In 2019, even years after its large-scale rollout around the world, construction technology's meaning is likely to be misinterpreted around the world, and building companies are often prone to misunderstanding the examples, applications, and real impact that construction tech can have on their work.
While construction has lagged behind when it comes to the adoption of new technologies, the sector has, over the last few years, appeared more responsive to the new tools and techniques that global industries can share with the building industry – not only to boost efficiencies and quality, but to improve site health and safety as well.
As is the case with consumer technology products such as Apple's iPhones, industry technology – including that used by the construction sector – is constantly changing. What are the world's top 10 construction technology trends of 2019, what are construction tech's real-world applications and examples, and is it even important? In this article, Construction Week answers some of these questions.
The top 10 construction technology trends of 2019 are:
- 3D printing
- Building information modelling
- Artificial/virtual reality
- Artificial intelligence
- Modular building
- Self-healing concrete
Please note that this list is not a ranking and has been produced based on publicly and anectodally available data.
Very few technologies have the disruptive power that 3D printing has in the global construction sector. Promising lower costs, improved sustainability credentials, and the ability to create more flexible designs, the relatively new technology has virtually unlimited scope for growth worldwide.
Indeed, according to a 2018 Markets and Markets report, the 3D concrete printing market was valued at $0.3m in 2017 and is projected to reach $1.48bn by 2023 – a compound annual growth rate of 317.3%.
Among those firms looking to capitalise on this growth is Spanish construction firm Acciona, which produced the world’s first 3D-printed concrete pedestrian bridge.
Building Information Modelling (BIM)
A central pillar of the construction industry’s ongoing digital transformation, building information modelling is fast becoming the norm in the GCC’s engineering and construction sector.
The technology, which promises to tackle inherent challenges such as budget overspend, project delays, and quality control issues, is transforming the way buildings are designed, built, and operated.
Big names that have embraced the technology include Killa Design, the Dubai-based architectural firm behind some of Dubai’s most iconic buildings, such as the Museum of the Future.
Much like BIM, the scope for automation in the construction industry is fairly broad – extending from the initial planning stages through to operation and maintenance.
The space covers a host of well publicised technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which can collect and process data. Drawing readings like temperature and pressure, such devices allow construction firms to automate a variety of different machines and robots.
2017 saw Schindler debut its Robotics Installation System for Elevators (R.I.S.E). Signalling a move towards greater automation and digitalisation in the elevator industry, the autonomous and self-climbing robot is, according to the Swiss firm, “ideally suited for use in high-rise buildings”.
A technology that needs little introduction, drones are fast changing the way the construction industry operates. Known also as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones are already showing their potential to reduce labour and time in providing accurate surveys, eliminating much of the human error involved in the process.
In the UAE, the Abu Dhabi Municipality rolled out a pilot scheme to use drones for monitoring engineering work on construction sites. It will test the drone’s ability to withstand harsh climatic conditions, plus its distance and altitude, raising questions about how the technology can be used to support work on the ground.
Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality (AR/ VR)
Virtual and augmented reality technology has long captured the world’s imagination, and the construction industry is no exception to this rule. There is a stark difference between both technologies, however, which some may not fully understand. AR superimposes a computer generated image on a user’s view of the world, while VR can only replace the real world through a simulated environment.
With buildings becoming increasingly complex, against a backdrop of tighter profit margins, both technologies can help detect design errors coordination errors. AR in particular has the power to present BIM data through a next generation visual platform, which could in turn help foster coordination between designers, consultants, and construction teams. Plenty to watch out for in this space as both technologies mature.
Cloud computing has fast positioned itself at the forefront of the global economy’s digital transformation. Indeed, the technology, which has varied definitions, has provided organisations the agility to scale and adapt their business model to market opportunities and current conditions.
With its promise to provide freedom and ease to access information anytime and anywhere, the cloud’s disruptive potential in the construction industry is palpable. Powerful data processing and storage are just two benefits of cloud computing technology, the latter of which can be critical for firms to meet their contractual obligations.
Much like AR and VR, artificial intelligence often conjures images of sci-fi flicks like ‘The Terminator’ or 'Ex-Machina'. But, its application does not strictly apply to the use of robots that could, for example, drive trucks or lay bricks.
The technology refers to algorithms that have the potential to optimise project schedules and planning, improve risk forecasting and management, image recognition, machine learning, and reinforcement learning – the latter of which can be used to conduct trial and error studies without risks.
In a similar vein to 3D printing, the field of modular construction has come a long way in the past few years. With its promise of consistent quality with faster construction times, the technology can produce buildings that match their traditionally built counterparts.
Indeed, prefabrication has already been used on the some of the UAE’s most impressive projects, including Dubai Mall and Dubai Opera.
In December last year, a precast house was built in two days as the Saudi Arabian government steps up efforts to accelerate innovation and increase homeownership in the kingdom. Modular concrete was used by a local company to build the one-storey property in Riyadh.
Wearable technology is no longer reserved for the gamers of this world. Wearable technology is steadily gaining traction globally, with smart gadgets able to collect and analyse data on a broad range of metrics. This information can be a useful element in the measurement and improvement of health and safety standards on construction sites.
From exoskeletons to augmented reality, there is a burgeoning catalogue of health-related wearables available on the market, all of which promise to improve safety, efficiency, and morale on local construction sites.
Structural deterioration and building cracks remain causes of concern for building owners and managers. However, self-healing concrete – although an incredibly nascent technology – could change this.
In December, researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering’s Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group announced they are using micro-encapsulation technologies, developed by Dolomite Microfluidics, to develop self-healing construction materials.
The microcapsules contain ‘healing’ agents, such as minerals, epoxy, or polyurethane, which can be added to building materials to allow the self-repair of small cracks that develop over time.