Technology continues to have a substantial impact on building techniques and construction trends. Whether it’s digital technology, computers, wireless networking or other critical innovations, the goals are always the same—cut costs, shorten time to completion and increase safety. In addition, technological innovations are helping many companies deal with endemic problems, such as the growing national skilled labor shortage.
Although technology has always shaped construction trends, the industry as a whole has lagged behind when it comes to digital transformation. But that is currently changing. According to the latest construction survey by KPMG, the top 20 percent of contracting and engineering firms are “future-ready,” with 69 percent reporting they have integrated project management and reporting, 90 percent reporting they have a technology roadmap and 76 percent reporting they are focusing on innovation for recruiting.
Technology Is Changing Construction
The emerging technologies driving construction innovation are largely being adapted from other arenas. These technologies are having a big impact on improving efficiency, cutting costs and shortening construction time. Here are just a few of the latest technologies that will affect the future of construction:
- The Internet of Things (IoT) – Embedded sensors are gathering and sharing data for all kinds of applications, including material performance, operational workflow and worker safety. For example, smart devices can track progress on the worksite with real-time reporting for operational management. Smart safety glasses are also being implemented, in which they can not only record and transmit what the worker is seeing, but they also have earbuds built in for wireless communications.
- Virtual and augmented reality – The use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are becoming common on the job site, allowing supervisors to create real-time 3D comparisons of physical spaces and computerized plans. They also make it easier to overlay data during construction, while powering virtual walkthroughs for stakeholders and investors. AR and VR can also be used to identify environmental concerns, such as temperature changes or safety concerns. In addition, VR/AR enables a new level of collaboration between designers and builders during complex installations, as it allows architects, engineers, and builders to come together on a virtual job site, in real time, without leaving their desks.
- Artificial intelligence – As more data is generated from a multitude of sources, machine learning is going to play a larger role in correlating construction data. The connected worksite will generate more real-time information from cameras, sensors and other sources, while AI will be able to quickly correlate that data to identify issues such as safety violations. Machine learning can also streamline construction by aggregating and prioritizing change orders, identifying missing materials, optimizing workflow and providing a multitude of other insights.
- Predictive analytics – In addition to machine learning, having a larger pool of data can be invaluable for predictive analytics. Using data mining, statistics, computer modeling and other tools, you can analyze historical data to inform issues such as budgeting, scheduling and on-the-job safety. Ensuring your company has a pool of data to utilize, for predictive analytics, can help managers make smarter decisions that save time and money.
- Autonomous equipment – Drones have become invaluable to construction for site inspection, due to their use being faster and safer than climbing scaffolds. Using images from drones, companies like Skycatch are able to generate 3D models of job sites, which can include calculating area, volume of material to be moved and other pertinent information. Driverless earth movers and dump trucks also are starting to show up on the job site.
- Mobile technology – Smartphones and handheld tablets have also been a major part of construction for some time now, making it easier to access plans, bills of materials, work schedules and other information. Mobile and wearable technology is being used elsewhere as well, exemplified by bracelets, headphones and even smart hardhats that can be used to monitor worker movements, which are used to improve workflow.
- 3D printing – Three-dimensional printing has come a long way and is having a growing impact on construction. This type of printing is being used to make specialized components, and can even create entire structures. In 2018, Dutch robotics firm MX3D used 3D printing to make a bridge from molten steel, which highlights the underlying premise that companies can create building components or complete structures using an innovative 3D printing approach. For this approach, new materials are being used for 3D printing, such as paper, ceramic and even concrete. In the Netherlands, 3D-printed concrete buildings are helping companies deal with a shortage of bricklayers while cutting costs and reducing waste.
- Modular construction - Prefabricated designs and modular construction continue to drive construction innovation. With the continuing labor shortage and an uptick in shorter construction schedules, using prefabricated, modular construction is the best way to keep costs down. According to the Modular Building Institute, modular design can help complete a project 30-50 percent faster than conventional construction methods. Modular design also eliminates delays due to weather or missing components, while improving job-site safety.
Preparing for the Future
New technological construction trends promise to change and revolutionize the building industry. Those individuals and companies who embrace these construction trends will undoubtedly stay ahead of the competition. This is because technology promises to solve many of the challenges that the building industry continues to face, such as increasing productivity, addressing the labor shortage and improving safety. New data-gathering technologies, such as embedded sensors and drones, are delivering oceans of data for analytics that continue to reveal new ways to improve construction processes and cut overhead. In addition, wireless connectivity makes it easier to access and share information, as it increases response time speed and shortens the time needed to make critical business decisions.
Of course, technology adoption is incremental and doesn’t happen all at once. You should identify those construction trends that seem most valuable to your operation, and start adopting new strategies to improve efficiency and reduce costs. You can always continue to deploy new software and new technology as your operation and budget allows.
An easy place to start is modular construction. PCX, for example, specializes in prefabricated electrical power systems, integrated switchboards and electrical distribution centers. We can work with you and demonstrate exactly how to save time and money, with customized electrical and mechanical systems that are delivered, ready to install. Our collaborative process uses some of the latest tools and techniques to engineer, integrate and fabricate complex systems that are custom-designed for any construction application.
Technology will continue to revolutionize construction, and keeping pace with the latest construction trends is the best way to stay ahead of the game. If you want to learn more, be sure to download our newest e-book, The State of the Construction Industry in the New Decade.