here are some potential applications in near future:
• Sensors in a helmet to collect field data on external conditions and worker health
• Drones to monitor safe behaviors and health conditions
• Transmitters in wearable’s to help alert safety offices to dangerous working conditions/workers’ health
• Mobile devices, sensors, and tags for geo fencing, entry gate checks, warning/ alerts for hazardous zones, collusion risk alerts, and monitoring of worksite resources
• Virtual reality/augmented reality and robots at the construction site for site inspection
Technology suppliers are attempting to make the user interface of digital applications as simple to use as Facebook and WhatsApp. However, project managers must have a fair understanding of the implications of digital transformation on their projects. Project managers in the built environment domain must be able to:
a. Recognize the need for new project roles in the digital age for project execution, such as digital officers and data analytics specialists
b. Identify and ensure timely delivery of an enabling digital infrastructure that ensures the capture, analysis, and application of digital data in project execution
MANY CHANGES UNDERWAY
Technology adoption and data-driven decision-making will remain the key focus areas of project owners and contractors in the days ahead. Given below are some ways in which projects in the built environment will change:
• While digital transformation will replace regular, mundane employment in almost all aspects of life, it cannot replace the human element, such as a person’s creative, intuitive, or leadership abilities
• Digital transformation is an enabler (and warning) for all of us to spend more time on higher learning and application than mundane, repetitive operational tasks
• 3D printing in projects will pick intensity and scale
• The rapid development of construction and real estate technologies demonstrates that those who act quickly and decisively, embrace disruption, and focus on long-term adaptability will emerge as the leaders
• The two thrust areas of PMI, viz. IT and core sectors, will be interdependent for mutual success, with startups bringing innovative solutions, and intelligent companies adopting and integrating them with their traditional delivery models
SYNERGY BETWEEN THE NEW AND THE TIME-TESTED
There are new project management trends to improve performance, most of which need a technology backbone. I have been a part of PMI’s expert panel for finalizing the course content that addresses the latest trends and best practices in built environment project delivery. The course, Built Environment Technology and Innovation Pro, aims to equip project managers from this sector with some of the advanced technologies that I have discussed in this article
Project delivery is also greatly dependent on improved execution models that leverage technology, such as the Last Planner System, Advance Work Packaging, and Interface Management. However, some basics of project execution will always remain a priority for effective project delivery, such as effective scope and change management, continual risk management, and effective communication with stakeholders.
PMI has designed courses for the benefit of the construction industry, which will help companies find talent with ready-to-deploy skills to create a built environment that is safe and sustainable.
Before joining L&T as dean, Prof. V. T. Chandra Sekhar Rao was director of operations at Amec Foster Wheeler (now Wood Group). He is a member of the PMI South Asia Academic Advisory Group.
The views expressed here are the author’s personal views.