Ongoing efforts are ensuring many materials that previously ended up in landfills are now repurposed into construction materials. Numerous companies tackle the world’s plastic waste problem that way. However, people are also concerned about reducing the trash construction projects can generate. Here are some fascinating ways digital technologies can accomplish that.
Choosing AI to streamline waste reduction
Artificial intelligence (AI) makes major impacts in industries ranging from health care to agriculture. It can also make a significant difference in construction waste levels.
One project associated with recovering usable materials from demolished buildings utilized machine learning — a subset of AI — to get results. Researchers used records from 2,280 building demolition projects to train an algorithm that could predict the total value of materials recovered from a destroyed building with a 97% average accuracy. The researchers’ results could improve waste reduction efforts, particularly as construction professionals perform pre-demolition audits.
However, some applications of AI in construction waste reduction happen off the construction site. A recently developed sorting robot uses AI to differentiate among various kinds of construction and demolition waste.
The standalone system can detect materials like wood, plus items such as lightbulbs. This use of AI assists companies specializing in construction recycling, allowing representatives to find and sort the highest-value materials quickly.
Using BIM to improve waste management
Building information modeling (BIM) has been a crucial technological innovation for the construction industry. It allows people to see 3D models of projects before and during all phases of construction. BIM also encompasses the design, tools and technologies used and assets managed during an endeavor.
A 2020 research paper investigated using BIM during the tender phase to determine the most economically advantageous ways forward while prioritizing waste reduction. For example, the authors suggested having construction professionals examine several possible approaches, relying on the BIM data to determine which one met the most waste-reduction goals.
Another possibility mentioned in the paper was to use BIM information to guide choices about green building processes. Then, whether people choose eco-friendly materials or proceed with construction while protecting natural resources and habitats, it becomes easier to see the potential effects of those decisions.
Since BIM tools facilitate information sharing, it’s easier for people to see the possible effects of certain decisions before making them. Viewing the potential outcomes via 3D models and adjusting accordingly can save time and money, plus minimize physical waste.
Boosting human output through better management
Waste management in the construction industry involves responsibly reusing or discarding the materials associated with building or demolishing a structure. However, it also relates to keeping a construction site well-managed to make the best use of human resources.
A recent study concerned looking at four decades of construction data to see how overall output has changed over time. The statistics showed a general decline in productivity.
Hasse Neve, a researcher on the project, said, “Since 1972, we’ve continuously gotten less and less out of every hour of work. Construction sites have simply become less and less efficient because more time is spent on non-value-adding work. Ultimately, this means that we spend more and more working hours on a single construction job. Therefore, our contractors do not earn as much money on construction as they could.”
He continued by mentioning lean methodology — a staple in manufacturing plants worldwide — as the ideal way forward. “Lean construction tools are basically all about eliminating waste. It is therefore crucial that the construction management [team] are trained in lean construction and that extra resources are added to both implementation and support throughout the project.”
Many cloud-based digital platforms exist in the construction sector to help professionals embrace lean principles. Some of them enable direct integration with BIM tools. An estimated 11 billion people work in the construction sector, but labor shortages exist despite that massive number. Combining lean principles with digital platform usage could help managers make the most of their available labor pool.
Monitoring land clearing with digital platforms
The waste reduction process can begin long before construction starts. For example, keeping track of progress can happen as soon as a client chooses a piece of property as a future building site. From there, it’s time to investigate land-clearing processes. Statistics indicate approximately 11% growth in construction by 2028, which suggests land-clearing professionals will stay in demand.
You may not immediately think of land-clearing companies as instrumental in waste-reduction efforts. However, they can provide significant payoffs due to their resources and knowledge that save time and prevent mistakes. These projects are often extensive — one example involved clearing more than 2,000 acres of property for a Tesla facility.
Digital platforms can be particularly convenient for helping decision-makers stay abreast of all waste-reduction efforts occurring during and after land clearing. They can also ensure construction professionals abide by all applicable permits.
Getting permission to prepare land for construction means agreeing to specific rules about disposal methods and routes, techniques used on the property and more. For example, the pile and burn method is a popular fire-based approach to clear land. However, local authorities may not permit using it, particularly if the area frequently experiences strong winds or has trees that release toxins when exposed to flames.
Using a digital platform to track land-clearing activities ensures companies operate within their permits. The information captured by such tools can also measure metrics such as the productivity of the teams performing the work and allow project managers to set benchmarks.
Also Read: Why and How Virtual Reality is growing?
Enhancing knowledge-transfer efforts with virtual reality
When someone works in the construction industry, they accumulate both explicit and tacit knowledge. The first type comes from reading books, attending lectures given by an expert, watching videos and consuming other types of codified information. However, people get tacit knowledge through hands-on experiences, such as observing and imitating professionals during apprenticeships.
Tacit knowledge poses difficulties when the people possessing it try to pass it on to others. However, a project at Purdue University concerns using virtual reality (VR) to fill knowledge gaps. Professor Anthony Sparkling is one of the primary people working on that approach.
He clarified that, while improving the training methods relied on for teaching people in construction, this application of VR could make a difference in waste reduction. He gave an example of interest in the project from the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). “NECA’s research foundation is looking for better tools for training newer people,” Sparkling said. “Traditionally, students train using real products such as electrical metallic tubing (EMT or conduit) that generate waste in the field. A VR training module could prevent those materials from being consumed.”
Choosing VR for training could also better prepare students for real-world activities. If that happens, there’s a higher likelihood they’ll get construction tasks done without mistakes or the need for rework, reducing waste that way, too.
Digital innovations minimize construction waste
These examples show how construction professionals have numerous opportunities to apply digital technologies to limit waste during all project phases. As more companies experiment with these and other options, you could see steady progress in the ways site managers plan for and accommodate waste.