With such a rapid influx of new technology entering the construction industry over the last decade, the industry is changing. The ongoing digital revolution in construction has been accelerated in part by an increasing need to boost efficiency without sacrificing modest profit margins. As companies must continually do more with less, technological solutions have stepped in to bridge the gaps that many face.
A recent study released by Ernst & Young highlights some of the technological advancements causing disruption in the construction industry, and points out several it expects to grow most over the next five years. Some of the technologies poised for the most growth, like prefabrication, are not surprising given their sudden rise to near-ubiquity. Yet others, for example, 3D printing, have so far seen more modest adoption rates but are set to take off by 2025, according to the study.
1. 3D Printing
(Projected growth through 2025: 246%)
Topping EY’s list of ConTech tools ready to make a big move is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. Bearing just enough resemblance in function to an office LaserJet to be still called printing, the process involves extruding material into a predetermined shape, one thin layer at a time. These materials can include ceramics, concrete, polymers, or even metals, and offer great flexibility in the shapes that can be made so firms are able to produce whatever kind of 3D object they need. This includes everything from smaller items like piping, tools, concrete formwork, and insulation panels, to entire livable structures. Thanks to its ability to quickly create reproducible forms, 3D printing is considered a potential future solution to the global housing shortage.
(Projected growth through 2025: 41%)
With its ability to record transactions and automatically execute contracts and other agreements, blockchain is seen as a path to improved transparency and trust in the construction supply chain. Blockchain allows the use of smart contracts; these are used for recording payments and project milestones digitally on a permanent digital ledger that cannot be manipulated. As materials are delivered and contractors complete phases of projects, payments are automatically released to the provider. Should a milestone not be met as agreed, the contract automatically alerts the parties involved and the payment is not released. This ensures both suppliers and installers on either side of the smart contract are delivering on their promises, and the blockchain ledger serves as a completely unbiased arbiter.
(Projected growth through 2025: 39%)
Robots have aided humans in physical labor since the early 1960s when the first industrial robot went to work on a General Motors assembly line. Technology has advanced considerably since then, and today robots are helping construction workers with a growing number of jobs. Robots are now capable of performing work like laying bricks, welding, pouring concrete, and even hanging drywall. Deploying robots on construction sites not only frees up human workers for other tasks but also improves safety and boosts overall efficiency.
4. Digital Twin
(Projected growth through 2025: 38%)
A relative newcomer to the world of construction technology, a digital twin is an exact digital replica of any physical asset, such as a building under construction or one of its internal systems. These simulated environments of a job in progress ensure certain systems will function as expected in the finished structure, and allow for quick detection of potential issues. Digital twins can be used for a wide range of simulations, from determining indoor air quality to calculating a building’s expected energy usage. Once a project is complete, this technology can be used to alert maintenance workers to any needed repairs, allowing them to pinpoint exactly where in the physical structure the issue is happening.
5. Artificial Intelligence
(Projected growth through 2025: 35%)
Rounding out the top 5 is artificial intelligence, or AI. AI has seen a variety of uses in C&E, for instance, in analyzing complex datasets to produce actionable insights or monitoring job sites for unsafe behavior patterns. AI can be deployed as a sort of all-seeing eye, using its vast computing power to perform calculations and run predictions much faster and with far greater accuracy than even the smartest human. It is capable of finding problematic patterns in project data and suggesting a course correction. It can also analyze the performance of a piece of heavy machinery and call out required preventative maintenance. It’s not a crystal ball, but it does provide a level of insight, offering predictions beyond human capabilities.