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Construction technology trends to watch in 2020

The construction industry is going through a much-needed technological revolution. Industry 4.0 is helping the sector become more efficient and shake off its ‘out of date’ reputation – an image that is has carried for so long. Senior account executive James Bavin looks at what technology the industry is embracing at the turn of the new decade.

Tech and construction make a great pair

Technology is evolving. In the space of a decade, smart devices have changed the way we communicate with our friends, co-workers and even our house! The 2010s saw Artificial Intelligence, virtual reality and cloud computing become accessible for almost everyone. These sectors are set to blow up even further in the 2020s as we prepare for the fourth industrial revolution.

As technology continues to advance, construction companies can utilise it to make building sites more efficient, buildings more sustainable and improve the safety and productivity of their workers.

Here, I have outlined five technologies that the construction industry will be taking advantage of more this year.

Augmented Reality

As designs and building techniques become more complex, Augmented Reality (AR) has the capability to help contractors and architects detect errors by bringing their projects to life.

AR allows users to interact with digital products within a physical environment. 2016’s Pokemon Go app is arguably the most well-known example of this, but this tech is becoming more popular amongst developers and contractors.

Morpholio has recently launched its AR Sketchwalk app that enables architects to walk through their 2D plans while on site. Users can grow the walls around them to give a clearer representation of how a building’s potential layout will physically work – particularly useful for stakeholders visiting during the early stages of a project. Similarly, Dalux’s Field app can merge BIM models into a physical environment, accurately showing users how the plans will look in reality.

This has the potential to radically change how site visits will work in the future. Gone will be the days where architects and engineers will arrive at site armed with printouts of plans. Using AR technology, they will be able to quickly demonstrate how their plans will function in a life-size format to contractors or partners, without having to physically do any work.

Exoskeletons

If you’re a fan of the Alien film series (and who isn’t?), then you have some idea of what exoskeletons are. Originally developed for military and for patient rehabilitation, exoskeletons are now slowly making their way into the construction industry because they have the potential to boost productivity while lowering the chances of personal injury.

Exoskeletons work, as the name suggests, as a mechanical frame fitted round the back of workers. They enable contractors to lift heavy objects and protect workers from manual handling injuries. The construction industry has the second highest rate of work-related musculoskeletal injuries in the UK – no surprise really when you think of the amount of manual handling, lifting and carrying workers carry out on site.

It’s now well documented that the workforce is aging, so exoskeletons are being touted as a good alternative for manual labourers to continue working as they get older. One of our clients, Willmott Dixon trialled an EksoVest in 2018 to support workers’ working on a £31m new school in Cardiff. While the firm hasn’t rolled them out as standard across all its sites, the workers had grown accustomed to the suit in a short period of time.

Since launching its UK range in 2018, Ekso Bionics has worked with Bentley to improve productivity in car manufacturing. It’s only a matter of time before they are widely rolled out across construction sites.

Using AI to simplify BIM

Of course, it wouldn’t be a construction trends blog without mentioning Building Information Modelling (or BIM as it’s commonly known). It is arguably the biggest revolution in the construction industry in the past century and uses data and measurements to create a 3D model of the project.

BIM holds a digital description of every material or product set to be used on site and if an element is changed on the model by an engineer, then that change is shared with everyone working on the project digitally – enabling a more collaborative approach.

But analysing all this data can be overwhelming at times and time-heavy. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is beginning to be used alongside BIM to make the design and build of a project more efficient. Software such as Autodesk’s 360 BIM IQ software can interpret data from previous BIM models and foresee potential errors in projects. This data may eventually play a vital role in the way that architects envision their future buildings.

3D printing will be embraced more

3D printing within the construction industry has been discussed for nearly a decade, but the widespread use of the technology is still in its infancy, despite some breakthrough projects.

The process creates a three-dimensional object from a Computer Aided Design (CAD) model, using additive manufacturing and has become so advanced that it can now print not only plastic, but steel and concrete.

3D printing has already produced homes around the world. In 2016, Dubai produced the first 3D office, which reportedly cost $140,000 to build. Two years later, a French family moved in to the first 3D printed home and most recently a whole concrete village was built and opened in Austin, Texas. This in turn is inspiring more UK companies to invest in more 3D printing technology. Siemens announced last year that it will be expanding its number of 3D printer machines from 15 to more than 50 by March 2024, having opened Britain’s biggest 3D printing factory in Worcester.

In the UK, we’re still someway off 3D printed developments and buildings. However, given the need for sustainable, affordable homes and the success that other countries including France, The Netherlands and US have had with the technology, it’s only a matter of time before British construction companies turn to large scale 3D printing for projects.

Virtual Reality will become more prevalent

Having worked with housebuilders for most of my career, I know that launching a new development when there’s no show home and just a couple of CGIs can be immensely challenging. How do you show off a site when there’s nothing to show off?

Well, Virtual Reality (VR) may hold the answer. Developers including Fairview New Homes and Keepmoat have both used the tech to allow its customers to walk through a computerised show home before they are built, although they have done this fleetingly, due to the high costs of the technology at the time.

Now as VR becomes cheaper to operate and increasingly wireless, there’s a great opportunity for developers to utilise this tech more and offer it to off-plan buyers. These buyers are always eager to see how their homes will look when completed and VR could become an essential part of the buying experience as developers focus their strategies on creating the best buyer journey possible.

The same principle can apply to key infrastructure projects. Stakeholders will be able to walk around a virtual new school for example without setting foot on site. Using BIM, architects will be able to track how changes made to a model will look in 3D from different perspectives

And much like AR mentioned earlier in this blog, VR headsets can give contractors staff better understanding of the project as construction work continues around them. Using a VR headset and BIM, workers will be able to map a building’s internal network of pipes for example, looking through the walls to ensure everything is fitted correctly. All this without having to remove any element of the build.

If you would like to find out more about our expertise in the construction sector, get in touch

By James Bavin

Since graduating as an NCTJ-accredited journalist in 2016, James has built up extensive PR experience, working with both regional and national housebuilders. He has a proven track record of delivering copy journalists want to read and is now working as part of the Cartwright team to support its B2B and B2C clients.

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