Science and science fiction often compete for the minds of the general population. The term “robot,” for example, can conjure up many different images, depending on the experience and movie going history of the listener. Engineers might imagine a machine doing repetitive work that bores humans while labor union leaders would see the same image as taking away jobs. Robotic designers have been seeking ways to make robots less threatening and more productive for generations, going so far as adding human features and voice to what amounts to a guided vehicle delivering food to patients in a hospital.
BIM (building information modeling) provides a lot of information for construction and maintenance of structures. Computer aided design or CAD has been a major tool in “loading” a BIM project’s database. Now, other tools are being integrated with BIM for increased digital transformation of the industry.
Cameras are being used in a myriad of ways in construction. Monitoring work progress on the jobsite and flying high over a tract to survey a new project are just a few. Fleet owners, with both truck and heavy equipment, are adopting cameras to survey the operation of the equipment and monitor operator behavior to prevent accidents and provide evidence in case of accidents.
It’s not only construction companies that can be liable for operator error and incidents caused by others. Companies across the commercial transportation industry, from long-haul trucking to field services to passenger transit, are at risk for high-cost incidents on the road, such as sideswiping and back-up collisions.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit construction worldwide with cancelations, postponements, delays, and lockdowns just like every other industry. Now, many of the restrictions imposed in 2020 and 2021 are being abated, although the rise of variants such as Delta and Omicron may change that quickly.
According to a report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Managing the new age of construction risk, the global construction market is set for a sustained period of strong growth post-COVID-19, driven by government spending on infrastructure and the transition to a net zero society. However, the switch to more sustainable buildings and infrastructure, the upscaling of clean energy facilities, and the adoption of modern building methods will transform the risk landscape, with radical changes in design, materials, and processes. These challenges add to stressed supply chains, shortages in materials and labor, and increased costs, all coming against the backdrop of years-long tight margins in the industry.
The infrastructure bill was just signed and already companies are getting in line to help. The U.S. federal government normally spends more than $20 billion annually on roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure projects with that number about to get much bigger with the bipartisan infrastructure bill being passed.
The FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) Office of FLH (Federal Lands Highway) operates in all 50 states and provides engineering and construction expertise that supports more than 500,000 miles of roadway, 8,500 bridges, 35,000 trails, and more than 400 transit systems for federally-owned transportation facilities. FLH delivers projects similar to the state DOTs (Dept. of Transportation) and local public agencies and undertakes many unique programs and projects that are geographically and environmentally complex. It sought to replace old construction management systems with a single-platform, interoperable solution that would offer seamless integration across the capital planning and management lifecycle, and support workers in the field with mobile capabilities.
The economy has its ups and downs and level periods as well. The problem is anticipating which will be in effect when a project is ready to start. As interest rates fluctuate, making decisions on lending for major projects can hold back banks and create a funding shortfall. In many cases, especially since the signing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in November, government loans can save the day.
The U.S. DOT (Dept. of Transportation’s) Build America Bureau has provided direct TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loans for many years. The Bureau was established as a “one-stop-shop” during the Obama Administration to help states and other sponsors carry out infrastructure projects. The Bureau offers credit programs, technical assistance, and best practices in project planning, financing, delivery, and operation. To date, the Bureau has provided more than $36.2 billion in financing through the TIFIA credit program, supporting more than $123.2 billion in infrastructure investment across the country.
The application of digital technology—computers, smart phones, Internet of Things, the cloud, etc.—has had a great impact on construction over the past decade. This digitalization has even spawned a term: Construction 4.0. But it has also generated a degree of concern that too much reliance on technology is a bad thing.
Then came COVID-19. And the growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental issues. And disruption of the supply chain due to tariffs and shortages of the basic material needed for building.
Wind-power is a serious contender for the electricity generator of the future. Solar and wind are expanding across the globe as fossil fuels are losing their advantage as a generating source. The tall “windmills” seen along highways around the country are being supported by similar technology at sea.
Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corp., the largest provider of dredging services in the United States, aims to help that trend. The company has signed a contract with Philly Shipyard, Inc. to build the first U.S.-flagged Jones Act-compliant, inclined fallpipe vessel for subsea rock installation. This vessel will service the growing offshore wind energy industry and help reach the Biden administration’s ambitious 30 GW of offshore wind goal by 2030.
With the signing of the infrastructure bill by President Biden on November 15, attention will soon switch from “What’s in the bill?” to “How will those provisions be implemented?” While the U.S. infrastructure bill has gained the most recent press, there are other similar programs in other parts of the world that are “under the radar” in this country.
Construction companies have become aware of and concerned about the potential attacks—digital, physical, and natural—on infrastructure, especially utilities, both while they are under construction and while operating. If you are responsible for the security of the site before, during or after construction, that can weigh heavily on your decisions.