How technology is transforming construction industry

construction technology.
Technological innovations will shape the future of the construction industry. PHOTO/FILE
New materials and energy, design approaches, as well as advances in digital technology and big data are creating a wave of innovation within the construction industry.

These innovations come with a lot of benefits to the builder, including reduction of costs, minimising wastage of materials, reducing construction timelines, minimising defects and errors among others.

Here are some of the most exciting developments that are transforming the world of construction.

Computer aided design (CAD)


Manual drafting of technical drawings has been replaced with the use of computer systems to create, modify, optimize and analyse designs.

Computer software is now used in architectural design by architects to draft precision illustrations in two dimensional and three dimensional spaces which can be rotated to be viewed from all perspectives including from the inside-out.

This technology has greatly improved the quality of designs, reduced errors, enabled making changes easy and increased the productivity of the designers through improved speed.

Prefabrication

Also known as modular construction, prefabrication is a technology that involves production and assemblage of components of a building in a factory before transporting them as complete structures or sub-assemblies to the site.

The foundation of the building is built using the conventional method and then sections of floors, walls and roof prefabricated in a factory are mounted on it using a crane and then they are bolted together.

Prefabrication comes with the advantage of shorter construction time, less destruction to the environment, reduced wastage of building materials, and overall lesser construction costs.

Though the use of prefabricated panels to construct houses has been in existence for many years, new trends geared towards improving this technology are emerging, enabling the innovation to be used in construction of more complex projects such as the 57-storey skyscraper built by a Chinese developer China in just 19 working days.

Drones

There has been much use of drones in conducting surveys in proposed work sites replacing the traditional land surveying methods.

Their use has hugely reduced the time and labour requirements and costs involved when using traditional methods.

They are more accurate and more efficient in capturing the necessary information therefore eliminating much of the human errors common in traditional surveying methods.

Drones can also be used to supervise construction sites by taking high resolution photos of the work in progress.

They are of great importance in large construction sites since the detailed shots keep project managers and stakeholders constantly informed on the progress of their project without having to make regular trips to the site.

Additionally, drones are instrumental in monitoring and tracking workers to ensure maximum productivity and in controlling theft of materials or vandalism.

3D printed houses

This is a fascinating emerging trend where just about anything can be moulded out of the right materials using a printer.

A Chinese construction firm, Ma Yihe, has invented a giant 3D printer that sprays layers of construction waste combined with cement to produce components which are assembled into houses.

The firm can produce up to 10 houses in a day which greatly reduces the construction time when compared to conventional building methods.

Meanwhile, a Dutch architecture firm has built a 3D printer dubbed the “room maker” which can print out huge LEGO-like plastic units to be assembled into distinct rooms of the house which will then lock together to form the complete house.

Futuristic technologies

What does the future hold for construction technology? Scientists and engineers are working day and night to find stronger, lighter and more efficient materials to use in construction.

Some of the futuristic construction technologies that are bound to change the industry include:

Self-healing concrete

Concrete is the most common building materials globally and the second most utilised substance in the world after water.

Structures made of concrete are susceptible to cracking which is usually caused by exposure to water and chemicals.

To remedy this, scientists have created self-healing concrete by incorporating bacteria into the concrete mixture before it is poured.

When water seeps into the cracks, the bacteria are activated thereby producing a limestone component called calcite which completely fills up the cracks.

The product, which is still undergoing various tests, will be instrumental in strengthening concrete structures making them safer and preventing the environmental damages that come with knocking down structures and producing more concrete.

Robot swam construction

Inspired by how termites work to build mud structures, robotics researchers at Harvard have come up with small construction robots automated to work as a swam.

The robots are programmed to build brick like walls by picking a brick, climbing the wall using its wheels and laying it in an open slot.

To avoid getting in each other’s way, the researchers have fitted them with sensors which can detect the presence of other robots.

Transparent aluminium

Aluminium oxynitride, made up of aluminium, oxygen and nitrogen, is the hardest, transparent polycrystalline available commercially.

It can be made into windows, rods, plates, and tubes using ceramic powder processing techniques.

Being light weight and clear, it can be used to construct glass walled sky scrapers which require less internal support as compared to real glass structures.

Being 85 per cent as hard as silica and four times harder than fused silica glass, the transparent metal can stop various perforating projectiles – making it a top contender for high performance lightweight blast resistant and bullet proof walls and windows.

Aerogel

This is foam like; light, semi-transparent solid material with a density just 15 times heavier than air.

It is made by removing the liquid from silica gel leaving behind just the silica structure which is between 90 and 99 per cent air.

Its porous structure gives it outstanding insulating properties with up to four times the insulating capabilities of conventional materials such as foam and fibre glass.

These are very strong and can hold a load of up to 2000 times their weight or more in uniformly applied force meaning a small amount of aerogel can support a brick.

It is expensive to produce but once cheaper ways of producing it are found it will be widely used in construction.

On the down side new inventions in any sector more often than not come with job insecurity. As such, emerging trends such as drones, robots and prefabs will render many workers in the industry jobless.