Emerging Construction Trends
The 2021 Dodge Construction Outlook predicts a 4% increase in total U.S. construction starts, to $771 billion, in 2021. Yet, the Outlook cautions, that figure equals less than one third of the 14% lost in 2020.
In challenging times innovation is even more essential. Yet, the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is not known for rapid change. According to McKinsey as reported in a Unity e-book, “productivity in construction has only grown one percent annually over the past two decades.”
The industry will need to adapt and adjust quicker due to the unprecedented times and economic outlook. Some trends that began emerging even before the recent downturn could be a lifeboat to the industry. Le’t take a look.
The modular building market has been a trend in construction that should continue in 2021. Millionacres, which is part of The Motley Fool media company, projects that by 2023 the modular construction market will reach upward of $157 billion.
Some of the key benefits of modular construction are perfectly in line with the times. Modular construction allows for building parts of buildings off-site “…in enormous, airy buildings, with plenty of room for distancing. And the equipment used—ceiling cranes, conveyors, and lifts—is specifically designed to let fewer workers move larger components, reducing worker proximity and labor costs,” says ECHOtape, a building materials company.
Appearing on lists of construction trends for years already, and for good reason, are green construction and sustainability, and the focus on them continues and is poised to go to another level in the coming years since they comprise a central plank for the incoming Biden administration.
Mass timber as a building material is a step in this direction. It’s seen as promising due to “… its structural rigidity, environmental sustainability, and renewability nature,” according to a paper entitled, “Mass timber building material in the U.S. construction industry”
Construction with mass timber involves using “various types of engineered wood, with cross-laminated timber (CLT) being the most common panel material,” says Cailin Crowe of Smart Cities Dive. Crowe adds that structures built with mass timber have long life spans and a “unique ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere.”
The next construction trend, 3D printing, positively impacts safety, sustainability, and the bottom line. Consider the benefits of 3D printing according to real estate company 99 Acres: It reduces labor requirements and waste, it makes construction more precise, it’s time effective, it conserves water, and it lowers labor costs.
Finally, because 3D printing enables the construction of objects to exact specifications, it removes uncertainty.
A market analysis report from Grand View Research noted the “global 3D printing construction market size was … expected to [increase] 114.8% from 2020 to 2027.” Grand View Research estimated the market size was $4.6 million (USD) in 2019.
While blockchain has been talked about for some time and has impacted multiple industries, it counts as an upcoming trend in construction since it has yet to be utilized in the industry. Blockchain has the potential to affect back offices and supply chains involved in construction.
Construction Dive says, “At its foundation, blockchain is really just automated bookkeeping, with a twist: Not only does it get rid of physical documents, it performs the digital paper pushing without any human interaction.” Blockchain keeps a record of transactions that can’t be lost, and everyone involved can have access to them.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)/Data Analytics/AI
Although the term robotics may conjure up visions of machines on a worksite, robotics is also an asset on the back end and is a growing construction trend.
To clarify, as defined by IBM, RPA, or software robotics, is a process that “uses automation technologies to mimic back-office tasks of human workers, such as extracting data, filling in forms, moving files, et cetera. … By deploying scripts which emulate human processes, RPA tools complete autonomous execution of various activities and transactions across unrelated software systems.”
While any list predicting future trends is sure to have some misses, there are some certainties in the list above. Issues such as safety, utilization of information, environmental impact, and maximization of profit will be priorities of those in the AEC industry in 2021 and beyond.
Anything that can positively impact these four priorities will be seriously considered. However, every potential change will be measured by its impact on the bottom line. This is particularly true given the construction industry will in all likelihood see some growth in 2021 over 2020, though revenues will not equal those of past years.
To read our full eBook on construction trends, head over here.