Is the future of construction digital?

Technology is developing at a rapid pace and companies are doing their best to target the newest trends – but whose job is it to ensure that adequate research is undertaken and developments put forth? Cat Jones speaks to Burkhard Boeckem, chief technology officer (CTO) at Hexagon Geosystems, on technology’s future.

A chief technology officer (CTO) is an essential role to any company developing its technological presence but even more so when your business provides digital reality solutions, software and autonomous technologies.

Burkhard Boeckem, CTO at Hexagon (Photo: Hexagon)
What does a CTO do?

Boeckem’s role at Hexagon is one of a balancing act he says. “My responsibility and what I’m doing on a daily basis is to always try to find the balance between innovation, technology and business.

“It starts with the research side of things but you need to have a strong strategy. A strong vision of where you want to go.

“You have the road maps going along and then then you look at what technology you can organically develop and what technology that you need.”

Over the last 20 years, Hexagon has made great strides in its development as a company with over 170 acquisitions. Boeckem says that everything needs to have a business purpose whilst being mindful of other developments across the industry.

Is the future of construction digital?

The construction sector appears to be making leaps and bounds in terms of technological advancement but Boeckem is unsure whether the industry is still at the beginning of its journey.

“I think construction is doing giant leaps toward becoming digital. In terms of the use of software and at least in the planning phase, I would say.” He added, “the execution phase is maybe still somewhere different.”

Looking to the future Boeckem thinks there will be more development in this sector and there is a lot to learn from what is happening with mining equipment and technology.

“I think in a few years from now you would see that most excavators will be fully machine controlled, you can argue whether it’s then completely autonomous or not but I think that’s the way it’s going and maybe from the Hexagon point of view, you can compare what we doing in the mining sector through construction. The mining industry has a little more in terms of advancement.

“There is a larger pool of technology in this industry than there has traditionally been in construction, and you can probably see what we’re doing in construction in mining with the autonomous fleet, fleet management, and optimisation that will flow in a few years’ time.”

“I would say it’s not in the start-up phase anymore,” said Boeckem. “If you look at the whole lifecycle, probably yes, but I would say if you looked from the reality capture, digital twin creation and design phase it’s quite advanced already. In recent years the whole closing of a feedback loop and bringing autonomy safety solutions – that’s something we’re working heavily on at Hexagon.”

Boeckem believes that this is where the construction industry needs to do a step and that the industry still has some years before it becomes fully digital but that this is certainly not the beginning of the journey.

Software ecosystems

Technology is developing in new areas every day but whether they have the potential to change the construction sector is another question. For Boeckem, software ecosystems are standing out at the moment.

“The ones that are probably the most important are the ones that are open and connect with all the standards because I think you will always find mixed fleets and hardware from all the vendors on a construction site, and you will also find software packages from all the vendors.

“The cloud is very important, and I think that’s what makes it only possible to have synchronisation and all the changes in the design flights directly on the consumption side. Connecting it wisely, machines to machines, machines to systems and then via the cloud.”

Ultimately there are barriers that are preventing some areas of technology from progressing and Boeckem largely believes this comes from incompatibility.

“The barriers may currently come from things that are not compatible. Some platforms are not open and there are some closed-up ecosystems. I think the future of digital reconstruction is the seamless interplay between open platforms and open ecosystems.”

Which type of construction technology is best?

Hexagon plays a key role in the innovation of digital technologies across a variety of sectors – with construction being one of them. To encourage the use of technology in modern workplaces, Hexagon says that knowing the issues contractors and companies face is key to resolving them.

“Foremost, I think it’s making technology work. Maybe not explicitly expressed but making technology work autonomously in the background and making it very simple to use is important. If data can flow regardless of the format from point A to B, then it can be used quite seamlessly in multiple packages.

“It’s hard enough to be on the construction site, the day in and day out. You don’t want the hassle of data formats or super complicated artificial intelligence. I think if you solve all of this together, it starts with readability.”

Whilst Boeckem believes that technology is well into its journey in the construction industry, he also sees a number of innovations becoming standard practice.

“I think for sure machine control has come as a standard, so to say, connectivity as a standard and then also hybrid system. In addition to that, a seamless flow of data between reality capture, digital reality, and design construction.

“And in five years’ time, I still assume that we will see hybrid, automation and we see some autonomy.”

Safety is paramount in the industry and whilst technology can replace some human roles, Boeckem still believes that this will be a job for both machine and man.

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