4 Technologies Poised to Disrupt the Construction Industry

Advances in technology are increasing safety, decreasing costs, and allowing for more innovation in the construction industry.

Innovative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and 3D printing aren’t just useful for consumer-facing products and services – they’re making a significant impact on industrial processes, as well. With the potential to decrease costs, increase safety, speed up project timelines, and help align visions with reality, the latest Silicon Valley creations are poised to transform construction in particular.

And the industry is in desperate need of a disruption. Since 1945 productivity (defined as the total economic output per worker) in manufacturing, retail, and agriculture has grown 1500%, while it has remained almost flat for construction, according to McKinsey. In large part, this stagnation is a result of the industry’s unwillingness to embrace innovative new tech; however, as these technologies become more affordable and practical, the tides are beginning to turn.

We recently conducted a Twitter poll in which we asked our followers to weigh in on what they thought would be the most important AEC technologies in the next five to 10 years:

We thought we’d follow up on our poll with an article outlining a few interesting facts and considerations about each.

1. Artificial Intelligence

In terms of project design and planning, artificial neural networks (i. e., computer systems modeled after the human brain and nervous system) are poised to make a huge impact — from initial design modeling, to project planning, to performance diagnostics, the technology is already taking on many tasks previously considered too nuanced and dependent on human intuition for machines to handle. At VIATechnik, we’re already combining the power of AI with augmented reality (AR) tech to make it a more impactful on-site tool. For example, check out our automated Crack Identification application in the videos below:

According to Michael Bergin, a Principal Research Scientist at Autodesk, the future of AI-led design involves “systems that accept any type of input that a designer can produce [to enable] a collaboration with the computer to iteratively target a high-performing design that meets all the varied needs of the design team.”

In other words, building design may soon be less about actual drawing and more about specifying project requirements and parameters, then letting the algorithms step in to connect the dots.

2. VDC Technologies

As anyone in the AEC industry knows, the construction process is an inherently complex and difficult one. Each project requires extensive planning, a long list of stakeholders (architects, engineers, project managers, owners, etc.), and taking into account the site’s unique environmental, regulatory, and structural considerations — which can change at any given moment. When unexpected issues arise, it can cause projects to miss important deadlines, go over budget, or jeopardize the safety of the on-site crew.

Innovative virtual design and construction (VDC) technologies like building information modeling (BIM) and VR are helping AEC professionals improve accuracy, safety, and efficiency at all stages of the project lifecycle. From enhancing the initial design process, to increasing the accuracy of scheduling and project takeoff cost estimation, to facilitating enhanced collaboration and on-site project management, it’s clear that VDC tech is indeed the future of construction.

3. 3D Printing

Imagine a world where materials for skyscrapers were printed on-site instead of delivered. While the industry isn’t quite ready for large-scale production, 3D printing in construction is generating a lot of buzz. A company named Apis Cor, for instance, recently built an entire 409-square-foot house in 24 hours using only a 3D printer. MIT has created a printer that can build a 12-foot-high dome-like structure in less than 14 hours.

3D printing also opens up the possibility for building structures in remote, potentially hostile environments (i.e., other planets), utilizing locally sourced resources as materials (i.e., Martian soil and rocks).

4. Drones

These nifty flying robots are incredibly useful for managing and inspecting sites. Drones can survey a large location in a fraction of the time that it would take a human, can inspect tall buildings with no risk of harm, and can provide high-resolution images of difficult-to-reach locations to operators on the ground.
This timely data allows site managers to deploy resources without delay, avoid potential risks, and maintain an accurate timeline for project completion.

In reality, the question of which technology will have the biggest impact on construction’s future isn’t really fair, especially considering that, at least to a certain extent, each will be somewhat dependent on the others to function properly and reach its full potential. As an industry, we need to think more about the big picture. Ultimately, the only way forward is to embrace progress and innovation – not bury our heads in the sand.

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