The biggest challneges facing the global construction industry

The construction industry is constantly changing. As new technologies replace redundant methods of construction, practices adjust and our perception of the world evolves. The industry’s post-industrial evolution has largely been a fluid progression from one logical step to another. Thanks to the sharing power bestowed by the internet, however, the past twenty years has seen a host of standout technologies changing construction, and the way we construct our world, forever.

Google Apps

As technology develops and international boundaries blur, designers have been quick to take advantage of the newfound possibilities in collaboration. The administrative side has been slower to adapt, to the detriment of the entire industry. Google Apps offers construction firms the opportunity to revolutionise not only the means by which they communicate internally but also the way in which the entire industry operates.

The nature of the software allows for collaboration a scale unthinkable just a few years ago. Because company information is shared on the Google Drive, the process of access, sharing, and editing is streamlined, while the risk of losing information is reduced to a near impossibility. With the Google Cloud storing all information, access to vital data, renders and details are simplified, while the hardware on which it is accessed becomes less relevant. It also makes the transfer of large image files easier, safer and less time-consuming.

With the Google Cloud storing all information, access to vital data, renders and details are simplified, while the hardware on which it is accessed becomes less relevant. It also makes the transfer of large image files easier, safer and less time-consuming.

With Google Apps, file transfers and shared calendars streamline the sharing of information whilst keeping everyone updated in real time. For construction projects, alterations to a design,  materials or staff can be shared and explained via video with Google Hangouts. The result is multiple users to contribute and come to an appropriate solution promptly.
Technologies changing construction
Google Apps is already revolutionising the way the construction industry operates

BIM

Without a doubt, one of the most significant innovations in the construction industry in the past twenty years, BIM, or Building Information Modeling, has changed building design and the construction process forever. BIM software allows designers to generate and manipulate a digital representation of a building, meaning a project can be created and studied before a single brick is laid.

BIM gives designers the opportunity to study the effect of external factors on a building, allowing them to manipulate the design to achieve optimum levels of efficiency. By creating digital models, construction firms now have a fully realised and intricately detailed design from which to work. The technology behind BIM also means designers can prepare buildings to be adapted as technology evolves, ensuring projects stay relevant for as long as possible.

Some leading industry figures have questioned the integrity of information used in BIM, as well as the willingness of some clients to invest. But these are kinks in a relatively new design technology which will inevitably be ironed out as it develops. Today BIM is used on a range of software platforms for a variety of projects across the world. As a constantly developing technology, the potential to factor new considerations into the design process ensures it will continue to play an invaluable role in the future of construction.
Technologies changing construction
A building diagram constructed through BIM software

3D printing

Despite a recent backlash against 3D printing, the technology still holds huge potential for the construction industry, and for society as a whole. 3D printing can be applied to a whole range of construction materials, including sustainable cladding, concrete foundations, insulation and even entire buildings. Projects like the WASProject in Italy have even utilised the technology to create temporary shelters for victims of natural disasters using water, clay and sand.

Luke Henderson, Director of Print 3D in China, a 3D printing start-up based in Shenzhen, explains the shift from traditional materials; “The increase in availability of this technology has allowed smaller companies to try out new ideas without worrying too much about cost,” adding “poorer countries can bootstrap the process of creating architectural models by using consumer grade FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) 3D printers.

3D printing comes with a host of other advantages. By handing the actual process of construction to a printer, there is no longer room for human error. In turn, complex geometrical designs are now no longer the sole preserve of the wealthy. As Hod Lipson explained in ‘Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, in printing: “Complexity costs the same as simplicity.”

Technologies changing construction
A 3D printer in action/ photo credit: 3D Printer at the Fab Lab via photopin (license)

Prefabricated building materials

Although designers are still sceptical about the true potential of prefabricated design, the reality is this technology has been a major element of construction, existing in some form since the 19th century. The past twenty years, however, have seen the technology evolve to a previously unimaginable scale.

Prefabricated designs have grown in popularity largely because of the proliferation of new technology, allowing designers to create ingenious interlocking designs that can be assembled relatively easily on-site. The approach saves not only time but money, manpower, and natural resources, making buildings safer and more sustainable in the process. Because around 90% of all construction takes place in the factory, the construction requires less time and uses less concrete and water.

The Broad Group construction firm in China utilised the prefabrication method to achieve some of the fastest skyscraper construction times in history. The group first made its name in construction with a six-story building built in just one day at the Shanghai Expo in 2010. The firm went on to construct a 15 story Ark Hotel in just six days before building a 30 story hotel in Hunan Province in just over two weeks.

Each of these projects was filmed and released as time-lapse videos, showing the entire construction process in the space of a few minutes. The end result is not only an incredible piece of meticulous coordination but an indicator of the potential timeframe for the construction of future large-scale projects.Technologies changing construction
A prefabricated facade post assembly/ photo credit: building via photopin (license)

Robotic construction

Whilst robots have been used in constructing materials for well over half a century now, it’s only in the past ten years we have seen the real potential of On-Site Construction Robots (OSCR). When combined with 3D printing technology OSCR’s can massively reduce construction times, cutting costs and enabling the construction of more complex designs. As a result, architects, designers, and construction personnel can begin to explore new aesthetic approaches.

With OSCR’s also capable of reducing the amount of manpower required, some have been reticent to acknowledge the full potential of robots in construction, partly out of fear of eroding the element of human skill. But projects like the proposed Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE) in Shenzhen, by Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, could prove robots and humans both have their place in the construction process.

In an interview with Dezeen magazine, Coop Himmelb(l)au founder Wolf D Prix argued engaging with these processes was essential to enable the trade to progress, stating: “If you combine 3D printing and assembling by robots, then the building industry has more chances than ever,” adding “The combination of robotic construction and 3D printing is the future of the building industry. It gives the architect more freedom to invent. The ideas that right now are killed, by the argument that it costs too much or it takes too long, will be not killed anymore.”

Prix has identified what each of these innovations are about. Each technology was born of a need to allow ideas to flourish. Just as the needs of the client evolves over time, so too must the technology to meet these needs. By encouraging and engaging with the latest innovations, designers and engineers can continue to build a brighter, more secure future; both for the construction industry and the world they create.

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