The novel coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the construction industry, mostly positively in terms of operational efficiency and worker safety. It has also accelerated the growth—and funding for—construction technology, while creating a hierarchy for how broadly the industry has adopted these tools.
In its latest “State of Construction tech” report, released today, JLL aims to organize the wide range of technology options and measure how the pandemic has impacted their application by AEC firms and the clients on their projects.
Henry D’Esposito, JLL’s Construction Research Senior Analyst and the report’s author, asserts that, due to the pandemic, “three years of construction technology growth and adoption have been compressed into the past nine months.” Venture capital has continued to flow to startups, with funding levels about on par with the average for the past five years.
Construction tech kept jobsites open and projects running. It also allowed AEC firms whose employees were forced to work remotely to maintain their workflows. According to a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, 67% of the construction firms polled allowed employees to work from home. However, JLL notes that smaller firms were less likely to have systems in place.
Construction firms in general with fewer discretionary dollars were likelier to select proven tech solutions rather than take a risk on a less-mature startup.
WEARABLES IMPROVE WORKER SAFETY
ConTech enabled onsite execution in two ways, JLL observes: First, by creating opportunities to have fewer people on a jobsite. Second, by keeping anyone who is essential to being onsite as safe as possible.
“Technology solutions that have expanded this year include wearables and monitoring devices to ensure workers stay socially distanced and to allow contact tracing if any issues arise; and planning tools to enable optimal efficiency in staging and scheduling to ensure that teams stay separated,” says JLL.
Wearables were among the ConTech tools for which the impact of the pandemic on their usage was deemed “high” by JLL.
JLL has organized ConTech by its relative impact on construction, and whether the coronavirus affected that impact. Image: JLL
The report identifies the ConTech hierarchy into three groups:
•Foundational technologies that have become standard fare for AEC firms. These include BIM and CAD, digital twins, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and digital collaboration;
•Primary impact technologies that are gaining acceptance, such as scanning, drones, and modular construction; and
•Secondary impact technologies that are still in their early stages of adoption. Wearables falls into this category, as do 3D printing, robotics, AR/VR, and tools related to payments/finance, equipment/materials, and jobs/employment.
JLL believes that BIM and CAD, scanning, and digital collaboration each got a “pandemic boost,” whereas AI may have lost some steam. Scanning, for example, gained importance during the health crisis “as a way to replace additional eyes onsite, and as a substitute for in-person meetings and walkthroughs.” Prior to the pandemic, scanning was a more efficient and comprehensive way to collect data. But under regulations where a limited number of staff can be onsite at any time, “interior scanning has often become a necessity to ensure that all members of a project teams are on the same page, even if they cannot be onsite.”
ROBOTS AND 3D PRINTERS STILL HAVE A WAYS TO GO FOR INDUSTRY ACCEPTANCE
Venture capital funding for ConTech during 2020 was in line with levels over the past five years. Image: JLL
Drones, says JLL, got a moderate boost from the pandemic because “of their ability to do the work of multiple people, and to do so in a way that keeps people socially distanced.”
And while many AEC firms claim to be embracing modular construction for quicker project delivery, JLL finds that the impact of the pandemic hasn’t been much of a factor on leading more firms to this method. “On the positive side, modular manufacturing can be done in a controlled factory setting, with the ability for extensive preplanning to maintain social distancing without the unknowns of an active jobsite. On the negative side, modular construction remains an economically high-risk endeavor.”
The pandemic also has had mixed impact on other ConTech tools. Its effect on the adoption of 3D printing, for example, was low, says JLL, which predicts that the future of 3D printing is brighter for single-family home construction or certain military applications than for nonresidential construction.
JLL is a bit more sanguine about robotics, which got a moderate boost from the pandemic. “With the addition of AI, this sector is developing for more advanced tasks, including fully automated excavation or interior chalk lining.” Nevertheless, JLL expects robots to be used on a limited basis for pilot projects for at least the next few years.
Augmented and virtual reality are still in their early development stages, and both have the potential to become standard on construction projects. But, JLL cautions, “they will only work on projects with high adoption of other forms of tech that would be required for integration.”
Contractors | May 26, 2023
Enhanced use of data is crucial for improving construction job site safety
Executives with major construction companies say new digital tools are allowing them to use data more effectively to reduce serious safety incidents and improve job site safety.
AEC Tech Innovation | May 12, 2023
Meet Diverge, Hensel Phelps' new ConTech investment company
Thai Nguyen, Director of Innovation with Hensel Phelps, discusses the construction giant's new startup investment platform, Diverge.
AEC Tech | May 9, 2023
4 insights on building product manufacturers getting ‘smart’
Overall, half of building product manufacturers plan to invest in one or more areas of technology in the next three years.
Sustainability | May 1, 2023
Increased focus on sustainability is good for business and attracting employees
A recent study, 2023 State of Design & Make by software developer Autodesk, contains some interesting takeaways for the design and construction industry. Respondents to a survey of industry leaders from the architecture, engineering, construction, product design, manufacturing, and entertainment spheres strongly support the idea that improving their organization’s sustainability practices is good for business.
AEC Tech | May 1, 2023
Utilizing computer vision, AI technology for visual jobsite tasks
Burns & McDonnell breaks down three ways computer vision can effectively assist workers on the job site, from project progress to safety measures.
AEC Tech Innovation | Apr 27, 2023
Does your firm use ChatGPT?
Is your firm having success utilizing ChatGPT (or other AI chat tools) on your building projects or as part of your business operations? If so, we want to hear from you.
Design Innovation Report | Apr 19, 2023
HDR uses artificial intelligence tools to help design a vital health clinic in India
Architects from HDR worked pro bono with iKure, a technology-centric healthcare provider, to build a healthcare clinic in rural India.
Resiliency | Apr 18, 2023
AI-simulated hurricanes could aid in designing more resilient buildings
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have devised a new method of digitally simulating hurricanes in an effort to create more resilient buildings. A recent study asserts that the simulations can accurately represent the trajectory and wind speeds of a collection of actual storms.
3D Printing | Apr 11, 2023
University of Michigan’s DART Laboratory unveils Shell Wall—a concrete wall that’s lightweight and freeform 3D printed
The University of Michigan’s DART Laboratory has unveiled a new product called Shell Wall—which the organization describes as the first lightweight, freeform 3D printed and structurally reinforced concrete wall. The innovative product leverages DART Laboratory’s research and development on the use of 3D-printing technology to build structures that require less concrete.
Smart Buildings | Apr 7, 2023
Carnegie Mellon University's research on advanced building sensors provokes heated controversy
A research project to test next-generation building sensors at Carnegie Mellon University provoked intense debate over the privacy implications of widespread deployment of the devices in a new 90,000-sf building. The light-switch-size devices, capable of measuring 12 types of data including motion and sound, were mounted in more than 300 locations throughout the building.