Six construction tech trends for 2021 and beyond

Six construction tech trends for 2021 and beyond

Looking to the future, Blake Luse shares Ferguson Ventures predictions for the construction industry and built world

Corporate News , Industry Trends , Innovation , Sustainability , Ferguson Cares , Skilled Trades

For the construction industry and built world, 2020 was the year when the industry adopted a philosophy of being nimble and adjusting to change. Ferguson Ventures Managing Director Blake Luse says, "In a year full of changes and challenges, Americans still need access to clean drinking water. Plumbing and sanitary systems must be fully operational. Your air conditioning unit must be ready when you need to warm or cool your home. Multi-family and commercial property managers need products to keep their properties clean for residents. Our industry is an essential service. Therefore, innovation is something our customers and industry need to accelerate forward."

Luse, the founding member of Ferguson Ventures, launched the corporate venture and innovation group to solve the challenges of our customers, such as municipalities, contractors, architects, designers and skilled trade professionals. "We are actively working with trade professionals to learn their pain points. We're brainstorming how to assist in streamlining every facet of their business to find efficiencies. And instead of waiting for an app or new product to come to market that might help, we are working with the startup community to deliver innovation that drives change."

No one expected the rapid growth that the pandemic would bring to the built world and construction industry. Supply chains were disrupted, consumer behavior shifted and renovations of single-family residential homes, multi-residential housing and tenant buildings accelerated; a tumultuous year brought some silver linings. When many people are looking to make sense of it all, Luse looks to the future, knowing that the industry is resilient and able to harness innovations to serve end users better.

Luse is on a mission to help the built world and construction industry make the most of the year – and years – ahead. Luse and his Ferguson Ventures team, who are uniquely positioned to futurecast due to their relationships in the construction and facilities management business and the startup community, have listed a few predictions. One thing to note is that as the industry becomes increasingly complex, all the trends became progressively more interconnected.


1. Prefabrication and modular construction continue to gain traction

Interest in modular homes can be seen everywhere, from luxury hotels to simple pods designed to provide safe housing for individuals experiencing homelessness and everywhere in-between. Architecture firms incorporate prefabrication and modular construction into their design projects for many reasons, including lower costs, reduced waste, more efficient use of materials, cutting production time in half and eliminating weather delays. Additionally, modular construction is considered equally as sturdy and resilient to conventional construction methods. FEMA concluded in a study done by the damage done by Hurricane Andrew in Florida (Aug. 2012) that modular homes fared better compared to other construction.

Startups and Innovators:

  • Plant Prefab manufactures custom-built, high-quality homes. They are now a Certified B Corporation for meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
  • Blokable develops real estate with a unique process to reduce the cost and time required to create and operate new multi-family housing.

Noteworthy Projects:


2. Communities adopt sustainable and healthy buildings to create affordable housing

The pandemic put a spotlight on the need for healthy buildings, the affordable housing crisis and a focus on indoor air quality. As communities address the problem, they are taking a holistic approach that begins with energy efficiency and includes health, well-being, aesthetics and social engagement. Building to a higher standard involves more care and planning and the adoption of new technologies. There are both expected and surprising results.

It has been known for years that energy-efficient, high-performing homes use fewer resources. This translates into fewer costs for the resident who can better plan for utility expenses. Additionally, the affordable housing owner can keep their operational costs low and, in some cases, generate income by selling solar energy back to the grid if they have installed solar panels.

Residents report several important quality of life benefits residents, such as reduced social isolation and an improved health condition. Considering nature and the surrounding areas of a building promotes resident interaction and exercise. With high-performing HVAC systems that provide proper ventilation and air filtration, residents receive fresh filtered air and prevent mold and mildew growth, which can trigger allergies and asthma. Also, focusing on proper HVAC system maintenance will reduce the overall cost of operating your property and lead to a more sustainable home.

Startups and Innovators:

Noteworthy Projects:


3. Virtual Design and BIM drive collaboration, comprehensive decision making and improve efficiencies

Innovation in the process of pre-construction, construction and ongoing facility management is becoming more sophisticated. Building Information Modeling and Virtual Design & Construction are methods that rely on technology to improve a construction project's entire workflow. BIM is a 3D model-based process in construction that helps foster collaboration. Teams design virtually to increase efficiency and coordination in the construction and maintaining of buildings. BIM is a major part of the VDC process. VDC is used to develop an ideal planning and construction strategy focused on collaboration with the right people and technologies.

These methods are used among engineers, architects, contractors and designers to make better-informed decisions during the pre-construction phase by using 3D modeling and running generative design analyses. Based on the project objective, teams can quickly identify the most optimal design and simultaneously save time and money by improving the workflow and reducing waste. 3D models ensure that the mechanical, electrical and plumbing will fit in the space before construction, reduces the on-site confusion between subcontractors and increases project timetables and quality.

BIM and VDC are both areas of innovation that could soon help provide the data needed to create better and more useful digital twins. A digital twin is a blueprint of the property; it is a virtual 3D model that helps visualize and document precisely what is in the building. Digital Twins combined with building management systems could serve up data on the building's physical and functional state and flag needed maintenance needs before a more serious issue arises.

In the future, digital twins will become increasingly more lifelike. With the use of drone imagining and augmented and virtual reality, you will be able to provide owners, property managers and members of the construction team the ability to become immersed in the structure before any concrete is poured through to the final turnover of the building.

Startups and Innovators:

  • GTP Stratus: Enables custom work packages and spools to be created directly from a Revit or CAD model. Cut lists can be created and sent to the fabrication shop for spooling.*
  • PypeServer: Connects CAD and BIM tools to a contractor's cutting machine in the fab shop. This helps reduce waste and automate the fabrication process. GTP Stratus & PypeServer have integration capabilities that enhance workflows.*

*It is important to note that tools like Stratus and PypeServer have integrations to transfer data between the tools. They are used by mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors to work off of their models to prefabricate pipe, valves and fittings into a more finished product to shop to the job site. This can save time and create efficiencies in the construction process.


4. Addressing the skilled trade shortage through technology

Baby Boomers are retiring from the construction and built world workforce in significant numbers. According to the Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, "there are nearly half a million more jobs available in the skilled trades than workers with the skills to fill those roles, and that number is expected to rise to 2 million within a decade." With productivity and safety being vital, the industry must discover innovative solutions to help manage increasingly complicated design-build projects with fewer skilled trade professionals. Many technological advances – from BIM, virtual reality, robotics to prefabrication – are being adopted to keep projects on schedule and reduce labor costs.

Startups and Innovators:

  • Tradehounds: Enables top contractors to position jobs and hire the right trades people. The app also features a social platform to share and celebrate work in the trades.
  • Wingtra: High-precision aerial surveys for large projects using an innovative Vertical Take Off and Landing drone.

Noteworthy Projects:

  • Skilled Trades Pay is helping students learn about the great career paths and jobs available in the construction industry.

5. 3D-printed materials becoming commonplace

Modular construction and prefabrication are not the only new building methods gaining wider acceptance. As 3D printing begins to capture the imagination of other industries such as medicine and aerospace, the construction industry is also recognizing the potential. After building plans are entered into the 3D system, both building materials and entire homes can be printed at a click. This process is being adopted to address the skilled trade shortage to make the building process more efficient. Additionally, the time to print a tiny home out of cement is a fraction of the time it would take to construct a house using traditional methods. More and more organizations will use 3D printers to address the affordable housing crisis around the globe.

Startups and Innovators:

  • Branch Technology: Prefabrication and tech company focused on large scale 3D printing.
  • Icon: 3D printed homes using a tablet operated robot delivery system.

Noteworthy Projects:


6. Adopting IoT technology to promote and increase worker safety

The Internet of Things is how all of your devices with a Wi-Fi connection communicate with one another. On the job site, this can be a cellphone, shoe tracker or other wearable device and other on-site sensors to detect hazards and other conditions that are known to be indicators of a workplace accident or injury. These devices can communicate potential hazards in real time, including fatigue, missing team members and unauthorized personnel within a construction zone. The system will then transmit an alert. Additionally, some IoT-enabled programs can automatically shut down an operation without human intervention, depending on the potential hazard's severity. Safety is a significant focus on the job site, and startups have identified this market need and are working towards new solutions to keep contractors safe.

Startups and Innovators:

  • Illumagear: Safety equipment help contractors see and be seen on the job site.
  • Cumulus: The Internet of Tools, helping ensure work was done right and to proper torquing and other specs.
  • Safesite: SaaS tools that enable paperless safety inspections, safety audits and checklists, and incident reports.

 

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