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Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry refers to three component team players that have been brought together as AEC Industry to bring a project to its full capacity and realization. The purpose of integration of seemingly different but inherently correlated industries was to bring together all these three industries so that they can work together efficiently and collaborate with ease.
Given the rate at which technology and the society are advancing, it is noted that seventy percent of the Fortune 1000 companies that had been published ten years ago had now completely disrupted. This process of technological infiltration and its negative impacts on the business is said to undergo a process known as disruptive selection, whereby in a society where technological advancement is so fast and liquid that the organizations are unable to adapt themselves to the changes- digital Darwinism, the organizations then as a result tend to lose their market share (Dohetry, 2014).
The ever growing need and subsequent advancement of technology coupled with globalization based in an economy that is not only global but also digital, the organizations are thrust forward into introducing new business models. This is not only done at a rate that in comparison to before has increased ten times, but also at fairly cheaper costs which results in a transformation and subsequent disruption of the industry processes (Park, et al, 2013). This is equally applicable to the architecture, engineering and construction industry.
In order to survive in an ever changing global era of technological advancements, the industry must be infiltrated with technology, as is the topic of discussion for this paper, in order to either survive or disrupt itself internally to bring itself in line with other industry players within the digital economy (Wong et al, 2014). However, these advancements and their impacts extend beyond the basic premise of the industry and have an impact on the health and safety of the built environment.
Doherty, 2014, states that the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry has found itself in the middle of an elastic shift which is powerful because of its transparency and subtlety. This is owed to the advancement in technology and invariably connected devices which are bound to bring significant changes not only through unexplored opportunities but through putting the industry in the face of varying degrees of challenges. This section explores a few of the prominent digital technologies that have made their way into the Industry, however, this list is for discussion purposes and is not an exhaustive list of technologies and their subsequent impact on the health and safety.
Building Information Modelling, usually written as, BIM, involves looking into the physical as well as the functional characteristics of any place through management and generation of practices that are digital in nature. Computer generated information in the Building Information Models are used for decision making on the characteristics of a particular place which can also be exchanged or networked in the form of data (Park et al, 2013).
The basic purpose of the BIM is to bring together all the information about all the characteristics in one place. This allows access to all the inherent key players who can integrate various aspects of the environment efficiently, thereby reducing cost, discrepancies and mistakes (Volk et al, 2014). The figure below illustrates the use of BIM throughout the building cycle of the architecture engineering and construction industry.
Figure 1 Building Lifecycle of a Project and the use of BIM (source: Messner, 2009)
BIM is a great tool that has been used for visualization. It put forths a virtual three dimentional representation of the project undergoing the building stage, which helps in taking decisions about the design, and the space functionality. Although the integrated information used in the model normally includues structural information, pricing/costing, material related data and various other form of data, health and safety (H&S) related information including the lesgilations and safety procuedure are yet not formally integrated into this sytem. However, this developing tool in the construction industry has revolotionized the current pratices and enhaced the overall engineering aspects of the projects, which supports the sustainability, relisence and adoptability aspects, and further increases process optimizatons at various fronts, and hence improving the H&S apects of the team involved. This can be argued because of the fact the project management is able to obtain up-to-date real time based comprehensive informtaion of the works on site, and allowing them to percieve any hazard that may occur more accurately. Howveer, it can not be denied that further research and consequent implications are nessary to integrate training, procedures, risk mitigation measures and analyses related to H&S data into the BIM systesm for further improvements (Jones, 2014).
RFID Tagging system is a tracking and an identification system which uses small devices operated on radio frequencies. They are attached to the objects and contain all sorts of tracing information that are transmitted through the frequencies. It can be used for the maintenance of quality by allowing the component users to connect to a website through the RFID tag and download relevant information (Meza, et al, 2014). Furthermore safety can be ensured by referring to instructions and verifying procedures can be easy and fast (Milgram et al, 1994).
Also the products can be grouped together and their varying locations can be monitored. Another important aspect of RFID tagging is that with the current globalized green environment, the devices can be used for varying requirements, such as during demolition of buildings or construction which can be utilized to enhance health and safety aspect of the project. However, it must be observed that tailored utilization of such tools is required to practically enhance the safety aspects in accordance with the requirements (Rice, 2010).
Augmented reality encompasses the live direct or indirect viewing of a real environment elements and characterises of which are augmented or simply supplemented by a sensory input generated through a computers which may include GPS data, sounds, graphics and videos. Through the use of object recognition and computer vision, the information present can be virtually interactive while allowing the user to manipulate it digitally to enhance communication (Jones, 2014). Augmented reality is a recent entrant into the Architecture engineering and construction industry which allows the architects to look into a third dimensional image of the paper version of the proposed design through mobile phones or other models. The use of augmented reality goes beyond mere visualizations and is illustrated through the case of Christchurch earthquake in 2011 where the engineers and city planners used the visualizations of the destroyed buildings to draw a comparison between the devastation of the building and the initial material used; which shown that this technology can be used to further strengthen the health and safety implications of the industry (Yoders, 2014)
Virtual Reality also known as computer stimulated life allows the user to interact in a real or imaginary stimulated place using artificially created experiences using senses such as sight, touch and smell (Baldwin, et al, 2009). The architecture, engineering and construction industry relies heavily on visualizations and virtual reality allows the users to share the buildings through a computer generated image thereby making construction not only innovative but also cost effective. It ensures a distinct clarity in the design of the building since the architects and contractors can enter into the virtual reality and modify it from within (Wong et al, 2014). A very recent though important aspect of virtual reality is its use for the purposes of educating technicians in assembling, remodelling, modifying or examining complicated machinery, which can all prove to have an influential aspect in structuring optimized health and safety procedures in various industrial activities (Mullin, 2013).
Prefabrication is another digital technological process that has been implemented within the Architecture Engineering and Construction Industry, with the primary aim of reducing the cost of labour and time while enhancing the accuracy of the construction design (Keegan, 2010). The process involves the use of various technologies, first and foremost the BIM for specifications and sequences for all the components of the building which is then translated through the fabrication software. Following this, the Computer Numerical Control technology is used for the fabrication of a particular product.
In various cases BIM can be used for the enhancement of exchange of information between various participants which can be followed by fabrication through details obtained from the product (Hergunsel, 2011). After the pre fabrication and arrival of the products on the site, then coordination between the superintendent and the trade specialists takes place which ensures that the virtual third dimensional design will transform into a reality. This type of technological advancements reduces the on-site manufacturing, allowing provision of easy installations which reduced on-site activities of human resources involved, thus reducing the probability of accidents on site. Therefore, advancements in pre-fabrication technologies can potentially have a huge impact on improving overall health and safety aspects of construction industry.
With the increase in technological innovation throughout the globe, it is imperative and inevitable for the architecture, engineering and construction industry to be profiteered with new technological devices (Boyce and Luck, 2015). In the recent years, the industry has been dependent on the use of digital technologies and where it has been documented to have various benefits it is also imperative to note the various risks it poses for the health and safety within the built environment. First and foremost, where it is important to have information available to all the required parties, it also gives rise to information theft or unintentional disclosure of data which would have a negative impact on the security of not only the asset but also the occupants of the built environment (Jiao, et al, 2013).
Moreover, it is important for all the collaborators to discuss and be aware of the risks associated with the projects. Security can be extended to national threat issues including terrorism to sustaining the preserved use of built assets. This includes not only preserving a built structure but also prevention of any disclosure of intellectual property and data that may be deemed commercially sensitive (Hergunsel, 2011). This security minded approach should be adopted into the beginning of the project so that an initial assessment of the asset can reveal its vulnerability and sensitivity so that the appropriate data can be protected.
Digital technologies when applied and implemented with careful scrutiny will help in keeping the built environment safe and secure. Through the use of augmented reality and BIM, situations that can lead to injury can be indentified and subsequently prevented (Wong et al, 2014). RFID tagging and BIM can be used for prefabrication while ensuring that all energy inputs and outputs are authentic and have not been modified. Furthermore, through prompt tracking, it ensures reliability and availability of the product in an efficient manner (Almagor, 2014). RFID Tagging and prefabrication can be used to ensure that certain data remains confidential, and if it is used with proper thoroughness it can be used to circumvent any potential negative impact of unintentional disclosure of information (Jiao, et al, 2013).
Since access to the complete technology is not available throughout the organization it can manipulated to ensure configuration and consistency while further making sure that there is no undue interference with the running of the organization. Data can be managed through the use of these technologies so that it can be used at a later time or for a later project as a reference (Wong et al, 2014).
Furthermore, these technologies such as virtual and augmented reality allow all the participants to be able to analyse the materials used in a construction project and to identify their defects so that they can be removed or prevented when rebuilding. It can ensure safety of the occupants, the workers and others included by allowing identification of hazards and circumventing them before their appearance (Meza, et al, 2014).
It is imperative for the architect, engineering and construction industry to embrace to notion of collaborative working through not only effective communication but also sharing large amount of data with openness. This is not only useful for new buildings or refurbishments but will be effective in the management of assets in the long term through use of real time data for the analysis of the buildings. Digital technology into the industry has opened up new venues of opportunities to enhance innovation, efficiency and ensure sustainability through reduced costs. However, there are various vulnerability as well as applications issues that need to be addressed followed by implementation of control methods to ensure optimum health and safety within the built environment. For example, unintentional disclosure of information can be fatal to the company and needs to be addressed by putting in place a security measure that allows collaboration without comprising the safety. Moreover, further integration of H&S data into computer aided systems are required to ensure successful implications of industrial safety (Keegan, 2010).
Health and Safety measures need to be implemented at every level within the organization, beginning with the proposing of the idea and the delivery of the said product including the chain supply management in between. Digital innovation through the use of virtual and augmented reality has allowed the users to interact with their project in a third dimensional feature which is imperative to the health and safety of the built environment. BIM coupled with virtual and augmented reality can be safely implemented for the use in a project to ensure optimum health and safety. However, it is again pertinent to point out that the vulnerability that comes forth with this technological advancement can only be efficient through utilization of state of the art technical tools in an open collaborative process between the architecture, engineering and construction organizations.
Yoders, R. (2014). What is Augmented Reality and how can it help architects and contractors? Line Shape Space. Published on 21-March-2014. Available at: http://lineshapespace.com/what-is-augmented-reality/.