Over the last twenty years, technology has led the way for major transformations in almost every industry. Some of the most notable examples of this include Uber’s use of technology to transform the taxi industry and Netflix’s continuous innovations in the movie rental industry.
One of the few industries that are yet to see many significant technological transformations is construction; the least digitised sector in Europe according to McKinsey’s digitisation index. But it may also be the industry that needs it the most – did you know that construction-related incidents account for 27% of all health and safety penalties in the UK?
The good news is that it doesn’t seem like this will be a problem for much longer. Individuals, university research teams and global companies alike are taking it upon themselves to create all sorts of technological innovations, trying to combat some of the most common day-to-day challenges that workers face, as well as more complex problems that are holding back the industry as a whole.
The experts at Everbuild, the UK’s leading supplier of sealants and adhesives, take a look at some of the most exciting technology that will revolutionise the construction industry over the next few years…
Smartphones and instant messaging services have completely transformed the quality of communication across all industries. But even so, the sheer volume of communication channels to choose from can cause miscommunication between teams all too often. Real-time project management tools such as LetsBuild provides your team with one central system to manage all forms of communication, whether that be a quick message to a colleague or a full brief for an upcoming project.
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From a management perspective, these project management tools can be crucial for keeping an eye on the progress of a project and any ongoing problems that may have been reported. With software available across desktops, iOS and Android devices, it’s easier than ever to communicate with your team no matter where you are. And as time goes on, this technology will only continue to advance.
Drones are no longer seen as a new technology for the construction industry. Offering a fast, precise and cost-effective way to get a complete aerial view of a construction site, they’re now one of the most popular tools for carrying out accurate surveys and mapping a site. Whereas in the past it could take days or even weeks for a surveyor to carry out an accurate reading, this can now be done in minutes. With professional drones such as the DJI Matrice 600 Pro able to reach heights of 4500m, offering a maximum transmission distance of 5km, you can see why drones have rapidly become the go-to solution for surveyors.
As the drone industry continues to grow, you can expect to see an increase in the number of advanced technologies coming to the market. One example of this is Skycatch’s revolutionary drone software, which can be used to capture photorealistic 3D models, topographic maps, BIMs, and even 4K videos of a site. You can expect drones to be used for a much wider array of tasks as time goes on, such as transporting heavy goods and machinery to the top of skyscrapers or taking materials to projects in remote locations that would otherwise be difficult to access.
Augmented reality is another technology that has already been used in the construction industry for several years. It’s most commonly used by designers to put together 3D versions of their blueprints, allowing them to step inside the building before it’s even been built. As you can imagine, this gives designers a much better idea of how the final project will look, which in turn makes it easier to pinpoint any potential miscalculations or structural errors.
Another innovative way that AR is being used within construction is as a replacement of paper blueprints or CAD designs. Instead, the contractor can wear an AR headset, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, and see precise details of where to place certain objects or materials in a mixed-reality environment. AR and VR solutions are also becoming highly popular as a way to train staff, allowing people to get to grips with specialist equipment without actually having to handle it in real life.
Although this might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, exoskeleton suits are very real and they’re set to revolutionise the construction industry. In brief, these wearable suits help people to walk and lift heavy objects with minimal effort, reducing required muscle force by as much as 60%. Early models such as the Guardian XO Max, launching in early 2020, reportedly have a strength amplification of 20 to 1, which means that a 90kg object feels like it’s less than 5kg. In an industry that’s notorious for back injuries, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise just how much of an impact this will have on health and safety within the industry.
With more data available to us than ever before, architects are increasingly using data to design structures that would simply not be possible through traditional methods. One of the most well-known examples of this is the engineering masterpiece that is the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. The main obstacle that required consideration in the early design stages was the impact that strong winds and wind-induced vibrations would have on people visiting its “Sky Park” – a large park that sits 200m above ground, boasting an incredible 151m infinity pool and connecting the hotel’s three towers. Through the use of data and rigorous testing, this was an issue that the design team managed to combat fairly easily.
Whilst this example is on a much larger scale than most construction projects, the use of data will become crucial for projects of all sizes over the next few years. This will make it far easier for site managers to monitor budgets in real-time, predict how long a project will take, and pinpoint any issues that may not be immediately obvious without the use of technology. Eventually, even small tools will be connected to the Internet of Things, feeding data back to any connected apps and allowing for workers to perfect even the smallest of tasks.
3D printing is another technology that is rapidly becoming prevalent in the construction industry. In fact, in 2018 a French family became the first people in the world to move into a 3D-printed home. From a cost perspective, the benefits of 3D printing are clear, offering the ability to create building materials in less time and with minimal manual labour. 3D printing can also be used to create precise objects and parts in a fraction of the time that it would take a human; this is especially useful when complex shapes are required, giving architects a lot more flexibility when designing structures.
In recent years we’ve seen countless new materials popping up on the market, including many that seem futuristic or near-impossible. One of the most widely-discussed examples of this is self-healing concrete – a new type of concrete that repairs its own cracks and holes. This is achieved through the insertion of self-activating bacteria that produces limestone, which in turn fills any cracks as and when they appear in the material.
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Another material that has featured a lot in the press recently, likely due to Tesla’s involvement, is solar roof tiles. These are roof tiles that look identical to their traditional counterparts, however, they’re highly durable and feature photovoltaic cells to produce solar energy. As sustainable solutions become increasingly popular, similar technologies such as solar bricks will become more widely available.
Other materials that are set to revolutionise the construction industry include carbon nanotubes – a 1 nanometre-thick material that has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any material on earth – and transparent aluminum – a transparent metal that looks exactly like glass but is significantly stronger. Who knows what other new construction materials will reach the market over the next few years?
- With the UK Met Office predicting that temperatures could exceed the 1.5 degrees target set at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement in the next five years, sustainable solutions are no longer just a trend but a necessity for all construction projects. Alongside solar roof tiles, you can expect countless renewable energy solutions to reach the market over the next few years. Materials that increase the life of existing building supplies such as self-healing concrete will also become a lot more popular.
You can also expect to see the prevalence of low-carbon housing projects, such as the Climate Innovation District in Leeds. These projects feature communities of zero-emission homes, car-free zones, and public green spaces, and they seem to be rising in popularity fast. Another type of sustainable housing solution that’s becoming popular is “vertical forests” – high rise apartment blocks that feature thousands of plants and trees in an attempt to reduce air pollution in major cities. There are already several vertical forests in places like Milan, Vietnam, and China, with plans to build countless more around the world. China has even shared plans to build an entire “forest city” that features a total of 40,000 trees and almost 1,000,000 plants.
Over the next few years, robots will become increasingly popular for any task on a construction site that can be automated. Existing examples of this include autonomous bricklayers, dump trucks and earthmovers, which can significantly speed up the construction process. In fact, an early model of an autonomous bricklayer, named SAM 100, reportedly works five times faster than humans.
As technology advances, robots will be able to carry out more complex tasks – possibly even taking over the whole assembly process over time. Back in 2014, an academic from Harvard announced that her team had built small construction robots based on termites; working together as a swarm to rapidly put together structures based on genetically programmed rules of behaviour. Whilst “robot swarm construction” is still quite a long way from being commercially available, it’s a very exciting project that demonstrates just how much of an impact technology could have on the construction industry.
Back to you!
What is your favourite construction technology trend for 2020? Have we missed any? Add your response to the comments below and be part of the discussion!