Ryan Gould | Construction Executive | March 20, 2019
There are common factors that have always defined trends in the construction industry. Elements such as labor (be it shortages or surpluses), the economy and technology determine what gets built where, when and how.
These elements have led to the rise of entire philosophies to boost profits and maximize value, such as the lean construction movement. Often these trends appear in the form of answers that help construction companies eliminate waste, curb overproduction, use talent properly, manage inventory more effectively, boost process workflow, reduce defects, and help to plan and schedule projects more efficiently.
In 2019, two factors are driving trends that are overtaking the industry: technology and the environment. They’re not only informing construction industry trends today, but they’re going to last and evolve into the foreseeable future.
OFFSITE CONSTRUCTION BECOMES STANDARD
Obviously, this isn’t a new trend. The earliest origins of this method, at least in North America, date to colonists importing pre-packaged construction materials from Europe to the New World in the 17th century. Then there were the kit homes sold by Sears, Roebuck, and Co. at the turn of the 20th century. And of course, the trend reached its zenith in the World War II construction boom with pre-fab companies selling ready-to-go homebuilding components to builders.
Now with the advent of new technologies, offsite is going to be an integral and permanent part of the 21st century construction landscape. This obviously coincides with the development of energy-efficient products such as structural insulated panels. However, there are also other factors driving this trend, including labor shortages. The more the lean movement grows, the more owners are going to require prefab on their projects.
AI BECOMES A PERMANENT PART OF AEC
There’s a major trend occurring right now that shows the architecture/engineering/construction sector adopting artificial intelligence technologies across all stages. This includes tech solutions using AI-based algorithms being used in everything from preconstruction to operations and asset management levels. This technology helps solve a number of problems and address many challenges, such as scheduling and budget issues and workplace safety concerns.
According to a report by McKinsey, while there is widespread interest in AI solutions, few owners in the construction industry possess the capabilities to implement them on a large scale. However, because this technology is helpful to stakeholders across the entire project lifestyle, from contractors to service providers, it’s expected to be the norm as AI becomes an industry-wide staple. In other words, AI isn’t just the for the silicon tech companies anymore.
GREEN TECHNOLOGY GROWS LARGER
The construction industry is in a bit of a quandary. This sector is responsible for about a third of global C02 emissions responsible for climate change, yet there is a worldwide need for more buildings. The solution, therefore, lies in green construction. Now, this isn’t a new trend—the benefits of green technology in the construction sector have been touted for years. It’s a growing industry responsible for creating millions of jobs, and it’s here to stay.
What the future of green technology looks like is where the real excitement lies. Expect to see more energy-efficient green building retrofits, more focus on sustainability, an increase in zero-net-energy buildings and more solar use in buildings. Ultimately, expect green building to continue to increase building performance, which thus results in lower operating costs.
BIM ADOPTION BECOMES STANDARD
For a long time, BIM was a tool used by architects to showcase the buildings they were designing in three dimensions. However, because BIM goes beyond merely 3D design, and can create digital representations of structures down to its physical characteristics, it’s being adopted more and more in the construction industry.
Stakeholders can now create a digital model that will tell them how certain building materials will wear out over time. This will make it easier to select the right materials and identify problems before they even arise, which will result in greater cost efficiency in construction.
INCREASED CONSTRUCTION COSTS
To the above point, the need to maximize cost efficiency regarding building materials is more crucial because those same materials are getting more expensive. The construction industry saw a nearly 10 percent rise in material costs from 2017 to 2018 and this upward trend is expected to continue from 2019 to 2020. This is due to a number of factors, including new tariffs imposed by the United States on a number of key trading partners. But stakeholders can offset these costs by investing in technologies mentioned above, including AI and BIM adoption.
The trends above are poised to be an integral part of the construction industry 10, 20 and even 30 years from now. That means those in this sector—be they contractors, owners or marketers—need to start leveraging things like green technology, cutting-edge project management solutions and offsite construction methods. To not do so risks an operation being shut out of the construction industry today, tomorrow and beyond.