New advances in digital technology, big data, construction materials and new approaches to design and energy use are creating a wave of innovation in the construction industry. There’s a lot of buzz around drones, 3D printing and robots and as these technologies mature in an increasing pace. We’re getting closer and closer to a world where structures can be built completely automatically and without manual labor.
Building large complex structures is a very expensive and time-consuming contract to undertake. The largest skyscrapers, for instance, take several years to complete. Already today, there are technologies applied, that enable a 57-story building to be built in less than 20 days – quite a leap from the traditional way of building. These sort of advancements are only possible by combining emerging technologies that gather data, automate processes and build structure with more precision, accuracy and speed and enable also enables faster returns on investments.
In construction, inspections play a crucial role, even before building the foundations, the site goes through a series of inspections. These inspections are made in order to get important data about the soil, drainage, vegetation, surface space etc. Once the actual building process starts, inspections continue to ensure safety, compliance, quality and progress. In the conventional way of building, all these inspections are made manually (hence, are time consuming) and can be a safety hazard for the inspectors. The most advanced construction companies are using drones to conduct these inspections. Drones can cover vast areas in much shorter time spans and capture detailed close up images with their advanced lenses, and finally send this data to intelligence computer systems. This digital data allows builders to perform pre-construction simulations, where they can test various designs and hypothesis and in this way lower the chance of making mistakes and miscalculations. This digital data also enables the automated construction of buildings.
3D printing is changing the way structures are being built by enabling the printing of concrete structures at very high speed. It’s pretty amazing what is already being done by 3D printing: The world’s first 3D printed sky scraper is on its way and unmanned printing machines are building entire bridges. With additive manufacturing, curved, layered, detailed and artistic structures can be printed much more efficiently compared to taking on these types of complex projects manually.
Robots can construct beams, lay bricks, drill, dig, paint and perform almost any type of tasks required to build structures. The most innovative companies have built solutions that allow smart robots to synchronously construct various complex objects, all they need is a technician to watch and monitor the process over the web from across the world.
Here are a few other innovations that have changed the conventional idea of construction, towards a greener, smarter and more future savvy building.
Cement for instance, is one of the most widely used materials in construction. Cracking is a major problem, usually caused by exposure to water and chemicals. Self-healing materials, such as the self-healing concrete use a mix that contains bacteria, which will germinate as soon as water enters a crack in the concrete. It will then start to produce limestone, plugging the crack before water and oxygen has a chance to corrode the steel reinforcements.
Efficient insulation material is becoming increasingly important in the construction industry. Heat transmission through walls tends to be passed directly through the building envelope, the internal fascia. This process is known as “thermal bridging”. One solution called Aerogel is considered one of the most effective thermal insulation materials and is used in a fiberglass matrix. This can be used to insulate studs, which can reportedly increase overall thermal resistance of a wall by more than 40 per cent.
Building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glazing helps buildings generate their own electricity, by turning the whole building envelope into a solar panel. Companies such as Polysolar, provide transparent photovoltaic glass as a structural building material, forming windows, façades and roofs. Their technology is efficient in producing energy even on north-facing, vertical walls and it can be double glazed or insulated directly. Its cost is only marginal over the traditional glass, and in addition companies save money on energy bills and can earn feed-in tariff revenues.
Kinetic energy is another technology under development. This technology enables the flooring or roadways to harness energy from footsteps and other kinetic movement. It can be used indoors and outdoors in high traffic areas. Electricity is produced from footfall using an electromagnetic induction process and flywheel energy storage. It is currently used for example in football pitches and train stations to power streetlights around the area.
The structural integrity of any building is only as good as its individual parts. The way those parts fit together, along with the choice of materials and its specific site, all contribute to how the building will perform under normal, or extreme, conditions. There’s software that can simulate the stresses and strains on different structures of the designed building so that these types of challenges in the designs can be taken into consideration early on in the building process.
Asset mapping focuses on operational equipment, including heating and air conditioning, lighting and security systems, collecting data from serial numbers, firmware, engineering notes of when it was installed and by whom, and combines the data in one place. The system can show engineers in real time on a map where the equipment needs to be installed and, once the assets are connected to the real-time system using IoT. These can be monitored via the remote devices and systems and it helps customers build databases of asset performance, which can assist in proactive building maintenance, and also reduce building procurement and insurance costs.