Heading into 2017, the construction industry predicted a major uptick in the use of technology in construction in general. BIM, drones and the Internet of Things were major players on the list, and related concepts like sustainable building practices and offsite construction weren’t far behind. And technology isn’t going anywhere in the new year.
Other not-so-great trends from last year are sticking around, too. There’s no end in sight for the labor shortage, and materials costs are still going up. Despite those setbacks, there’s plenty of progress to be excited about. As 2018 kicks off, let’s see what the year holds for the construction industry.
Increased technology adoption
Construction innovation is moving ahead quickly — though the industry has been slow on the uptake, there are so many opportunities for the use of technology on the jobsite. And all that opportunity means new tools are being created faster than ever. This is the tech that will take off in 2018.
Augmented and virtual reality
AR and VR are in their infancy in construction, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t being used all over the world. The technologies are used much more widely used in related industries like real estate — it’s commonplace for home buyers to virtually tour properties before visiting in person. With a VR headset, that buyer could be thousands of miles away and feel like they’re standing in the home. And if a realtor is showing a pre-construction home, they can use the headsets to show buyers the finished product.
In construction, virtual reality allows contractors to design a building in its entirety and completely to scale before ground is ever broken, reducing opportunities for error and increasing the accuracy of project bids. Augmented reality lets builders and their clients easily visualize changes in an existing space, especially helpful for those who have trouble picturing a different paint color on the walls or new flooring. On the jobsite, workers can use their phones to see how the project is supposed to look when it’s finished, comparing their progress every step of the way.
Both AR and VR cut down on mistakes by taking jobsite communication to a whole new level. They also make for faster, more certain decision-making, speeding up the entire project. Their potential effects on projects of all sizes are huge — from making complex directions accessible to boosting community engagement and excitement, the possibilities are limitless.
BIM (building information modeling) is more than just a design and planning tool for construction projects; it’s a new, more efficient process from start to finish. Construction firms that use BIM create project models using programs like Autodesk’s BIM 360, software that also functions as a communication and collaboration tool. Every piece of information about the project can be accessed by anyone involved from wherever they are. And having that data collected in one place allows construction professionals to create project models that are cost-efficient and cut down on wasteful spending and materials usage.
Like BIM, drones are a revolutionary tool for communication and data collection for construction projects. They can capture a birds’-eye view of the jobsite, inspecting areas that are difficult or unsafe for workers to get to. Connected drones can operate as a surveillance and security system, or conduct inspections, streaming video directly to operators. As the project progresses, builders, investors and any other stakeholders can get a big-picture look at any time, no matter where they are, keeping everyone in the loop. And clearer communication means fewer errors and faster work. Is your construction business putting drones to work in 2018?
A trend that took off in 2017, sustainability and green building will only continue to rise in popularity. Tesla’s solar panel shingles are being tested on the roofs of employees’ homes, and are expected to soon be available for installation. Washington’s Built Green-certified homes are up to 40 percent more efficient than homes that aren’t certified; not to mention the homes’ carbon emissions and homeowners’ electricity bills are significantly lower. The UK aims to have zero carbon emissions from domestic buildings by 2020. Nearly any building structure anywhere in the world can become LEED certified by following their building guidelines and registering their project. And these efforts for sustainable building practices are spurring the development of sustainable materials — a market expected to grow 12 percent by 2026 — to match. In 2018, try setting green goals for your business by sourcing materials responsibly and choosing eco-friendly options whenever possible.
No sign of relief from labor shortage
Jobs were steadily added to the construction industry throughout 2017, but countless skilled labor positions remain vacant, and contractors don’t expect that to change just yet. Recruitment efforts ramped up as it became more apparent that high school students and career seekers weren’t considering the trades as a viable option — but those efforts take time to produce results. The high school sophomores exploring construction as a job opportunity won’t be ready for the workforce for two years; even then, they may still need to complete an apprenticeship or earn a two-year degree. For construction, this means the labor shortage could continue for the next few years.
Take cues from big players in the industry: help fill the gap by creating apprenticeships or internships within your company to bring in the next generation of construction talent. If that’s not in the cards for your business, get involved in other impactful ways: visit local high schools and talk to students about their post-grad options, or allow them to job-shadow you or your employees. A hands-on approach to recruitment can’t go wrong when you’re looking for employees in a hands-on industry.
The labor shortage and the rising cost of construction materials can put the squeeze on annual budgets, big and small. It’s harder than ever to find a good carpenter, so you have to offer competitive wages — that can cut into your budget. Expect some project costs to be inflated due to more expensive construction materials. Lack of labor and rising costs could also mean that construction projects take longer than usual. But, anticipating these challenges in the coming year means you’re ahead of the curve.
Though technology might seem like a big investment to make this year, it can ultimately help you save money. When you can see the specifics of how your fleet is being used, you can target and eliminate wasteful spending, keeping your budget on track.
With so many developments in technology, and the myriad opportunities available to newcomers in construction, 2018 is sure to be an exciting year. Subscribe to The Yard so you don’t miss out on the latest construction industry news.