In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on accelerating tech adoption in the construction industry. According to JLL’s State of Construction Tech report, the rate of construction tech adoption reached in one year what normally would have occurred in a three-year span. Technology will continue to see greater adoption as construction leaders deal with improving productivity, eliminating inefficiencies, and adapting to a younger workforce of digital natives that expect to work with technology.
Here are our top 5 construction technology trends to watch in 2021
(1) Building Information Modeling (BIM)
BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.
BIM is one of those bedrock technologies that not only has numerous benefits in its own right, but is also used as one of the foundations powering other construction tech like digital twins, artificial intelligence, and scheduling software. Because of this and along with the continued need for remote collaboration and improving efficiencies, BIM adoption should continue to be strong in 2021.
(2) Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Much like BIM, AI is a technology that will be used in conjunction with other technology like sensors, wearables, and laser scanners to gather the information and learn to make decisions. Machine learning, a subset of AI, uses algorithms to learn from data, identify patterns, and make decisions. It is having a big impact in construction technology. Current AI efforts include project schedule optimization, identifying unsafe worker behavior and preventative maintenance. Future developments with AI include supply chain tracking and neural networks to prevent cost overruns. The one roadblock going forward to maximizing the full potential of AI in construction is finding a way to collect, organize, and structure all the data being generated. That being said, we are bullish on AI in 2021.
(3) Automation and Drones
There are major opportunities for the tech industry in cutting edge robotics for repetitive construction tasks such as brick laying, road paving, lumber cutting, and 3-D printing of building materials. Eventually the entire supply chain could be automated with robotics. Instead of replacing workers, most construction robots will aid and augment a worker’s performance, enabling them to be more productive, and importantly it often reduces material waste by up to 90%. With labour and material costs continuing to increase in the short and long term the productivity and efficiency gains from automation will continue to see adoption of robotics grow in 2021.
(4) Modular, Offsite, and Prefab Construction
Offsite construction typically comes in two forms: modular and prefabricated. With modular construction, entire rooms can be built complete with MEP, finishes, and fixtures already installed. With prefabricated construction, building components are built offsite and then assembled or installed once they have been transported to the construction site. In both, the factory-built components are transported to the construction site assembled, meaning less workers are needed on the site to finish assembling the building. Building in controlled environments makes even more sense in a world that requires close management of the movement and interaction of workforces. Such rationale further strengthens the case for offsite construction, beyond the existing quality and speed benefits.
An interesting example of Modular construction is by Module. This start up has designed a home with a removable roof so that when the occupants need more space another “box” can be added in a single day to create a third floor. It’s a very innovative approach to the affordability issue.
(5) 3D Printing
Printing submodules or complete concrete structures before assembly and internal work could transform the industry with respect to design, cost, and time. 3-D printing is still in the early stages of its development and cannot yet be deployed at the scale and speed required for large projects. However, there are emerging opportunities in this space including: printing piping and fittings, tools and equipment, formwork for concrete, structural insulated panels, walls with embedded MEP systems and roofs with solar tiles. If there’s a positive to be taken away from the covid pandemic, it’s that it has increased construction technology adoption to a level that wouldn’t have been achieved for years. This year should be no different as we’re seeing much of the world deal with many of the same challenges faced last year. To survive and thrive, all of the players in the construction value chain will need to develop their strategies for dealing with or leading disruption. This is especially true for engineering and design, materials distribution and logistics, general contracting, and specialized subcontracting, all of which are likely to face commoditization. Companies can try to defend their positions and adjust to the changing environment, or reinvent themselves to take advantage of changes in the industry.