The construction industry has a reputation for resisting change. OK, we admit: maybe that reputation is deserved. BUT – that doesn’t mean that change isn’t happening! In fact, it’s a very exciting time to be in construction tech: new technologies, approaches, and processes are beginning to fundamentally change the way buildings get built and maintained. Here are a few things to keep an eye on:
1. 3D Printing – Construction Scale
3D printing has emerged as a powerful tool across a wide variety of industries and applications. You might have thought that buildings were on a totally different scale though, and immune to the disruptive potential of 3D printing. Think again! Although 3D printing an entire building from start to finish may seem like science fiction, the truth is that we’re much closer than you think – thanks to Cazza, a Silicon Valley startup. Cazza is developing a 3D printing technology specifically for construction. They’ve already demonstrated proof-of-concept with low-rise buildings, and they’re currently working on enhancements that would enable high-rise construction as well. Could 3D printing dramatically reshape construction into a far less labor-intensive field? Stay-tuned!
2. Sustainable Construction
In an effort to reduce the ecological footprint of buildings – from construction materials that end up in landfills to inefficient buildings that waste electricity and water – builders have begun turning to emerging “green” technologies. Some examples include: (a) natural paints and mycelium bricks (look it up… very cool!) that decompose and do not emit toxins; (b) smart (electrochromic) glass, which uses ions to reflect UV rays during peak hours over the summer and dramatically increase the energy efficiency of a building; (c) and active solar panels that absorb UV rays during the colder months and warm the building’s interior. As construction methods change and become more efficient, we will likely see more and more companies integrate sustainable materials into standard practice.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, have traditionally been used to survey areas with limited accessibility. Drones not only eliminate the need to rent expensive lifts or other such equipment but also offer efficiency and accuracy gains over human teams. Drone surveys can be compiled into 3D models to compare progress vs. the architectural plans, helping to give superintendents, project managers, and owners a better grasp of job status. No less important, drones improve job site safety. Falls make up the largest percentage of construction-related fatalities in the United States; with drones, construction firms now have the ability to look at hard-to-reach areas without risking the well being of one of their employees.
With smart watches and bluetooth earbuds becoming the norm, it’s clear that wearable technology is here to stay. The construction industry could be a huge beneficiary of the emerging “Internet of Things” (IoT) movement, given the value of real-time updates and seamless communication between the field and the office. Safety appears to be leading the way: already some companies have begun deploying smart vests, which not only have an emergency button and use GPS to locate workers but also have built-in heart monitors to help PMs and foreman track the stress levels of their team members. On the other end of the spectrum, exoskeletons being built by startups like Ekso Bionics offer construction workers the promise of superhuman strength.
5. AR & VR
In an ideal world, every member of your team, in the office and on the field, should know the project’s end goal and be able to visualize it. With augmented reality and virtual reality, this dream may yet come true. So what’s the difference between VR and AR? Virtual reality completely replaces what you can see with something else: if you put on VR goggles, your entire environment changes. Augmented reality, on the other hand, takes something virtual and transposes it to the real world. VR can be very useful in project planning from the start, while AR technology can project 3D images directly on the job site to measure building materials and ensure the design is built exactly as intended. With the potential to significantly reduce error and increase efficiency, AR and VR have a bright future ahead of them in construction.
6. Project Management Software
The first step in taking advantage of construction technology is switching to a cloud-based software so everyone is kept in the loop. The cloud isn’t new to construction tech trends, but now more than ever it is essential to any project management. The ability to share information and track profits in real time is a powerful tool that enables everyone stays updated immediately. No more worrying that your computer will crash and all your data will be lost. With cloud-based software, data is constantly backed up and always accessible no matter where you are or what happened to your computer.
Of course, with new technology, comes new rules and regulations. Before much of this can be implemented into your daily routine, there is still extensive testing to be done in order to ensure the safety of everyone on the job site. However, as we begin a long journey of technological change, it seems we’ve only scratched the surface of the future of construction.