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Seven New Construction Technologies coming to a Jobsite near You

Posted: January 7, 2018 | Project Management

Here are seven new amazing technologies that will soon be mainstays on construction sites. They have the potential to save you hours of time and increase your bottom line.

1. 3-D Printed Buildings

A Chinese company called HuaShang Tengda built a villa with a robotic arm attached to a 3D printer head. It actually printed a full-sized house onto a steel frame in only 45 days. Every wall is almost ten inches thick, and the building is designed to withstand an earthquake that measures an eight on the Richter scale. Using the 3-D printer also allowed the company to create extravagant turrets that would take a lot of time for a team of builders. This villa would have taken three months to build with traditional construction methods, but 3D printing cut the time, labor, and material costs. Printing the house on site was a forward step that showed it really could be done in the field. This is a complete, functional house, and not just a simple engineering demonstration done in a laboratory.

2. Modular Construction

Although not always competitive with site-built projects on smaller projects, modular construction on larger commercial projects has been proven to be faster, and with less environmental disruption – delivering components as and when needed, and turning construction into a logistics exercise.

Modular construction has strong sustainability benefits, from fewer environmental disruptions to less waste. The building materials are loaded onto trucks, together with the appropriate tools and equipment (such as bolts), and are transported to the construction site for assembly. With up to 90 percent of a building produced as components, it allows a move towards “just in time” manufacturing and delivery. Chinese developer, Broad Sustainable Building (BSB), recently completed a 57-story skyscraper in 19 working days using this method. BSB’s prefabrication strategy has many advantages over traditional construction techniques, in respect of time, cost, environmental impact, and overall quality.

Shifting the bulk of work to the factory enables a huge boost in efficiency, thanks to scale effects and lean principles. On-site work is transformed; assembling the building involves little more than a series of short, straightforward, standardized tasks. Factory production also reduces transport and logistics costs, as building materials can be stored and handled in large quantities off-site. The efficiencies of manufacturing, assembly and logistics will reduce the costs of a new building by 20% – 40%, relative to traditional on-site construction methods.

BSB buildings typically have thermally insulated walls with quadruple-glazed windows, fresh-air heat-recovery machines, external solar shading, and up-to-the-minute air conditioning and ventilation. The result is impressive: five times the energy efficiency of conventional buildings and 1% the level of air impurities – a particularly attractive combination for hospitals or medical buildings.

BSB buildings excel in many dimensions of quality. Their lightweight and ductile (yet stiff) steel structure enhances earthquake resistance, for example. That resistance is rigorously tested, and BSB buildings are certified to withstand magnitude 9.0 earthquakes.

3. Self-Healing Concrete

Concrete is one of the most widely-used materials in construction, but is susceptible to cracking, which weakens its load-bearing capacity and exposes the rebar reinforcing to moisture, leading to corrosion. Cracking can be caused by exposure to water and chemicals, or by settling or earth movement. Researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are developing a self-healing concrete, called “bioconcrete,” using a mix containing bacillus bacteria within microcapsules, which will germinate when water enters a crack in the concrete to produce limestone, plugging the crack before water and oxygen have a chance to corrode the steel rebar reinforcement. This invention could save millions of dollars on bridges and infrastructure projects alone.

4. Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) Glazing

Building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glazing can help 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, facades, curtain walls, and roofs. Polysolar’s technology is efficient at producing energy even on north-facing, vertical walls, and its high performance at raised temperatures means it can be double glazed or insulated directly. Polysolar glazing replaces conventional building materials, and for little additional installed cost. The building then generates electricity, reduces its carbon footprint, and provides a better return on investment. Their glass can be tailored from opaque to 50% transparency, depending on requirements, making Polysolar truly a product of the future.

5. Aerogel Insulation

Finding an efficient way to effectively insulate buildings is an increasingly important task throughout the construction industry. Transmission of heat or cold through walls or ceilings tends to be passed directly through the building envelope. Most commonly-used insulations can slow down the transmission through walls, but there are always areas that are almost impossible to fully insulate – like where the supporting studs meet the outside wall.

Aerogel, a technology developed by NASA for cryogenic insulation, is considered one of the most effective thermal insulation materials available today. Recent developments in materials science and nanotechnology have enabled the development of novel methods for thermal insulation. Aerogel is a nanostructured material which is becoming more and more popular as a choice for insulation in many applications, from houses and commercial buildings to oil pipelines and space probes. Aerogel insulation is said to provide about 40 times the insulation provided by fiberglass, which allows its use in space-restricted scenarios and even in insulating glass panels. Aerogel insulation will change the way we currently insulate restricted spaces.

6. Kinetic Footfall

Kinetic energy is another technology under development. Pavegen offers a permanent and commercial smart-flooring solution. The technology has evolved from a singular tile, which generates electricity from footsteps, to an entire array with three multi-functional component parts. It not only provides slip-and-wear-resistant tile, but the tile also collects data, is capable of turning on light, and keeping track of traffic flows as well as generating electricity. It can be used indoors or outdoors in high- or low-traffic areas, and generates electricity from an electromagnetic induction process and flywheel energy storage. The largest deployment the company has done so far is in a football pitch in Rio de Janeiro, to help power the floodlights around the pitch. It seems to be only a matter of time before we start using similar technology to harvest power for the structures we develop from cars driving on streets.

7. Asset Mapping

Asset mapping is a scalable database designed to bring together data from billions of devices and systems into a single, intuitive map. Asset mapping allows anyone to see the location and condition of equipment in real-time, from any device. When conditions change, asset mapping can trigger alerts and put the right information at the fingertips of service engineers, so they can address issues faster and at a lower cost. With quick access to a complete list of all your assets, insightful analytics, and tailored reports, you can be prepared to make more informed decisions that bring new business value to your organization.

Asset mapping can focus on operational equipment, including heating and air conditioning, lighting and security systems, data collection from serial numbers, firmware, engineering notes of when it was installed and by whom, and data integration. The system can show engineers in real-time a map where equipment needs to be installed, and once the assets are connected to the real-time system using the internet of things (IoT), these can be monitored via the web, app, and other remote devices and systems. It helps customers build databases of asset performance, which can assist in proactive building maintenance and also reduce building procurement and insurance costs.

While these innovations may seem pretty far out (and perhaps even a little unrealistic in the present), in a few years they may be commonplace. The Wright Brothers and Henry Ford must have seemed far out as they stared into the future long ago. We can only imagine the changes that will take place tomorrow.