Construction technology is constantly evolving, with innovations ranging from powerful GPS tracking solutions, to new construction apps introduced to the market every day. In Construction World’s ‘10 Construction Technology Trends to Watch Out For,’ we assess what particular construction technologies are spreading like wildfire, as well as outline overarching trends that the industry is currently going through. With new materials, designs and greater uses of digital and mobile, the construction industry is going through a technological renaissance that only continues to grow. Many of the latest technology trends listed below are only present in niche areas of the construction industry, but expect to see these innovations transforming construction sooner rather than later.
- Mobile will become widespread
Often times, trends in consumer behaviors slowly seep into the workplace. One area where we are seeing this is through the slow integration of smartphones and mobile technology into work processes, extending much farther than simple emails and phone calls. In 2015, 64% of American adults were smartphone owners, up from 35% in 2011. Smartphones are not only used for communication, but act as an entryway into the online world. Social media, watching videos, GPS capabilities and keeping up with breaking news have become the main uses for mobile technology, but some companies are tapping into other functionalities to aid in the workplace.
A survey done in 2014 by Gartner suggests that roughly 40 percent of workers at large enterprises use their personally owned mobile device for work purposes. This number is only going to up, with more workplaces encouraging smartphone use or allowing a BYOD (Bring your own device) policy. The 40 percent of respondents who use smartphones for work typically do so for email, phone calls and GPS tracking. Many of these functions however, are not specific to any company and have become convenient alternatives. In the future, expect to see greater commitments by businesses to maximize smartphone use beyond basic communication, ultimately integrating work-related functions through mobile. We foresee the following mobile features to become much more widespread in all industries, but specifically in construction.
Through mobile construction apps, companies are provided with files like blueprints, plans and contracts directly through their device in an electronic form. Whether a construction worker, foreman or project managers find themselves in the office, field or on the road, greater access to information can only be a good thing.
With all pertinent data now available through mobile, reporting is much easier. With mobile construction apps, administrative tasks can be automated and executed much more efficiently. Everything form job costing, scheduling, invoicing, daily progress reporting and timesheet processes can be done in a matter of minutes. Rather than relying on back office staff for reports, mobile reporting allows users to effectively use their data and information to generate reports whenever they wish, from where ever. More importantly, mobile reporting ensures that construction companies are equipped with up-to-date and relevant information, rather than having to rely on month old reports.
A series of project management apps are emerging, in addition to the growing number of construction software that are now providing mobile capabilities. To stay current and competitive in the fast moving construction industry, top businesses are utilizing mobile in innovative and exciting ways. Through speeding up traditionally slow and outdated processes, mobile provides companies a unique opportunity to conduct all business functions in a more efficient manner. Expect to see the number of mobile construction apps continue to grow, and look out for greater uses of mobile by traditional construction software companies.
A Study by Gartner predicts that by the end of 2017, market demand for mobile app development services will grow by 5 times, and by 2019, the 2.1 billion phones worldwide will become depended on for full enterprise capabilities.
Advanced Uses for GPS
Although GPS tracking solutions aren’t a new innovation, they are being used in creative and resourceful ways within construction. First and foremost, surveying has improved dramatically since the implementation of GPS, with crews no longer needing to use traditional surveying equipment. Collecting data for prospective project sites as well as sites under construction is now done more quickly, and accurately using GPS units.
Another area where GPS tracking solutions are used is within fleet management. Project managers now equip each vehicle with a GPS device that can be tracked on a computer or on smartphones, which allows teams to know where a given vehicle is. Furthermore, lost or stolen equipment is now better tracked through GPS solutions. Locating equipment has become incredibly simple, and generating maps and allowing you to pinpoint the exact location of any piece of equipment. In terms of the growth of GPS technology, applications in autonomous vehicles and wearable technology are on the rise.
GPS will expand with driverless vehicles
As the robotic revolution continues, driverless or autonomous vehicles continue to grow. Driverless vehicles are expected to be available to the public as early as 2020, but this technology is capable of extending much farther than commercial cars. Buses, trains and trucks are also being worked on for a self-driving upgrade, with construction fleets not far behind. Construction equipment manufacturers are already working on autonomous vehicles that are capable of creating efficiencies on jobsites. Caterpillar and John Deere are currently working on dozers with automatic blade control with hopes of developing fully autonomous and driverless versions.
The construction industry is also borrowing from the mining industry, with a piece of equipment by Tokyo–based Komatsu which uses GPS to move high-grade ore without the need of a driver. GPS becomes even more important with the influx of driverless vehicles, providing a reliable and powerful guide to automated machinery. GPS tracking solutions are also being relied upon for positioning and sensor integration that autonomous vehicles will need to avoid accidents and ensure safety.
- More companies will adopt cloud-based solutions
Although associated with mobile technology, cloud-based solutions is actually quite different. Cloud refers to new technologies and services that allows data to be transferred over distribution networks into a secure location often maintained by a vendor. Cloud providers serve a large number of clients, with data transfers between vendors and clients done safely and securely.
Mobile on the other hand, is associated with new devices and interfaces that can be accessed through internet browsers. Despite its similarities, mobile is typically a consumer-facing service, but is becoming more commonplace in the professional spheres. Furthermore, cloud computing or cloud software is used more by businesses and companies. Although there is a perception that the construction industry uses outdated forms of software or management systems, a growing number of businesses are shifting to cloud-based software to handle everything from project management, accounting, and payroll, among other important functions.
With more than half of prospective software buyers still using pen and paper and countless spreadsheets, a younger generation of workers are influencing more traditional-minded businesses to adopt technology. Here are some reasons why many companies are making the jump to cloud-based software:
- Scalability: Cloud construction software is becoming a more popular solution for businesses that plan to grow. With a solution that is extremely flexible, adding resources, storage and bandwidth is much easier than traditional construction software. Furthermore adding or removing users can also be done in seconds.
- Mobility: cloud-based options allow for easy access anywhere with Internet connection. Real-time data is at a contractor’s fingertips, which can help if pressing decisions need to be made.
- Collaboration: With users in various locations able to review, edit and examine the same documents, it is much easier to work together and make suggestions using real time information.
- Lower cost of ownership (LCO): With cloud-based software, the costs often associated with traditional server-based solutions are eliminated. No need to upgrade to a more powerful server or update operating systems. In addition, a large number of solutions are subscription-based, and can help companies avoid large start-up fees.
- Prefabricated Construction grows into the mainstream
Another new construction technology gaining traction is prefabricated or offsite construction. Prefabricated construction is the practice of assembling a variety of components of a structure at a manufacturing site and transporting those sub-assemblies to the location of the construction jobsite. Prefabricated construction is sometimes thought of as a low-end and mass produced mode of construction. In reality however, it is quite the opposite. Prefabricated construction is becoming more common, improving in quality, and has become available at all price points. Despite the perception of prefabrication, there are numerous benefits to this type of construction. Of the latest technology trends, ones that merge environmentalism and green techniques with technology are ones to watch out for going forward. Some of the benefits that prefabricated construction provide include:
- Eco-friendliness: since prefabricated sub-assemblies are constructed in a factory, extra materials can be recycled. This is a vast improvement from traditional construction practices that often send large amounts of waste to landfills.
- Financial Savings: Prefabrication is beginning to cater to all price points and budgets, often creating an affordable option for all companies. Savings can be found in bulk discounts from material suppliers, and a shorter construction time can save businesses in the long run.
- Safety: Since sub-assemblies are created in a factory-controlled environment utilizing dry materials, there is less risk for problems associated with moisture, environmental hazards and dirt. This ensures that those on the construction site, as well as a project’s eventual tenants are less likely to be exposed to weather-related health risks.
- Modular construction will be used for more than just temporary structures
Often associated with prefabrication is modular construction. This construction technology trend centers on values of flexibility, multiuse and versatile design. Once seen as a method for portable classrooms or trailers, modular construction has evolved into a viable option for everything from retail structures to affordable housing units. Often times, modular structures utilize offsite and prefabricated construction techniques to achieve a consistent quality. This particular method provides many benefits including shorter construction time, and a more cost-effective alternative.
Furthermore, modular buildings are much easier to relocate, and can be reused for a variety of purposes. Interestingly, another trend occurring alongside modular construction is the rise of permanent modular structures. Because of its lower cost, in combination with growing concerns for environmental damage done by traditional on-site builds, many retailers, banks, restaurants are utilizing modular construction practices and its 30 to 90 day timeframe as a viable, long-term alternative. Some of the world’s biggest companies have adopted permanent modular construction principles, like McDonalds and Google, so expect to see many more of these structures in the near future.
- Virtual reality will continue to expand
Another construction technology beginning to gain steam is virtual reality. The use of virtual reality in the construction industry continues to grow, providing an extremely immersive experience for users. Although the entertainment and automotive industries are quick to adopt this technology, the construction industry is not far behind. Virtual reality provides an extremely versatile tool in construction, and its applications can be seen in multiple areas.
Real estate developers, designers and architects, are taking advantage of this newfound design experience to take potential customers and clients on a virtual tour of homes, buildings, skyscrapers and offices – before a project even breaks ground. On a smaller scale, home and office renovations, redesigns and small construction projects can also take advantage of 3D models, to create a more accurate plan of client’s demands, established during the pre-construction stage. A set of virtual reality glasses brings these 3D models to life, allowing users to immerse themselves into a finished product.
- Drones will serve a variety of functions
Although not seen primarily as a construction technology just yet, drones are becoming more and more common in the industry. One way that drones will and are already making an impact is through improved project evaluation. Rather than having surveyors conduct inspections on foot, drones utilize aerial surveys to evaluate any given jobsite. In addition, drones can be used as building and contractor surveillance. Rather than paying for security personnel, drones are able to take their place, saving companies time and money, and allowing businesses to reallocate their resources to other areas. Drones can also assist project managers and contractors of large projects to oversee and supervise the productivity of all construction workers through drone-assisted video and photography.
- Wearable technology will increase safety and communication
Although already a popular consumer device, wearable technology is also making its way into the construction industry, primarily for increased safety and communication. Smartwatches, smart glasses and smart clothing are becoming more popular and are capable of making an impact in terms of health and safety through tracking vital signs, and allowing injured workers to signal for help. Often connected to mobile construction apps, wearables provide another way for site supervisors other employees to keep track of others.
In 2014, 4,821 workers were killed on the job, which amounts to roughly 13 deaths per day. Although this number is going down, any safety precautions that construction companies implement must be a serious consideration. Wearable tech is often connected through construction apps, so expect to see the number of wearables available surge, along with the mobile revolution that the construction industry is currently undergoing.
- 3D Printing will become a serious consideration
Another construction tech trend taking off is 3D printing. 3D printing is a manufacturing process by which a three-dimensional object is created from a digital model. The process entails laying down successive layers of thin horizontal cross-sections until the entire project is completed. As this technology continues to grow, demand is also on the rise in many industries. 3D Printing is now present in the retail, aviation and healthcare spheres, and is steadily growing in construction. To execute largescale construction projects, super-size printers are needed in conjunction with specialized materials. This unique method has proven to allow for shorter project times and less waste production, which creates a more efficient construction system. If more companies adopt this latest technology trend, some of the benefits you will see include increased speed and accuracy, lower labor costs and less of a need for materials.
- Augmented reality will soon match virtual reality
Another tech trend we are seeing being adopted in construction is augmented reality. Augmented reality is a copied view of a physical environment, with its elements supplemented by computer-generated images. In comparison, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated environment, whereas augmented reality takes what is already existing in the real world and enhances it. Although the two concepts are related, there is a clear distinction between them. For construction specifically, augmented reality has the potential to impact a wide range of professionals, from architects, engineers, project managers and many more.
- Self-Healing concrete will be used on roads, buildings and homes
The most widely produced and consumed material in the construction industry is concrete, and is necessary for the creation of buildings, roads and bridges. According to a WWF report, by 2030, urban growth in China and India will place global cement output at 5 billion metric tons per year, with our current output already making up 8% of the total global emissions. This number is only slated to go up.
With this in mind, scientists have been developing ways of limiting the environmental impact that concrete has, with self-healing concrete being slowly introduced. Hendrik Jonkers, a microbiologist at Delft University has developed an innovative plan to increase the lifespan of concrete. The process includes embedding self-activating limestone-producing bacteria within the building material itself. It is designed to decrease the amount of new concrete produced, and lowers the costs for maintenance and repairs that city officials, building owners and homeowners typically have to pay.