Construction, as an industry (including companies focusing on the commercial retail sector), has traditionally been reluctant to embrace technological change. But those days are ending. Indeed, the industry is ripe for disruption, and according to McKinsey Global Institute’s report, “Reinventing Construction Through a Productivity Revolution,” adopting new technology to increase the construction sector’s productivity growth by only 1.8% could increase its market value by $1.6 trillion.
As 2018 progresses, there are several important technological trends in the industry to watch. Let’s take a look.
Labor shortage. Much of the technological change is being driven by a long-term trend that isn’t going away: labor shortage. There is currently a huge labor shortage in the construction industry, so tech companies are stepping in to make sure that projects continue to be completed on time by streamlining management processes and enabling closer collaboration among team members.
The skilled construction labor pool still has not recovered 11 years after the beginning of the housing market crash. As of August 2017, more than 70% of construction firms are still having trouble recruiting for hourly craft labor positions, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
The end result of the labor problems? Project managers must achieve the greatest results from the least effort, and technology is providing a way.
Collaborative project teams. The rise of cloud-based computing, such as Raken Daily Reporting and others, continues to transform productivity and analytics across all industries. According to the Cisco Global Cloud Index, 92% of all computing workloads will be processed in cloud data centers by 2020. Only 8% will be processed in traditional data centers.
How can cloud-based computing benefit the industry? One easily adoptable option is cloud-based construction monitoring software, which can run on a range of smartphones and mobile devices as well as desktop computers and laptops.
This software can allow project managers to easily share and communicate about blueprints, reports, safety issues, contracts, weather delays and the myriad of data points during a project’s life cycle. For instance, if you use project management software that allows quick and easy filing of daily reports, construction superintendents and foremen can step away from inefficient pen-and-paper methods. A cloud-based software solution allows them to update reports from the job site, which gives project managers immediate insights into the daily operations of the project.
In addition, it allows for photos to be uploaded and messages, updates and safety information to be shared in real time. Safely stored in a database in the cloud, all this information can be collated and easily retrieved.
New fabrication choices. The continuing shortage of skilled craft workers also forces construction companies to explore new fabrication choices as well as alternative project management models to capitalize upon them.
The labor crunch is making prefabrication — assembling anything from heating, ventilation and air-conditioning ducts to whole residences off site — less of an option and more of a requirement for U.S. contractors striving to remain competitive.
Though off-site fabrication can reduce completion time, logistical barriers such as lack of cooperation among contractors, architects and other entities as well as late design changes can reduce its effectiveness.
In order to capitalize on the advantages of newer fabrication techniques, stakeholders worldwide are turning to design-build, an alternative method of project delivery, to overcome logistical hurdles. Under this model, the design-build team provides design and construction services from conception to completion.
Computer vision. With the rapid development of machine vision algorithms and ultra-fast computing power, there are potential uses of remote monitoring technology in identifying safety incidents through video and picture analysis. Although it’s still some time away from the point when a computer can identify safety issues based on the context of the images, we are certainly starting to see success with single-object identification.
As far as daily construction job-site reporting, there are a number of innovation trends in computer vision. For example, the effective use of drone photography to monitor and document construction projects can be used to augment human capabilities. Also, the use of high-definition construction cameras that can provide live streaming and time-lapse photography online allow overstretched project managers to monitor multiple job locations.
Innovation is also evident in the use of AR, where the physical world is blended with computer-simulated reality. As such, several companies are working on technologies that help users imagine complete construction projects superimposed on still active incomplete construction sites. VR is finding a niche in construction industry training applications as well.
Sustainable and green technology. Over the past few years, the focus of the construction industry has shifted to environmentally friendly construction technologies centered on safety, durability and environmental sustainability. The twin desires to save money and reduce construction’s impact on the environment are driving the development of green building technology that can range from sustainable building materials to resource-efficient structures.
Green technology is more than a fad. The characteristics that make sustainable materials friendlier to the environment are making them increasingly attractive compared to traditional construction materials. According to a report by Research and Markets, the global sustainable materials market is poised to grow at 11.6% CAGR through 2026.
Internet of Things. Affordability and size reduction of Bluetooth technologies spurred development of IoT technology, where active electronic components are introduced into construction materials. After a project’s completion, electronics-enabled materials can transmit information usable in smart homes as well as structural congruity assessments.
IoT can drive advances in building information modeling methodology, feeding real-time and real-life data back into the computer models being used to guide physical construction. Imagine structures that can report how weather conditions affect their physical integrity or keep track of the degradation of materials over time. This can create a virtuous cycle of improvement as models are refined from project to project.
From cloud-based computing to VR-based training, the construction industry has begun embracing technological change. The trends to watch in 2018 will continue to reshape the market while new technologies continue to rise. It’s an exciting time for construction, and the need for innovation will only increase.
Sergey Sundukovskiy is co-founder and chief technology and product officer for Raken, San Diego, a provider of company-branded daily reports from inputs made in the field by construction superintendents and foremen.