Technological revolutions don’t happen overnight. Instead, they typically resemble the progression of a jobsite; one area is built, connected to another, tied to a third and so on. Once a project nears completion, the full picture finally begins to emerge. When looking at the future of technology in the construction industry, that picture is starting to come into focus.
While other industries may receive more mainstream attention for exciting advances, construction has already experienced its share of revolutionary breakthroughs, such as GPS-based grade control for machines. The next wave of innovation is on its way for construction professionals, and each one could redefine the industry.
Residential construction has remained largely unchanged for decades, but it may receive a major overhaul thanks to 3-D printers. Instead of raising walls and setting roofs with cranes, a 3-D printer enables contractors to create structures by laying down successive layers of material on top of each other. For 3-D construction printing, concrete is pumped through a nozzle that follows a CAD program to create the shell of a structure.
The advantages of 3-D printing come in the form of time, labor and material savings. The printer doesn’t require a crew to cut and secure the materials – it prints only what it needs, where needed, in little time and with no excess material. According to a BBC News report, the Chinese company WinSun used a 3-D printer to build 10 full-sized, single-story homes in one day.
Wide-sweeping innovations related to how buildings are made could be a few years away, but the future of what’s used in their construction is already here. Today, many designers are looking to use “smart” materials that are both sustainable and enhance the efficiency of their structures. Emerging Objects is developing materials, such as its Cool Bricks, that can respond to environmental conditions. The bricks are printed in 3-D and are porous, so they can hold water and allow air to pass through, creating natural air conditioning.
Elegant Embellishments, a German firm, used a titanium dioxide paint that absorbs smog and converts it into calcium nitrate, which is harmless, to coat the façade of a hospital in Mexico City. The company reports that the façade reduces pollution equal to that created by approximately 1,000 cars per day.
One of the most unique material advancements is the introduction of self-healing concrete. Microbiologists at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands created it by embedding self-activating, limestone-producing bacteria. This innovation could help reduce the amount of new concrete produced and lower the cost and frequency of repairs to streets and buildings.
The future of labor
One of the most common fears associated with these innovations is that the approaching technology will make human labor obsolete. While reducing expenses, especially labor costs, is at the center of these innovations, experts say that those fears are unfounded. Currently, the latest technology is either too expensive for many companies to own or too difficult to transport and store. While some positions may be lost, most of these advancements also create new jobs in other areas of the industry.
The central goal of the latest technology – whether it’s grade-control machines or self-healing concrete – is to improve the productivity, safety and efficiency of jobsites and make the construction industry stronger.