By: Kendall Jones on January 15th, 2021
Top 7 Construction Technology Trends for 2021
Last year was a banner year for construction technology adoption. According to JLL’s State of Construction Tech report, the coronavirus pandemic had a big impact on accelerating tech adoption in the construction industry in 2020. Per the findings, the rate of construction tech adoption reached in one year what normally would have occurred in a three-year span.
As the vaccinations for COVID-19 continue to rollout and be administered, the hope is that we will eventually reach herd immunity at some point in 2021 and things will start to get back to some semblance of our new normal. For construction, that means getting through the pandemic and preparing for the economic recovery that should create a greater demand for construction activity.
Technology will continue to see greater adoption as construction leaders deal with improving productivity, eliminating inefficiencies, and adapting to a younger workforce of digital natives that expect to work with technology.
Here are our top seven construction technology trends to watch in 2021.
Collaborative Software Solutions
Last year proved that being able to communicate and share data in real time was vital to construction firms due to state-mandated shelter-in-place orders that led to many employees having to quickly adapt to working from home. The need for collaborative software was already present in the construction industry, with the need to easily communicate information in real time between the office and the field, as well as with other stakeholders like architects, suppliers, building product manufacturers, building inspectors, and subcontractors.
Decisions often have to be made quickly in construction, so having access to the most up-to-date information is vital in order to avoid costly rework and keep projects on schedule and within budget. The good news is this is an area that already has strong adoption in the industry and mean software solutions allow multiple users to work together in real time to update data and complete tasks. As we continue to deal with the pandemic in 2021, look for collaborative software to lead the may in keeping everyone connected and on the same page.
Building Information Modeling & Digital Twins
BIM is a process incorporating digital representations of the physical and functional aspects of a building that can lead to better collaboration during design and construction on projects. Outside of its use as a collaborative design tool, BIM is being used by contractors in prefabrication, takeoff and estimating, planning and scheduling, and clash detection.
BIM helps contractors better understand the scope design intent of a project due to the 3D modeling and additional data in the models, it can also aid estimators by generating exact quantities of all building materials and components needed on a project for accurate takeoffs and estimates. BIM can also automate clash detection during the design phase or before construction begins which can lead to a huge reduction, or elimination, of change orders.
Changes are made in real time in a shared BIM model, allowing updates to be instantly communicated to all project members, allowing everyone to work from the most up-to-date information. Construction schedules can be simulated with BIM, creating a visual representation of the construction process to plan out each phase of construction.
BIM is one of those bedrock technologies that not only has numerous benefits in its own right, but also is used as one of the foundations powering other construction tech like digitals twins, artificial intelligence, and scheduling software. Because of this and along with the continued need for remote collaboration and improving efficiencies, BIM adoption should continue to be strong in 2021.
Digital twin technology is a concept that creates a virtual model of a building using sensors, drones, and IoT to gather data on a completed building or one under construction. That data is then processed using AI software, advanced analytics, and machine learning to create the virtual model and continuously learn from the real building. This can be used to improve project scheduling, create data-rich as-built, and be used in building operation systems once the project is completed.
Much like Building Information Modeling, AI is a technology that will be used in conjunction with other technology like BIM, sensors, wearables, and laser scanners to gather the information it will use to learn and make decisions. Artificial intelligence focuses on technology that enables computers and machines to mimic human intelligence. Machine learning, a subset of AI, which uses algorithms to learn from data, identify patterns, and make decisions without having to be programmed is having the biggest impact in construction technology.
Construction projects create a ton of data which is great for AI because all that data collected over the years on projects can be used to improve machine learning and predict future outcomes on projects, aid in schedule, mitigate risk, and improve productivity. The one roadblock going forward for unleashing the full potential of AI in construction is finding a way to collect, organize, and structure all the data being generated.
As for applications, AI is being used to monitor workers and identify safety hazards or missing PPE and immediately alert the worker and safety manager via their smartphone or a wearable device to correct the hazard before an accident occurs. AI is also a major component to developing self-operating and autonomous construction equipment.
Construction project planning and scheduling is one area where AI can really shine, simulating the projects millions of times in a matter of minutes and making small adjustments each time to deliver the ideal schedule to maximize efficiency and productivity to reduce timelines and save money. AI is powering construction robots and drones to monitor jobsite progress and deliver real-time, actionable data to improve jobsite productivity.
The upside for AI in construction is high. In addition to the applications listed, AI will also be used for building design optimization, risk assessment and mitigation, predictive logistics, and forecasting. This will eventually lead to safer and more efficient and productive construction sites.
Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality
Augmented and virtual reality are both emerging technologies for the construction industry that are on the rise in terms of both development and adoption. The immersive visualization made possible by VR paired with BIM is improving design, collaboration, and communication and allowing architects to better showcase their design to clients. Most virtual reality applications in construction are using BIM models as the basis to create virtual environments which will aid in eliminating change orders and clash detection prior to commencing construction.
Safety training, equipment operator training, and building systems installation training are all areas where virtual reality is helping business owners train and develop the next generation of construction workers. Workers could get exposure to what to expect in the field in a controlled environment where different scenarios can be presented while keeping the worker safe as they learn.
Augmented reality overlays digital objects over the real world. AR applications in construction are using vision-based augmented reality using markers, such as QR codes, architectural drawings and images, or GPS to overlay BIM models, installation instructions, safety checklists, and more to aid workers on jobsites.
AR applications in construction are still being developed and its use in the construction industry is still very much in its infancy. Combining AR tech in heads-up displays in safety goggles and hard hat visors have huge potential in construction because it would allow workers to call up information, checklists, or project documents while keeping their hands free to perform tasks.
Wearable tech in construction is being embedded into apparel and personal protective equipment (PPE) already common on construction sites like hard hats, gloves, safety vests, and work boots.
These construction wearables are being outfitted with biometrics and environmental sensors, GPS and location trackers, Wi-Fi, voltage detectors, and other sensors to monitor workers’ movements, repetitive motions, posture and slips and falls.
Wearable embedded with biometrics sensors can track an individual’s heart rate, body temperature, and other vital signs and immediately notify safety managers if an employee is potentially suffering from over exhaustion or becoming overheated.
The appeal for being able to easily access this type of info on workers has skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic as project managers and site supervisors look for ways for early detection and screening measures prevent the spread of the virus and avoid project delays caused by too many workers missing work either from contracting COVID-19 or having to quarantine due to possible exposure.
Safety is always a hot button item in construction, and rightly so, as the industry continuously leads all others in worker deaths every year and this is likely where wearable will have the biggest impact in construction. Being able to monitor and track workers can go a long way in taking a more proactive approach to worker safety. As construction companies continue to navigate the rough waters of delivering projects in 2021 during a pandemic, look for wearables to see greater adoption.
Robots and Drones
Automation of construction tasks with drones and robotics is having a big impact on safety and productivity. For the foreseeable future, construction robots will be used to complete simple, repetitive, and labor-intensive tasks like laying bricks, tying rebar, and installing drywall. Humans will still be needed to perform some of the work set up the robots on the jobsite and get them started.
Instead of replacing workers, most construction robots will aid and augment a worker’s performance, enabling them to be more productive, and possible extend their careers by reducing the wear and tear on their bodies that occurs over years of employment.
Construction drones are being used on jobsites for everything from site surveying to inspecting structures to making construction sites safer. Drones can be used to quickly conduct jobsite inspections, monitor progress on projects, and identify potential hazards each day. They can also be used to monitor workers throughout the day to ensure everyone is working safely.
Much like robots, drones won’t eliminate the need for workers, but it will mean that workers will need to be trained on how to use the technology to perform these tasks. Drones outfitted with cameras, laser scanners, and other data collection devices that can then be used in AI-powered applications to help improve efficiencies on the jobsite.
Being able to perform tasks with drones remotely is a huge benefit to construction workers looking to reduce the number of workers on-site during the pandemic. Because of the many benefits and applications of drone use on construction projects, their adoption should continue to grow in 2021 and beyond.
Modular, Offsite, and Prefab Construction
According to JBKnowledge’s 2020 Construction Technology Report, 78% of commercial construction used prefabrication last year. When executed correctly, offsite construction eliminates many of the inefficiencies found on a typical jobsite. This also makes it ideal for use during, and after, a pandemic as owners may look to ramp up construction quickly as economic conditions improve. Workstations can be sanitized and disinfected during shifts, social distancing can easily be maintained, and additional shifts can be added to speed up completion of projects. Some of the tasks can be automated, which can help speed up construction for projects with a shorter timeline.
Offsite construction is performed in a controlled environment and it works similar to an auto manufacturing plant. At each station, workers have all the tools and materials to consistently perform their task, whether that be constructing a wall frame or installing electrical wiring. This assembly plant method of construction reduces waste and allows workers to be more productive.
Offsite construction typically comes in two forms: modular and prefabricated. With modular construction, entire rooms can be built complete with MEP, finishes, and fixtures already installed. Prefabricated construction, building components are built offsite and then assembled or installed once they have been transported to the construction site.
Prefabricated building components cover everything from framing, internal and external wall panels, door and window assemblies, floor systems, and multi-trade racks, which are panels with all the ductwork, wiring, and plumbing packaged together. In both, the factory-built components are transported to the construction site assembled, meaning less workers are needed on the site to finish assembling the building.
If there’s a positive takeaway for the construction industry from 2020, it’s that the pandemic advanced construction technology adoption to a level that wouldn’t have been achieved for years. This year should be no different as we’re seeing much of the country deal with increased infection numbers and the construction industry will have to deal with the many of the same challenges faced last year.
Technology is the future of construction, not just for dealing with pandemics, but for improving productivity, eliminating inefficiencies, attracting younger workers, and making jobsite safer.
Looking for more construction project leads in 2021. ConstructConnect offers the data, network, and takeoff tools to find, bid, and win more work.
About Kendall Jones
Kendall Jones is the Editor in Chief at ConstructConnect. He has been writing about the construction industry for years, covering a wide range of topics from safety and technology to industry news and operating insights.