As we step into 2024, we can see that the construction industry is still undergoing a dynamic change, by embracing the latest technology being incorporated into jobsite equipment. Three key trends that are significantly impacting this sector include drones and advanced machinery, sustainability, and cutting-edge Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology. To secure a competitive advantage in the industry, A/E/C leaders and professionals should be prepared to continue adopting these practices on the jobsite.
Harnessing Technology: Advanced Machinery and Drones
While the construction industry has been on the slower side of adopting new technology, technological advances that reduce project duration and overhead costs have been more widely accepted. These advancements include machinery such as laser-guided screeds, drones, concrete pump arms, and remote-controlled trench rollers. Although this equipment has been available for some time, they’ve not always been used on project sites, due to upfront costs. However, using this technology will minimize your cost in the long-term costs, due to the ability of these tools to reduce your schedule and complete the project early.
There are many types of concrete screed machines, so it is critical to select the right one to meet your projects’ needs. Best used for large areas of concrete placement, laser-guided screed machines streamline concrete leveling for the contractor. This tool eliminates extensive manual labor, improves precision, and accelerates project timelines.
A new technology addition within the last 15 years, drones are now being used for construction site surveys and land mapping, as well as for enforcing safety measures and tracking site progress. Drone technology minimizes potential errors and inaccuracies and improves inter-department communication. For instance, using a drone during a pre-construction survey can help you develop more accurate bids by taking photos to document site conditions and confirming them on your project plans. During construction, drones can be used to monitor the project’s progress and this type of observation lends itself to team communication. At the end of a project, drone photography is an important tool for marketing your company.
A concrete pump arm, or a boom pump, is a large piece of machinery with a hydraulic arm that can accurately deposit concrete in various construction applications. These arms can extend up to 230 feet, providing flexibility and precise concrete distribution to even the most difficult-to-reach areas, such as high rises and confined spaces. The boom pump improves productivity, efficiency, and safety by eliminating the need to transfer and place concrete manually. It also reduces the chance of defects in concrete due to mishandling. Although boom pumps were invented in 1927, they have continually evolved over the decades with advances that allow them to work faster and more efficiently, including hydraulic systems, simpler user controls, and tubing that allows for easy cleaning.
Trench rollers, on the other hand, are compact and maneuverable machines used to compact soil in trench excavations. The roller drum compacting feature provides significant pressure to create a compact and stable subgrade before concrete is placed or piping is installed and backfilled. By preventing soil displacement, they ensure a sturdy and stable base for foundations, pipelines, and other sub-surface structures. Modern trench rollers are often remotely operated, adding an extra layer of safety by reducing risks for operators working in trenches. Also, Telematics systems are being integrated into these machines, providing real-time data on usage, maintenance requirements, and performance metrics. This data-driven approach enables construction companies to optimize their fleet management, enhance machine uptime, and plan maintenance proactively.
Building Sustainability into Construction
The building and construction industry continues to focus on sustainability, with a priority shift towards green and eco-friendly practices. Ensuring new buildings are energy-efficient, reducing building waste, and using water wisely are now considered vital aspects of construction. These factors enhance the living conditions for building occupants and lead to a less harmful effect on our environment.
Architects and builders use the latest designs and technology, like solar panels and eco-friendly energy systems, to achieve energy efficiency. Not only are these sustainable, but they also make the buildings nearly energy-self-sufficient. Many innovative techniques are practical and do not have to be overly costly. By also considering the 'circular economy' - reducing waste, reusing, and recycling - we can further reduce the harm to our environment. The construction industry is moving towards carefully using sustainable and reuseable materials.
For example, Ross Group prioritizes using sustainable practices in many of our projects. An excellent example is our fitness center at NAS Kingsville, Texas. We integrated renewable energy features such as an eco-friendly solar electric system. The objective was to decrease reliance on fossil-fuel-based energy provided by the utility company to power the facility. This was achieved by installing more than 1,300 210W solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of a nearby parking structure to supply power to the fitness center. Another noteworthy implementation was the installation of Solatubes, which are tubular daylighting devices with a domed prism exterior on the roof of the facility and a reflective interior that directs light downwards into the physical training and fitness areas. Using these tubes allows natural lighting in the facility while minimizing solar heat gain, glare, and electrical costs. The project achieved LEED Gold Certification by using these materials and using recycled content and other energy-efficient lighting and water fixtures.
BIM: The Game-Changer
BIM, though not new, continues to grow in relevance in the construction industry as we continually seek to improve efficiency, accuracy, and productivity. During the design and planning phase of a project, BIM's detailed digital 3D building models provide in-depth insight into project timelines, costs, clash detection, and materials. It is increasingly used during the construction phase of projects, to improve communication, reduce errors, and facilitate better project management. It can also be used to address industry challenges such as coordination issues, budget overruns, and sustainability. In addition, BIM technology can evaluate a building's energy efficiency and environmental impact - crucial in today's eco-conscious world. In our post-COVID-19 world, BIM will become even more significant as the need for enhanced remote collaboration promotes further digitization.
For example, the photo below helps the team visualize and prioritize the different systems that come together for this project that is in design. We integrated BIM across all systems, including civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and architectural components. This has facilitated effective clash detection, ensuring all systems can be installed without material interference. As a result, using this approach will substantially minimize the need for red-line revisions on-site, thereby streamlining our processes.
As 2024 progresses, the construction industry continues to move towards tech-powered, sustainability-driven solutions. Technological advancements, combined with a strong focus on green construction, are reshaping how construction firms envision, plan, manage, and execute projects. As these trends continue to gain momentum, they offer glimpses into an increasingly digitized, automated, and eco-friendly future for construction. Adapting to these industry shifts is imperative for those wanting to maintain a competitive edge in this ever-evolving landscape.