Construction Technology: Innovations Reshaping the Industry

Construction technology seems to be leaning more towards the digital aspect with the usage of AI, building information modeling and blockchain technology. 
July 26, 2021

What is Construction Technology?

The construction industry isn’t all just nails and hammers. As the industry moves forward into the modern era, so do its processes. 

The very definition of construction technology by the Construction Industry Institute is "the collection of innovative tools, machinery, modifications, software, etc. used during the construction phase of a project that enables advancement in field construction methods, including semi-automated and automated construction equipment."

architect and construction manager business meeting

As such, construction technology are any significant developments that ease building and administrative processes, as well as increase productivity within the construction site. These developments may come in the physical form of robotics and heavy machinery, or via intangible assets such as wifi, data sharing, and mobile technology.

Construction Technology and Innovation to Watch in 2021

construction site

1. Construction Robots and Drones

Robots and drones may seem like fun, technologically advanced toys that can make you feel like you’re operating a spaceship, but their usage goes beyond the recreational. 

In police work, robots can defuse bombs and situations that would otherwise be incredibly dangerous for a human to accomplish. In medicine, drones can deliver organs faster than any land transportation can, regardless of distance. 

In construction, robots and heavy machinery have made big improvements in productivity, as they take on tasks that would otherwise take an entire team to accomplish, or in a dangerous circumstance. Drones, on the other hand, do a great deal in getting needed materials from one location to another in record time. 

business man holding a tablet

2. AR/VR - Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Augmented Reality, or AR for short, and Virtual Reality, or VR, have been mainly used for gaming, theme parks, and technological presentations, but they have spread out to different industries as more people see the benefits of using them. 

In construction, AR and VR innovate the way we train workers. The technologies allow us to give a preview of the construction site, and see how a worker will adapt to its environment without the hazards of going to a physical site.

Alternatively, AR and VR technologies allow for clients to see a preview of the finished structure before any building or construction can be done, and approve whether the place is to their liking, or make any changes long before the construction starts.

construction concept with engineering tools

3. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, narrows down the time it takes for a human to predict trends, find patterns, create systems, and more. AI and machine learning automate systems for faster developments and modifications throughout the construction process.

With AI and machine learning, engineering and architecture teams can minimize the human error in manual calculations and prediction of trends without proper data.

engineer holding a white construction helmet

4. Smart Wearables

Protective gear is what shields workers from the dangers in a construction environment, and allows them to work unhindered. Smart wearables were created to advance the basic safety measures provided by protective gear in order to 

  • Smart Hats - Smart hats were built to detect brainwaves to ensure the worker wearing it is fully alert at all times while in the construction site. When the smart hat detects a worker in microsleep, it alerts the worker to keep alert or find a safe area.
  • Smart Watch - Smart watches, similar to those worn by Apple users, provide hands-free communication lines between workers, which is useful in instances where heavy load is being carried or power tools are being used. Construction-grade smart watches are durable, and can easily withstand shocks that can happen frequently on the jobsite.
  • Power Gloves - Power gloves provide the strength and grip that regular human hands can’t. Wearing these gloves may feel like having superhuman strength, which increases productivity in heavy-duty tasks around the site.
  • Construction Exoskeleton - The construction exoskeleton is a type of construction technology that is still being studied for mass usage, but has already shown positive results in providing adding extra power and support to workers as they do tasks like lifting heavy objects, and operating powerful machinery.
data tunnel with blue neon lights

5. Big Data 

With global data being shared and easily accessible now more than ever, we are able to utilize large sets of quantitative and qualitative data to find hidden patterns and trends, and make predictions based on these data. In construction, predicting trends like wind velocity, weather, geolocation trends, traffic patterns, and more.

Mobile and 5G

The introduction of mobile phones paved the way for an effective communication channel between workers without the need of using CB radio and two-way transceivers that may cause miscommunication due to poor signals.

Nowadays, mobile phones allow us to communicate in groups, which is especially important when you’re managing several employees working onsite, or involving multiple parties in one important discussion.

The introduction of 5G towers are meant to increase the efficiency of data transmission through wifi and mobile devices. With this technology, building and construction data can easily be sent from one location to another with just a click of a button. Concerned parties can receive the needed information in an instant, which speeds up the communication process as well.

man in white dress shirt using a black laptop

Cloud Technology

Cloud technology, commonly used in data storage and transmission in our mobile phones, do more than just preserving the photos from our weekend getaway. Cloud technology is an essential tool that can be utilized in any industry - including construction. 

Where construction technology values efficiency, cloud technology makes it easier for all parties involved in the construction process to access, administer, and modify data as needed, and in real time. Communication in real-time solves issues immediately, and ensures clear communication between parties for a smooth process flow.

construction concept with engineering tools

6. 3D Printing

3D printing is not a new thing;  the technology has been used for a while now, and has been studied for usage in various industries such as medical, automotives, and even aerospace.

In the construction industry, 3D printing increases efficiency in the manufacturing process with its ability to create much-needed parts with preferred materials. 3D printing even allows parts to be made in advance and offsite, so they can be used in construction immediately. 

innovative architecture plan

7. Alternative Building Methods: Modular Construction

Modular construction is a modern innovation in the construction industry, improving on already known methods that can simplify the construction process onsite. In modular construction, parts of the structure would be built off site, then pieced together onsite with the help of cranes. 

The modular construction method lowers carbon emissions used in onsite construction, and decreases the waste products associated with full-scale building construction. 

This alternative building method is not commonly used, but is a piece of construction technology that is set to be implemented more commonly in the future. Machine learning is now being used in modular construction to optimize processes through software advancements. 

high rise buildings in pencil sketches

8. Site Sensors

Site sensors is the generic term used to describe automated sensors placed around construction sites that can help minimize workers’ exposure to dangers such as dust particles, hazardous materials, temperature, and volatile compounds.

Some compounds, like some forms of gas and chlorine, are colorless and odorless, making them difficult to identify when a leak has sprung. Site sensors can be placed up to detect common chemicals used in construction. Temperature sensors can detect fires or nitrogen leaks before they spread, minimizing accidents in the workplace. 

Site sensors are effective pieces of construction technology that are making sites safer for all workers, thus increasing productivity and workflow. 

showing a futuristic construction concept

9. Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Building Information Modeling, abbreviated to BIM, is a form of construction technology that makes it possible to construct a digital representation of a building before physical construction starts. Coupled with machine learning and AI technology, BIM can help engineers identify materials needed, approximate time of completion, and even weak spots that need to be fixed.

Additionally, the client can see a digital version of the structure and comment on any points they would like to change. BIM reduces the need for physical change orders midway through the construction process. 

BIM is useful in all stages of construction - from start to finish:

Before Construction

Before construction, the engineer and architecture team can assess the quantity and quality of materials needed to complete the project. Predicting the amount of materials required minimizes on materials wasted in usual construction projects. Other variables like time of completion and number of workers can be automatically calculated using the model.

The client may opt to make changes to the completed structure by assessing the digital representation of the building. Any changes made can update the BIM files to show the new amount of materials needed for the project. 

During Construction

For any changes to be made after construction has started, the BIM serves as the main hub for all parties involved to access, modify, and update the file at any given time, without the need to hold a physical meeting to process these changes. 

The BIM documents and saves changes, improving efficiency in communication throughout concerned departments by keeping updated records of all modifications.

After Construction

Maintenance and upkeep of the building can be daunting when the structure is several stories tall. The BIM comes in handy by serving as the digital representation of the building and its necessary care. Clients can take a look at the digital document for every and any information they would need to maintain the building. 

The BIM can also be shared to important departments like interior and exterior designers, engineers, electricians, plumbing services, and building managers for any future renovations needed.

10. Blockchain Technology

Although blockchain technology exists only in a purely digital space, its applications in the real world have proven it to be a strong adversary to traditional methods. As the world goes deeper into cyberspace, so do its industry processes.

What is Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology makes use of data encryption to communicate through individual servers. Popularized by cryptocurrencies, you may have heard of the usage of blockchain technology in financial transactions, smart contracts, and site security. Blockchain works to automate transactions between parties without the need for an intermediary.

Each party, referred to as a node, logs in with a unique code to a secured network server, and transacts with other nodes through the use of smart contracts. Smart contracts instantly and effectively ensure the completion of the transaction without a hitch; otherwise, the system reverses the transaction to prevent hacking and misuse. 

Blockchain Technology in Construction

Though usage of blockchain technology has yet to hit mainstream, its applications in construction can revolutionize the administrative processes in building structures. By fast-tracking, and securing these processes, efficiency in the entire construction process increases, to the benefit of both the company and its clients.

Smart Contracts in construction allow for both parties to transact with a trustworthy administrator rather than a third party intermediary, effectively reducing costs of such a process. All details, conditions, and contractual obligations of both parties are recorded and stored in a digital ledger, which will guide the completion of the transaction once all conditions are fulfilled.

Transparency, which is an advocacy of blockchain technology, improves workflow as important details are readily available for all parties involved to view. This encourages parties to collaborate, and work together to achieve a common goal.

Where is Construction Technology Going?

While many people continue to believe construction is a purely physical process that requires more strength than calculations, the onsite building itself is only one aspect in the entire project operation. Operating procedures always have room for improvements, especially when we demand for greater efficiency throughout the construction process.

Construction technology seems to be leaning more towards the digital aspect, as the usage of artificial intelligence, building information modeling, and blockchain technology are paving the way for a new generation of construction advancements. 

Construction technology is developing at a fast pace, getting more and more digital every day. The use of highly-advanced technology, like that of robots and AI, are no longer sci-fi, but are becoming mainstream improvements in several fields. 

Construction is a specialized industry that may benefit from these technologies. It comes as no surprise that construction has come a long way from its nails and hammer origin, and has had several improvements since the dawn of the technological era. We will continue to see these improvements move towards the digital space, as these systems work to increase efficiency.

Enjoyed this article? Check out our blog for more news and updates on construction innovations and technologies!

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