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How Technology Will Transform The Construction Industry In 2020

How Technology Will Transform The Construction Industry In 2020

Construction techniques might seem like they haven't evolved much over the past few decades, partly because the industry is slow to adopt new technology. After all, the stakes are very high if things don't work out -- more so than in most other industries. Still, recent advancements promise to change the way we construct buildings, increasing efficiency, safety, and sustainability. Here are a few trends to watch for in 2020:

A boom in modular construction.

Modular building has never been a very popular choice for the commercial sector, but experts argue that that's largely due to the ways its perceived. There's really no reason why modular buildings can't work for commercial applications, and more and more companies are beginning to see that it allows for very fast, efficient construction that is just as safe as traditional methods. Marriott International, for example, announced its intention to build the tallest modular hotel in the world, scheduled to open in New York City later this year. Hilton had another first, opening San Francisco's first modular hotel last summer less than a year after the hotel's components were delivered to the site. Modular construction also doesn't preclude the use of water reclamation systems, solar panels, or other sustainability features. The modular building market is projected to reach $157 billion by 2023.

Wider adoption of Building Information Modeling (BIM).

Construction software is earning its place on job sites, especially BIM programs. These allow for 3D and 4D modeling -- adding time as a fourth dimension -- allow users to see not only the spatial characteristics of a project but also get projections of maintenance costs and material lifespan under a variety of conditions. It can even be integrated with augmented or virtual reality to allow planners to get an immersive, real-life feel for the finished project. This allows for the construction of buildings that are as efficient, long-lived, and low-maintenance as possible, reducing their carbon footprints.

More wearable tech.

As technology becomes smaller and more portable, it's not surprising that wearables have grown in popularity. In the construction field, hands-free operation is a serious benefit -- workers need to be able to get into tight spaces and handle potentially dangerous equipment, and there's little room for juggling extra stuff. Visual wearables can present information in heads-up displays that make coordinating tasks more efficient. Some wearable tools also incorporate sensors that can alert workers to potentially unsafe conditions, reducing the risk of accidents. Some workers may also get to benefit from exoskeletons, which monitors the force applied to the worker's body and responds by using hydraulics to increase their strength and prevent knee, shoulder, and back injuries. Exoskeletons also present an interesting compromise between proponents of automation and unions seeking to protect their members' jobs -- the ability to give human workers some of the advantages of robots.

Expanded use of 3D printing.

3D printing comes hand-in-hand with the projected increase in modular construction techniques. Since it can create parts quickly and precisely, 3D printing allows for the fabrication of construction materials either on-site or off and being automated means that production can continue completely independently of worker's shifts. This is one way in which the advancement of automation doesn't have to threaten jobs for human workers -- 3D printing can allow construction projects to progress more efficiently, but just as many field workers are needed to complete them.

More robots.

The construction industry has been notably reticent to take advantage of advancements in robotics, but that may be changing. Drones can now nail down roofing tile, and robots can even lay bricks and pave roads. This has allowed for faster builds with fewer human errors. Boston Dynamics' robot "dog," Spot, is in the early stages of learning to take progress photos on job sites, a job that previously had to be performed by workers who already had higher priority tasks. Interestingly enough, it isn't the actual building process where robotics has had the biggest impact -- it's demolition. Robots are generally slower than humans when it comes to taking a structure down, but also cheaper and far safer to use. Though construction has generally been slower to adopt new tech than other industries, it's catching up. 2020 looks like it's going to be a big year for the expansion of modular building, BIM, 3D printing, wearables, and robotics, which should ultimately result in projects that go up faster, last longer, have lower maintenance needs and smaller carbon footprints, and result in fewer on-the-job injuries.

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