7 Ways Technology is Changing Construction

Eric Weisbrot | Construction Law in North Carolina | July 5, 2018

It is difficult to argue that technology is having minimal impact on society as a whole. Not only are digital enhancements making waves on the consumer side of the line, but businesses are feeling the effects as much if not more in recent years. The construction industry is no exception to this technological shift, but the influence the change is having on licensed construction contractors and long-standing businesses is far-reaching. Here are several ways technology is disrupting construction on a day to day basis.

 #1.  Autonomous Equipment.  One of the most notable changes in construction is the addition of autonomous equipment on job sites. Several technology-focused companies are currently testing and perfecting construction machines that require no human interaction to operate. The hope behind this shift is to reduce the impact of the labor shortage in the industry while improving efficiency and productivity on each job.

#2.  Wearable Technology.  Technology is also having an impact on individual workers and how they stay safe and productive each day. Wearable technology, including hard hats, protective eyewear, and gloves are all being developed and rolled out to contractors throughout the country. This digital change offers construction management an easy and efficient way to monitor workers’ production and progress from afar.

#3.  Use of Materials.  Technology is also being used to improve the materials used in building and maintaining structures. The most significant shift in this arena is the use of 3D printing to create materials both on- and off-site, faster and in a more cost-effective way than traditional methods. Carbon fiber through 3D printing allows for the simple production of a variety of materials, including turbine blades, lighting, and pavement.

#4.  Productivity.  Construction sites have seen an influx of drone use as well for a variety of reasons. Drones may be used to identify production issues or monitor progress over time, without the need for the site manager to be physically present. The use of drones in construction has also been touted as a more efficient way to recognize hazards and weather issues that often deter job completion. 

[Editor’s note: there are several legal issues involved with the commercial use of drones.  We have a legal presentation on this topic– if you are in North Carolina and want us to present it to your organization, give me a shout out!]

#5.  Training and Safety.  The use of augmented and virtual reality is also making its way to the construction industry. Both technologies give construction workers a realistic view of a project before it even begins, aiding in creating accurate timelines and budgets. However, more importantly, augmented and virtual reality resources are able to provide a method of training for a higher level of safety on each job site. This has the potential to reduce the total cost of operating a construction project and save lives in the process.

 #6.  Analytics.  Big data is a buzzword throughout the technology landscape, but it does have real implications for construction businesses. The ability to gather data from wearable technology, drones, AR and VR platforms, and even autonomous equipment can be a game changer for site managers. The details included in the data may be used for current and future decision-making, helping construction projects run more efficiently.

 #7.  Running the Business.  Finally, technology in construction is making a significant change in how companies are run. Whether large or small, construction businesses have countless digital tools to help with tasks from accounting and payroll to inventory and timeline management. The technology behind these software platforms is becoming less expensive to create as more companies utilize their power, giving most businesses an opportunity to take advantage.

It may seem like a far-fetched idea to see technology influencing nearly every corner of the construction world, but the reality is this shift has already taken place in a significant way. Construction site managers, large companies, and individual contractors alike can and should jump on the digital bandwagon in ways that best suit their needs in an effort to stay profitable and competitive.

Is My Bid Binding?

Brian R. Gaudet | Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP | July 24, 2018

For those in the construction industry, you are probably familiar with the concept of negotiating contract terms, either in writing or just a discussion, and when the two parties agree to terms, either in writing or with a handshake, then a deal is a deal. This follows the legal concept of a contract, which requires an offer, acceptance, consideration and a meeting of the minds. What if you are a trade contractor and submit a bid that a general contractor relies on to win a contract. Is that bid a contract? Is it binding? Even if the bid does not meet the elements of a contract, it can still be binding. Court’s apply the doctrine of promissory estoppel to hold parties to their bids in the absence of a contract.

The Restatement (First) of Contracts, Section 90 describes the legal premise: “A promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promise and which does induce such action or forbearance is binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise.” In the highly cited case of Drennan v. Star Paving Company 333 P.2d 757 (En Banc 1958), the Supreme Court of California explained “When [the contractor] used [the subcontractor’s] offer in computing his own bid, he bound himself to perform in reliance on [subcontractor’s] terms. Though [the subcontractor] did not bargain for this use of its bid neither did defendant make it idly, indifferent to whether it would be used or not. On the contrary, it is reasonable to suppose that [the subcontractor] submitted its bid to obtain the subcontract…[The Subcontractor] had reason not only to expect [the Contractor] to rely on its bid but to want him to. Given this interest and the fact that [the Contractor] is bound by his own bid, it is only fair that [the Contractor] should have at least an opportunity to accept [Subcontractor’s ] bid after the general contract has been awarded to him.”

As usual, there can be different treatment of this concept in various jurisdictions and differences in the facts of each case which may affect the outcome, but as a general rule, when you submit a bid, you should expect it to be binding.

Legal Implications of 3D Printing in Construction Loom

Aldo E. Ibarra | Engineering News-Record | June 28, 2018

Imagine a printer in the middle of a construction site programmed with a designer’s plans and specifications to build an entire home from scratch. As concrete is fed into the printing device, a technician hits enter on her computer and a 3D printer starts fabricating the structure’s walls and roof.

The final product will be created almost entirely by pre-programmed software and a movable printer injecting concrete, with no need for human construction workers. This isn’t science fiction, it’s a reality on the cutting edge of construction and technology.

The use of 3D printers in the construction industry will have legal implications that will affect owners, contractors, manufacturers and software developers.

The additive manufacturing boom has reached the construction industry and will certainly impact the way construction projects are managed. The rise of 3D printers will translate into fewer workers on construction sites, as printers will be automated and largely autonomous. Projects will be completed faster, as 3D printers will be capable of working at all hours, and will not require overtime.

Current concrete-injection 3D printers developed by WinSun Decoration Design Engineering, in China, have the capacity to print small houses, including walls and roofs, at a pace of up to 10 small houses in 24 hours.

3D printing capabilities go beyond just concrete. The team of MX3D, in Amsterdam, is currently working on delivering the first completely 3D-printed steel bridge. U.S.-based Contour Crafting is developing 3D and autonomous construction technologies that would allow for the construction of tall concrete towers, such as wind turbines, using climbing robots that would “print” the contour of the structure as they move upward.

Developers have positioned 3D printers tailored to the construction industry to work almost like robots. That is, the 3D printer is not just printing a door or a beam that will later be installed by construction workers, although that capability certainly exists, it is effectively installing the printed component in-place.

For example, in the case of steel structures, a 3D printer/robot can print a small section of steel using metallic powders and a “printer” head in a process known as direct metal laser sintering that uses a welding arm that will move along over that portion to create the next one, and so on, until the structure is completed. The result is an entirely new structure constructed wholly by the 3D printer.

Innovation and disruptive technology bring new legal risks and implications. In the context of construction defects claims, 3D printers will expose manufacturers and developers to liability and claims that would normally be attributed to human error.

Instead of human workers building a structure, a 3D printer will additively manufacture it after a pre-generated plan is uploaded to the printer’s software. How will liability be apportioned when the finished structure is found to have cracks, be uneven, improperly thick or have the wrong finish?

Whether the 3D printer is owned by the contractor, is being leased as equipment or is the equipment of a subcontractor will affect who can be found liable.

If the defect is the result of the printer’s malfunction, the contractor will have warranty and indemnity claims against the manufacturer arising out of privity from purchasing or leasing the 3D printer.

If the defect is the result of a software malfunction, that could open the developer to negligence and warranty claims for the value of the defects in the project at issue.

If there is an independent technician, acting as a subcontractor, feeding the plans into the 3D printer could also be open it to liability if the defect was the result of improperly uploading those plans or operating the 3D printer.

In addition to claims against the contractor, the owner could also have claims against the manufacturer or software developer for economic loss, even in the absence of direct privity, if the owner can show the damage to his property caused by the 3D printer was foreseeable.

The case Biakanja v. Irving (1958) 49 Cal. 2d 647, 649 gives courts a roadmap even if they didn’t foresee technology such as additive manufacturing.

When faced with a construction defect caused by a 3D printer used by the contractor or one of its subcontractors, the owner will certainly have, at the very least, an argument that the manufacturer of the printer or developer of the software should have been aware that a malfunction of its hardware or software would, in turn, impact the owner’s property.

Increased prevalence of this emerging technology will also have an impact on material suppliers. If 3D printers will be used in a specific project, designers and contractors should provide proper specifications for material compatible with the specific 3D printer. Material suppliers will also have to certify their materials as compatible with the printers.

Failure to do so could open designers and material suppliers to liability for construction defects resulting from the incompatibility of the material with the specific 3D printer.

The use of 3D printers in construction projects is also likely to conflict with current licensing and permit regulations.

For example, California Code of Regulations, Title 24, Building Standards Code, Section 110 et seq. provides for different types of inspections that are necessary before the government certifies a structure for use and occupancy. The increased speed with which 3D printers can complete projects could be slowed down by current inspection requirements and inspection scheduling procedures.

As the use of 3D printers becomes more common, government agencies in charge of inspecting construction projects will have to adapt to the faster-paced construction offered. In the ideal scenario, governmental agencies would embrace the new technologies in the construction industry and, for example, invest in automated scanner drones that could inspect an automated 3D printer’s work and, immediately thereafter, send the inspection’s result to the governmental agency for certification.

Such advances, however, may be difficult to achieve unless states, cities and counties make significant investments in infrastructure.

As 3D printers/robots become more commonplace on construction projects, contractors should be mindful of including express warranty clauses in purchase and leasing contracts for 3D printers.

Designers and material suppliers will have to confirm that construction materials under plans and specifications will be compatible with 3D printers; and governmental agencies will have to adapt to the fast production rate of 3D printers.

It’s Just Dirt, or Is It? – What You Don’t Know on an Excavation Site Can Hurt You, or at Least Cost You Money.

Courtney Lynch | Kilpatrick Townsend | June 27, 2018

Underground utilities and pipelines pose potential problems for excavators and other contractors performing work below ground. Whether your business involves the construction of buildings primarily above ground or running pipes or cables below, there are issues to consider if your construction involves excavations.

In most states, an excavator has a duty to request the location of underground utility facilities and underground pipelines through its state’s notification center. There are federal regulations that also touch on excavation best practices, such as OSHA’s (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Specific Excavation Requirements found in 29 CFR 1926.651.

There are two primary sources of law that govern excavations around underground utilities and pipelines in Texas. These two sources are the Underground Facility Damage and Prevention Act, and the Underground Pipeline Damage Prevention Rules.

The Texas Underground Facility Damage and Prevention Act, also known as the state’s “One Call Law,” is located in Chapter 251 of the Texas Utility Code. The One Call Law outlines the duties of excavators and utility operators when an excavation is planned in the area of telecommunications and electrical underground facilities, as well as in the vicinity of gas pipelines and other types of underground utilities. As defined in Sec. 251.002, an underground facility includes, among others, those that “produce, store, convey, transmit, or distribute” electrical energy, gas, petroleum, steam, and telecommunications services. Util. § 251.002.

The Underground Pipeline Damage Prevention Rules are located in Chapter 18 of the Texas Administrative Code. Implemented by the Railroad Commission of Texas, the Pipeline Rules apply to those with the intent to excavate near an “underground pipeline containing flammable, toxic, or corrosive gas, a hazardous liquid, or carbon dioxide.” 16 Admin. § 18.3(a).

Excavators and utility operators have distinct responsibilities when it comes to the requirements of the state notification system. Excavators are required to notify the state notification center of an intent to dig with very precise information, such as the exact location of the excavation site, the excavator’s contact information, and the starting date and time of the proposed dig.

Class A utility providers are required by law to respond to the location requests through the state notification center. The One Call Law defines Class A underground facilities as those that “produce, store, convey, transmit, or distribute” electrical energy, gas, petroleum, steam, and telecommunications services. Util. § 251.002. All Class A utility providers doing business in the State of Texas are required to participate in the notification center process. Although the duty is clearly on the utility provider to belong to the notification system and to mark its lines, Texas law does not require water or sewer operators (Class B utility providers) to be members of the Texas Notification System. An excavator should plan to contact those providers directly.

The utility operator is required mark the approximate location of its underground facilities within 48 hours and is required to mark lines with the color coding standards outlined by the American Public Works Association.

An operator who does not comply with the One Call Law shifts liability for damage to the lines from the excavator to the operator. An excavator who fully complies with its duties under the One Call Law will not be liable for damages to underground lines that were not marked by the utility operator. Id. at § 251.157(c). However, even if an underground utility is not marked correctly, the excavator may have partial liability if the excavator did not complywith the One Call Law. See Bechtel Corp v. Citgo Prods. Pipeline Co., 271 S.W.3d 989, 913 (Tex. App.—Austin 2008, no pet.).

Of course, marked lines only indicate the approximate location of underground utilities. Ultimately, the excavator must use care to avoid damaging marked lines and must take all reasonable steps to protect underground facilities, pipelines, and on-site people from harm.

Robots Are Coming to the Construction Site

Kendall Jones | Construct Connect | February 23, 2018

In a recent post, we discussed the likelihood of robots replacing human labor on the construction site. While there may be some attrition in the future, the most likely scenario is that robots will be used alongside human workers to augment their work, keep them safer and boost productivity. The current capabilities of existing robot combined with a growing labor shortage will probably lead to robots handling some of the more menial repetitive tasks, leaving the human worker to focus on other aspects of their job.

Here are some of the robots making their way to a construction site near you:

Doxel AI

Doxel is using robots and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor jobsite progress with real-time, actionable data. The technology uses autonomous drones and rovers equipped with high-definition cameras and LiDAR to photograph and scan the construction site each day with pinpoint accuracy. Their AI then uses those scans to compare against your BIM models, 3D drawing, schedule and estimates to inspect the quality of the work performed and to determine how much progress has been made each day.

The AI uses deep-learning algorithms to identify and report errors in work performed. This can be anything from the excavation and site work to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. The AI can recognize a building component based on its shape, size and location even if only a portion of the component is visible.

By classifying and measuring quantities installed, Doxel can tell you how much work was done each day which it can then compare against your construction schedule and alert you if your project is falling behind. The AI also detects deviations between installed components and onsite work with models so you can quickly identify errors and avoid costly rework.

The main goal of Doxel is to improve productivity, eliminate rework and help deliver projects on time and within budget. Doxel was used on a recent project for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego and was able to help the bring construction in 11% under budget and improved labor productivity by 38%. Doxel has recently raised 4.5$ million in funding.

Built Robotics

Built Robotics’ Automated Track Loader, or ATL, was developed to excavate smaller construction sites. The system uses specially designed LiDAR to accommodate for vibrations in order to see where it is going and to measure the material being excavated. Augmented GPS, a combination of onsite base stations and satellites, are used to geofence the site and to move the track loader around the site with precision accuracy.

Instead of building an entirely new piece of heavy equipment, the electronics for the ATL are housed in a cargo carrier that attaches to the cab to retrofit existing compact track loaders. The system also has a collision detection system to prevent the loader from coming into contact with workers or other equipment on the construction site. The ATL also has a kill switch for the person supervising the work should it be needed.

Input from equipment operators was used in designing the software running the ATL and the machine operates at about the same speed as a human operator. Built Robotics has been tested out on a few pilot projects in the San Francisco area and has raised $15 million in funding.

TyBot

A rebar tying robot might not seem that glamorous, but it does fill a very specific need on construction sites where labor is short. Developed by Advanced Construction Robotics, Inc., the TyBot can continuously tie rebar with only one worker needed to oversee the work.

Once the rebar for a bridge project has been placed, the TyBot can be set up using the existing bridge infrastructure and set to work. The robot moves along a gantry to identify each intersection of rebar, ties it and then moves on to the next intersection. The TyBot frame can expand to accommodate a bridge span of 145 feet.

The TyBot has a couple of clear advantages. One, it will allow a crew to be more productive because once they placed the rebar, they can move on to the next job while the TyBot does its work. Bending over and tying thousands of rebar intersections is back-breaking work that can lead to strains and other injuries.

The TyBot was used to tie rebar on a bridge in Beaver County, PA last November and in addition to renting it out for use, the company is currently taking purchase request with plans to begin delivering the robots in July.

You can check out more examples of robots in construction here.