Yura Lazebnikov, an investor, entrepreneur and expert in technology industries, IT and esports. The Managing Partner of TECHIIA Holding.
The invention of cofferdams revolutionized the field of bridge construction; tower cranes led to the emergence of skyscrapers; and self-supporting glass units’ technology allows for the construction of large glass facades without a metal frame. It seems that humanity has already learned to build any kind of object. However, the industry is not standing still; new technologies appear almost every year, which allow for building in even faster, safer and more complex ways.
From carefully following construction trends, I believe they can be divided into three categories: digitization of the industry (the use of software solutions by construction companies for scaling), inventing new and improving existing building materials and structures, and using new technology and devices such as heavy drones or augmented reality glasses. Here are the ways I’m seeing these technologies impact the construction industry and why leaders in this space should take note of these trends.
“You can’t rush greatness” are the words I hear from builders about implementing large projects. And it makes sense: The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest structure of the ancient world, took 27 years to build. The world’s tallest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa, took almost six years to construct.
One could assume that people simply haven’t learned to build complex structures more quickly, but that’s not the case. Building quickly can be done with a clear plan. However, many developers have big problems with planning and budget allocation. According to statistics, implementing large-scale construction projects usually takes 20% more time than planned, and construction costs exceed the budget by 80%. Take the Burj Khalifa again: The tower opened nine months later than planned, exceeding the budget by almost double.
In my experience, the main reason for such problems is paper reporting. In fact, it is perhaps the most significant factor today that hinders the development of the construction industry, which is one of the least technologically advanced in the world.
The good news is that this problem can be solved by integrating building information modeling (BIM) technology into the construction sector. Cloud services like Autodesk BIM 360, Navisworks, ArchiCAD or Revit allow potential errors to be identified even at the project creation stage, thereby shortening the project’s realization time by 50%, reducing unplanned changes during construction by 40%, and reducing budget by 52%.
These indicators are achieved through effective communication among all contractors, which can finally occur in the cloud in real time. The second factor is exceptional transparency: A 3D model can provide a detailed description of the work and technologies, helping to accurately estimate the amount of material and number of workers.
The downside of BIM is the high cost, which is why many developers use free but less efficient planning methods.
2. Green Materials
One of the main trends is using eco-friendly materials, such as hemp in construction blocks. The mixture of hemp stalks with binding materials is called hempcrete. This material is twice as light as regular concrete, more energy-efficient and, at the same time, just as strong.
More exotic, in my opinion, is mycelium. As the mushroom grows, it creates a biomaterial that is used to make insulation panels, construction blocks, and even scale wood, tiles and furniture. Panels made from mushrooms have very high thermal and sound insulation properties.
Another innovative material is a combination of clay with hydrogel. Such hydroceramic has a cooling effect, which is relevant for warm countries where savings on room cooling could be achieved.
Many are experimenting with concrete, one of the most widely used materials in the world; however, concrete is not very plastic, cracks over time and is susceptible to moisture. One solution to these problems is to combine concrete with graphene. Graphene concrete has very high strength and does not allow moisture to pass through. Conventional gas concrete walls used in rapid construction can be replaced with ready-made blocks consisting of ceramic granite tiles with thermal insulation materials glued between them.
Finally, there is glass. Here, innovation is mainly in the approach. For example, one of the companies of our holding has developed a technology for frameless glazing. It is based on a special insulated glass unit that does not require frames or supports. This changes the very principle of glazing and allows for the elimination of unnecessary and not very eco-friendly aluminum from the building.
3. Autonomous Machinery And Wearable Technologies
Inventing a fundamentally new machine for digging holes or carrying loads is difficult, so many manufacturers are focusing on improving existing ones. One example is switching from traditional fuel to electricity, such as the 20-ton Komatsu excavator, and another example is teaching machines to perform tasks autonomously, without human involvement.
Young segments are actively developing, such as the market for 3D printers in construction, which is growing at a rate of 69% per year. However, this figure could be even higher; some technology development is constrained by current construction standards.
Another segment is wearable technologies. This includes augmented reality glasses that allow a person on a construction site to obtain information about the location and properties of objects, warnings about hazards or just directions.
Wearable technologies are typically referred to as “smart.” Smart helmets, for example, can measure parameters to calculate workers’ fatigue levels. Smart shoes can track staff movement on the construction site and warn of hazardous areas or potential collisions with construction machinery. They can even generate energy while in motion.
The world is changing so rapidly that I believe new technologies in the construction market will not be long in coming. The next big thing in this field is likely to be related to planetary surface construction. Perhaps this will happen before the first flight to Mars, scheduled for 2037. It is interesting to think about whether it will be possible to build mushroom houses on other planets.