Disruptive Technologies are Changing Construction

Jose Ureña (MPM '21) realized the potential for new technologies like artificial intelligence and digital twins in the construction industry as part of his research with Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) Associate Director Ahmad Hadavi.

Jose Ureña was a structural engineering intern in a construction company in the Dominican Republic when he discovered a disconnect between perception and reality. During his time as an undergraduate civil engineering major at Northwestern University, Ureña read reports and statistics that claimed the construction industry was stagnant and in need of a technological revolution. However, on the work site, he saw new technological innovations firsthand.

It wasn't that the industry was in need of a tech revolution, Ureña realized. The revolution was already happening. What the industry needed were individuals who can leverage technology to make it, and the construction industry as a whole, more efficient and effective. To help become that person, Ureña turned to Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program. 

“The construction world will change rapidly in the next decade, and as upcoming managers, we need to be able to know how these technologies can possibly affect work and how to take advantage of them,” said Ureña (MPM ʼ21). “There will come a time when companies will need to adapt or be left behind. The best way we can help our companies is by preparing ourselves with all the knowledge we can acquire about disruptive technologies.”

While in MPM, Ureña conducted an independent study project on disruptive technology supervised by Professor and Associate Director Ahmad Hadavi. Ureña researched innovations within the industry and how technological advances will change the way construction and engineering services are performed.  

Ureña and Hadavi studied a range of technologies, including augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, building-information modeling (BIM), robotics, and the Internet of Things, all of which can be applied for construction and change the industry’s status quo. Construction companies that do not take the time to understand these technologies will be at a disadvantage.

Artificial intelligence, BIM, and the Internet of Things will be the most effective disruptive technologies, their research found. Artificial intelligence can be used in a variety of ways, including risk mitigation and improving individual and team productivity. BIM is essentially a digital twin of a project, and it enables a building to be designed, built, and operated more efficiently. The Internet of Things makes interactive communication among devices and systems possible to improve productivity and efficiency.

“It will be an expectation for project managers to know what technological advancements are out there and which would provide the most benefit,” Ureña said. “These three technologies have the greatest chance to disrupt the industry since their uses are virtually endless and present such a massive advantage for the field.” 

Ureña now feels that advantage himself. Since graduating from MPM, Ureña was hired as a construction manager for Constructora JM in the Dominican Republic, working in road infrastructure development. He credits MPM with helping prepare him to not just identify the technological revolution facing the industry, but to play a role in leading it.  

“This research in disruptive technology specifically was great because I was able to merge my love for construction with my interests in new tech,” Ureña said. "The MPM program lets students pursue a lot of different interests while still guiding us through the fundamentals of construction management.”

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