Tech Innovations Will Help Shape Future Construction Projects

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An NAIOP Research Foundation report released earlier this year has identified how specific new technology is making an impact on construction, an industry that had been historically slow to embrace innovation.

The construction industry’s complexity and its fragmentation among many small firms specializing in different elements of construction have slowed the adoption of new technologies, according to the report, “An Overview of Emerging Construction Technologies.” Most construction projects’ unique requirements have also limited the opportunities to create economies of scale that support investment in technologies.

“However, recent advances are increasing the efficiency, flexibility and adaptability of many emerging construction technologies, making them more cost-effective for firms to adopt. A significant and protracted labor shortage in the construction trades is also increasing the costs of conventional construction methods, making labor- and time-saving technologies more attractive,” according to the report.

Several technologies and advances will shape the construction industry. Technologies in use today include:

Modular construction: A subset of off-site construction, modular construction uses free-standing, integrated box-like modules (complete with finishes, wiring, fixtures and fittings) that are manufactured in a factory and transported to a site for installation.

Factory-built housing: Industrialized, manufactured, off-site or prefabricated housing are all terms that refer to housing units with some portion of their structural components built away from the permanent foundation and brought to the site.

Geospatial technologies: Any modern equipment used in the visualization, measurement and analysis of Earth’s features. These technologies can be used to manipulate the built environment, including global positioning systems (GPS), geographical information systems (GIS) or satellite remote sensing (SRS).

Wearable technologies: Head-mounted displays; exoskeletons; Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) such as I.D. wristbands; Inertia measurement units (IMU), consisting of accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers

Building information modeling: BIM digitally represents a building’s physical and functional characteristics to guide decisions during its construction and operation.

Some emerging technologies in the industry include:

Additive manufacturing: A process of manufacturing objects using 3-D model data by printing each successive layer.

Mass timber: An engineered wood product that is manufactured by binding boards of wood together with adhesives to form composite panels that vary in size. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) combines wood construction benefits with those of steel and concrete construction, providing strength and reducing material use and labor costs.

Construction robotics: The design, construction, operation and application of robots at the component, building and infrastructure levels of construction.

Autonomous construction vehicles: Construction equipment that is navigated, maneuvered and operated without the need for human control or interventions under ordinary and planned conditions. Autonomous construction vehicles can perform repetitive, time-consuming tasks with increased productivity, efficiency and safety.

Unmanned aerial vehicles: UAVs, commonly known as drones, have been used and applied widely in agricultural, mining, construction, ecological and environmental domains due to their declining cost and advances in flight control software.

Digital transformations: The construction industry is at the threshold of large-scale transformation centered on the digitization of the industry which will include the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, performance monitoring, digital twin modeling, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“As companies prepare for accelerating technological trends, using technology to lower costs and increase efficiency will help them remain competitive,” the report concludes. “Emerging technologies in construction will facilitate the planning and development of smart buildings and smart cities and provide the intelligence needed for the long-term efficient maintenance of these assets. Innovative technologies will also help the construction industry meet growing demand for new types of buildings that are more efficient, higher quality and can be delivered at a lower cost.”

The report’s authors are Andrew McCoy, Ph.D., Beliveau Professor at the Department of Building Construction at Virginia Tech, and Armin Yeganeh, Ph.D., Virginia Tech and a graduate research assistant at the Virginia Center for Housing Research (VCHR).

The NAIOP Research Foundation was established in 2000 as a non-profit organization to support the work of individuals and organizations engaged in real estate development, investment and operations. The Foundation’s core purpose is to provide information about how real properties, especially office, industrial and mixed-use properties, impact and benefit communities throughout North America. The initial funding for the Research Foundation was underwritten by NAIOP and its founding governors with an endowment established to support future research.