When it comes to technology, the construction industry is often a willing victim of inertia. It has been largely uninterested in adopting technological advances to spur productivity growth. This has begun to change as a long-term skilled labor shortage spurs companies to find ways to do more with less.
To a large part, change in 2018 is being driven by the massive structural changes to the skilled construction labor pool that began in the housing market crash of 2006. According to the most recent statistics, more than 70 percent of construction firms cannot recruit sufficient numbers of hourly craft laborers to meet demand.
The result? Record numbers of investors have begun putting money into construction technology companies to capitalize on opportunities in an industry ripe for disruption. So, let’s examine some of the technological trends that will transform the construction industry in years ahead.
Collaboration Through the Cloud
Cloud-based construction monitoring software — easily adoptable and built to run on now-ubiquitous mobile devices and smartphones — addresses the common pain points of inadequate team communication and the administrative burden of daily reports. Project management software can allow quick and easy filing of daily reports by freeing foremen and construction superintendents from old-fashioned pen-and-paper reporting, keeping project managers informed about progress in real-time.
All the data points collected during a project’s lifecycle can be documented and shared. From reports to photographs, documentation of weather delays and safety incidents, all the data can be stored in an easily-accessible, centralized database in the cloud. Updates, messages, and safety information can be shared among team members in real-time and accessed desktop computers and laptops as well as mobile devices.
The ongoing skilled labor shortage is driving increasing numbers of U.S. contractors to adopt offsite fabrication for everything from structural components to whole residences. To take the most advantage of offsite fabrication and other alternative logistical methods, stakeholders are turning to the design-build model for project delivery. This means design-build team provides both design and construction services, from start to finish, rather than contracting everything separate.
Green technology continues to move beyond its feel-good roots into a trend that is reshaping how structures are built. Sustainable materials are not only environmentally friendlier than traditional construction materials, but they are becoming ever more attractive because of their safety, durability, and sustainability. Through 2026, the global sustainable materials market is expected to grow at 11.6 percent CAGR.
Remote monitoring technology is another growth vector. As computers grow ever more powerful, their ability to process and recognize images is increasing likewise. There has been progress made in identifying safety incidents through computer video and picture analysis. The day is coming when safety issues can be identified by a computer based on the context of the image.
There is already increase success in identifying single objects.
Computer vision is also driving innovation in daily construction jobsite reporting. High-definition construction cameras are used to allow project managers to monitor multiple job locations remotely while provide time-lapse photography and live streaming. Virtual and augmented reality applications are finding their way into the construction industry as well. In some applications, AR has been used to help project managers visualize how completed construction projects will look by superimposing the image over the existing job site. VR is becoming a tool for construction industry training.
Building Information Modeling (BIM)
Meanwhile, Internet of Things (IoT) technology is being used to introduce sensors and other electronic components into construction materials. The applications are limited only by imagination. Scenarios that are no longer far-fetched include structures that can report the status of their physical integrity or track the effects of weathering on their structural materials.
This will drive further advances in Building Information Modeling (BIM) methodology by creating a cycle of real-life data being used to guide physical construction. Smart buildings will help teach designers to build better buildings. Electronic sensors and internet-enabled components mixed into building materials can transmit data to inform and educate construction companies far beyond initial construction projects. IoT-enabled virtual tethering will allow construction companies to stay continually engaged with end-consumers. This bidirectional communication model will redefine physical structures into smart appliances, giving rise to a completely new set of services and opportunities.
Technology has begun disrupting the construction industry as long-term labor shortages and other constraints have begun pushing it to look beyond legacy models for means to increase productivity. Additional developments in the construction field are driven by new and exciting computing paradigms as well as the technology maturation cycle reaching the broad proliferation and adoption phase. Traditionally conservative construction companies no longer feel trepidation about storing and managing their data in the cloud environment. Virtual and augmented reality, coupled with high-speed computing and data processing resources, enable practical use of such technologies on the industrial scale beyond showcase prototypes in the confines of a lab environment. These technological trends will influence the industry far beyond 2018.
Dr. Sergey Sundukovskiy is co-founder and chief technology and product officer for Raken, based in San Diego. Raken, named the No. 1 Daily Reporting App at AGC National, has revolutionized daily reporting in the construction industry. Raken provides innovative mobile technology that automatically creates professional company branded daily reports from inputs made in the field by superintendents and foremen.