The Future of Contech

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New technology can make construction faster and easier, but change may also be inherently risky.

Construction technology, or contech for short, is part of a new wave of smart solutions designed to solve longstanding – and time consuming – issues in the construction industry.

Well-known Contech brands include Autodesk, which makes software for planning, designing, modeling and building, and Contech Engineered Solutions, which makes precast concrete walls and bridges. Newer startups include construction site data and surveying companies, and project management platforms.

These new startups make one of the biggest construction technology trends clear: construction is changing rapidly.

But what is not clear is which of these technologies will receive widespread adaptation.

As Mike Bellaman, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors explains in an interview with Construction Dive, “You’ve got startups left and right. I bet you if you went back five years and looked at how many companies were getting into the drone business, selling drones was the big fad. Look back now and see how many of them are still around. I bet you would be struggling to find many of those still around.

“So, as a small company, do I have time to be distracted by all that kind of fanfare? Do I really want to bet investment dollars into new tech until it sticks,” he says. “Construction companies aren’t necessarily out on that leading edge because of the industry being fragmented. So, I think once the market as a whole absorbs these types of devices the industry goes along with it.”

These are some of the construction technology trends that are gaining traction in the industry.

Building Onsite with 3D Printing

New concrete mixtures and large scale portable “printers” have made it possible to pour new structures into place within hours.

“The development of computer-controlled ‘printers’ that can produce structures fast and cheaply has the prospect of transforming construction,” the Financial Times explains in a recent editorial.

The benefits of using 3D printing in construction include cost savings, time savings, and injury reductions.

The Financial Times concludes, “Wider use of such technology opens possibilities to reduce building time and the human muscle required. Putting up a garden shed, a conservatory or even a whole house could be reduced to the push of a button — cutting down on effort and potential injury. Speedy construction could be a boon in places such as disaster zones, although they will demand hardy machines and an uninterrupted energy supply.” 

Building Offsite with Precast Concrete

In a seemingly opposite trend, building with precast concrete has taken off in recent years. The benefits include time and cost savings.

“Increasing population, growing urbanization, and industrialization has increased the demand for precast concrete across the globe,” notes a recent MarketWatch report. “The increasing need to reduce building time and costs, and growing demand for offsite construction supports the market growth.”

But safety issues are inherent when working with such large structures, including “uncontrolled collapse of the elements and being crushed between a precast concrete element and another object,” a government report warns.

IT Solutions for Planning, Modeling and Building

One trend that’s not going anywhere is the digitization of design. Companies such as Autodesk and its building information modeling (BIM) rivals are bringing construction into the 21st century with a suite of tools for designing, modeling and building.

As 3rd Watch News explains, “The rising BIM trends, increase in population and ongoing urbanization, and growing BIM adoption are some of the significant factors driving the growth of the building information modeling software market.”

Another factor driving growth? Safety.

BIM helps workers visualize projects so that they can better understand processes before they begin, according to the construction development firm Hourigan. Specifically, “Each task on a construction site has its own risks. BIM has the ability to focus in on each individual task so workers can better identify the risks, prepare for the work at hand and, therefore, complete the task more efficiently and safely.”

Wearable Tech Meets Personal Protective Equipment

As new technology meets widespread adoption, construction can become faster and easier. But change is inherently risky. As these products make their way into the industry, the need for safety professionals to adapt to this new landscape and provide the industry with new safety protocols is paramount.

Luckily, there are new wearables made specifically for the job site. These include:

  • Smartbands, which can help gauge levels of fatigue and tell a worker when to rest
  • Smart hard hats, which can send a signal to the job site coordinator when a worker has fallen, pinpoint the location, and capture audio and video for instant communication.
  • Smart hearing protection, which can cancel common construction sounds without muffling sounds completely so that workers can maintain situational awareness.
  • Smart respirators, which tell the worker what kind of filter to use for the environment and when to replace the filter.
  • Smart safety vests, which monitor an individual’s heart rate, temperature and hydration levels, and can alert the supervisor in the event of an abnormality.
  • Smart eye protection equipped with cameras, which can stream video directly from a worker’s face, allowing site managers to provide direction or inform workers of a safety risk they might not see for themselves.

This type of wearable tech is can only improve safety if it’s adopted and properly deployed. But, as Jenny Calvero from eSUB Construction Software puts it:

“Construction work is inherently risky and dangerous, [and] anything that can improve the safety of workers is important. When workers are injured on the jobsite, they are not just a worker. They are dads and moms. Husbands and wives. Friends. Sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters. More importantly, companies investing in connected technology are investing in keeping our loved ones safe.”

About Eastern Kentucky University’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety Program

Eastern Kentucky University’s online bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety is designed to show students how to identify safety risks and potential areas of improvement in workplace conditions. This degree can prepare graduates to be a safety coordinator or pursue many other occupational health and safety career opportunities.

Industry-experienced safety professionals guide students through occupational safety courses, covering modern trends in employee engagement and the establishment of a safety culture in the workplace. For more information, contact EKU today.

Recommended Reading:

Delivering Better Safety Standards on Construction Sites

Occupational Safety in the Age of Robotics

Identifying and Analyzing Workplace Hazards

Sources

Products: Autodesk

Bridges and Structures: ContechES

A New Round of Contech Startups Receive Funding: ConstructionDive

Construction Tech Startups Fueled by Recent Investments: ConstructionDive

ConTech Conversations: ABC’s Mike Bellaman: ConstructionDive

3-D Printed Houses Could Become Reality: FT.com

Safe Work with Precast Concrete: NZ.gov

Global Construction Software Market: 3rd Watch

3 Ways BIM Improves Safety in Construction: Hourigan

Will Connected Technology Change Jobsite Safety?: eSUB