From being one of the least digitalized industries, construction has come a long way and has seen an abundance of advances. Project management for construction, efficiency and productivity, and construction safety are just a few areas that have experienced improvement with advanced technology.
As 2021 approaches, expect to see a continued rise in technology for the industry, whether it’s for aiding those managing construction projects or for those working on them. Some would even benefit both, such as construction schedules.
The year is almost at its end, but that means there’s a new year to look forward to. Here’s a sneak peek of what construction technology you can expect in 2021.
Construction Technology 2021
1. 3D Printing
Typically, 3D printing is used on a smaller scale, producing parts for a larger ensemble; sometimes, it’s used to make custom pieces, usually made of plastic.
But construction has since been using it on a larger scale, essentially systematically laying concrete in vertical piles using a big nozzle following a programmed design. This technology has already constructed buildings and neighborhoods from the ground up.
In 2019, Icon, a startup based in Austin, Texas, successfully 3D-printed a Mexican neighborhood. It recently raised $35 million, rounding up the company’s total funding to $44 million. The funds will be used to transition their 3D printing technology from the research and development stage to commercialization, giving companies to print their own houses.
Apis Cor is another company that successfully used 3D technology for construction. In this case, they printed a 2-story building in Dubai, the biggest 3D printed building to date.
3D printing is not new to the world, but it’s relatively new to construction. But you can expect a boost from this tech.
2. Living Materials
One of the greatest advancements in construction is the use of living materials. Among the biological materials, the most promising are made of bacteria and fungi, making them strong, light, and oddly potable.
These compounds are capable of growing themselves and can move to full-scale production soon. This is potentially a breakthrough in sustainability.
Earlier this year, The New York Times wrote about “living concrete.” Self-mending concrete is concrete saturated with bacteria that attach and bind the materials around them to form a new structural material. The new compound can grow in the concrete’s pores, enhancing impermeability. It can even find and repair cracks and fissures by growing into them. Currently, bacteria are being developed as a building material on its own, already grown and formed into usable sizes and shapes.
3. Pre-fab building and modular construction
Pre-fab building and modular construction are already being steadily incorporated in projects, but they should see an increased interest in years to come.
With the ongoing labor shortage problem, modular construction and pre-fab building, like 3D printing, are a welcome development as they promote low worker density. Manufactured buildings are constructed in large buildings wide enough to make for plenty of room. Plus, the equipment used, such as conveyors, lifts, and ceiling cranes, are designed to require minimal manual labor, cutting down labor costs.
These pre-manufactured buildings are typically small, perfect for structures that need individual rooms with separate systems like hospitals that want additional rooms. These houses have remote workers that require a home office, or even just a temporary solution.
4. Advanced uses for GPS
The GPS or Global Positioning System has been around for decades and has improved a number of fields such as transportation and security. But construction has adopted this system and is using it in more ingenious and creative ways.
For one, land surveying teams no longer have to use traditional equipment. Collecting land data for potential project sites can now be done more accurately and quickly. That alone is an excellent indicator that we will see more improvements and uses of GPS in construction.
More than that, GPS is being used by project managers in fleet management, an approach that aids companies in organizing and coordinating work vehicles to achieve a number of goals: reduce costs, enhance efficiency and productivity, and comply with laws, codes, and regulations. Most of today’s construction vehicles are placed with a tracker monitored by smartphones and computers. The number of vehicles with this trackable device will only go up in the next years.
5. Augmented Reality (AR)
In two of our recent articles, “The Future Of The Construction Industry With Augmented Reality (AR)” and “How Can Augmented Reality Improve Construction Management?,” we discussed the impacts AR has on the construction industry.
While it’s still some relatively new tech, it has already proven highly beneficial to construction workers, contractors, and project managers and will continue to do so. Ultimately, it will revolutionize the way structures are designed and built.
With AR, project planning and inspection can be done cleaner, safer, and more efficiently. Devices like drones and processes like BIM (Building Information Technology) and 3D modeling allow users to walk through the structure, completed or not virtually. This lets them spot any issues and immediately think up solutions, stopping it from becoming a bigger problem and avoiding delays.
In addition to that, safety will be improved as inspectors will not have to go around the site physically and potential risks can be prevented.
The influence of robotics was discussed in two of our previous articles, “Robots in Construction – Human Labor Enemies or Aid?” and “Types Of Robots Helping The Construction Industry.”
Primarily, they are a significant factor in answer labor shortage and significantly improving efficiency on job sites. They do this by performing automated work (which was traditional manual labor), improve worker safety, and produce high quality and smart work.
As the technology for robots develops, the initial cost to have them would naturally be high. But because of the plethora of advantages they have, it would be no surprise to see a rise in their integration into the industry.
7. Cloud and mobile technology
Cloud and mobile technology have a lot of benefits. Virtually an unlimited amount of information can be stored and can be shared instantly. And it’s fairly inexpensive; as long as you have a capable device and Internet, you can use it.
While practically everyone today utilizes this, the construction industry is now using it mainly for project management. Tools like Pro Crew Schedule are made to aid contractors in supervising their crew, monitoring the project’s progress, and running their business.
With a cloud-based platform like Pro Crew, contractors can easily schedule and dispatch their teams to job sites, monitor their time-ins and -outs, and systematically work on their payroll. More than that, offsite management can still collaborate in real-time with their onsite crew by instantly sending any essential documents saved on the app, increasing efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction.
Although management software is relatively unpopular today, you can expect more companies and contractors to employ it’s aid as the construction industry continues to surge.
Other Trends To Look Out For
Stepping away from technology, let’s talk about a few trends that will either continue or emerge. Unfortunately, not all of them are good.
1. New Safety Protocols
Safety is and always be the number one concern for construction. But with the events of 2020 indeed affecting the coming years, it’s safe to say that there will be new safety protocols. Health and mitigating the spread of viruses and diseases will be a priority, so safety measures will be expanded and adjusted to focus on distancing workers, cleanliness procedures, and improved equipment.
Expected additional health and safety measures include the requirement of masks and sanitizers, as well as prohibiting the sharing of tools and equipment.
On the matter of separation and distancing, it will be risky and challenging in a field like construction, where teamwork is necessary. That’s why it’s anticipated that crews will be smaller in number and shifts will be staggered. This is also why modular construction will rise higher– a limited number of laborers will be working in a big, airy building.
2. Declining workforce
In line with having a smaller crew, it’s expected that the workforce will continue to decline. Aside from restricting a large number of members in a team, the main issue is that majority of the youth have no interest in entering the industry. With the senior workers retiring, it’s getting harder to fill in their positions.
As a result of labor shortage, deadlines will not be met, the quality of work will be low, and customer satisfaction will be a struggle.
If companies fail to boost their workforce, they would have to rely on machines. Even though they would significantly help, the lack of humans could continue to be a struggle.
Looking beyond 2021
Like the rest of the world, the construction industry will continue to grow with technology and will heavily rely on it, even though it has been relatively late in adapting to modern times. Be that as it may, the industry is experiencing a sudden surge in technological advancements– from self-driving vehicles to project management software to planning and designing with 3D models.
Based on past years and the recent trends, construction is steadily integrating technology into its practices and technology has proven to be a crucial part of the industry.
Even though these predicted trends and technology are based on legitimate research and educated observation, people in the industry must still be prepared and be open to any changes that may come.