The construction sector remains a key building block within the global economy, worth an estimated £2.64 trillion on an annual basis, but the value generated by the sector is still being held back by longstanding inefficiencies.
Data from the UK Green Building Council estimates that 15 per cent of materials delivered to construction sites end up going to landfill as a result of mismanaged scheduling and purchasing - a trend that has a negative impact on productivity, health and safety and profitability. As such, the emergence of new technologies in the last few years which promise to address these concerns could represent a game-changing development for construction businesses worldwide.
With a recent report from construction company OSC highlighting four of the key tech trends that are reshaping how projects are managed, planned and completed, it is becoming more important than ever for workers and managers to get ahead of the curve and find out how these developments could help to minimise wastage, enhance efficiency and address key environmental and safety issues in the near future.
Recent advances in the field of smart materials promise to offer some eye-catching benefits for construction firms, enhancing the longevity and stability of their projects in ways that were never previously possible.
Smart materials are engineered to respond to changing environments, with examples including special types of concrete that can heal any cracks that may appear over time, or conduct heat to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice on busy roads.
Not only can these materials improve project profitability for construction firms, but they can also deliver long-lasting safety and longevity benefits for end users -saving millions in repair costs.
However, it's not only the materials that are advancing; the means by which those materials are assembled is also being transformed by the rapid evolution of 3D printing technology, which is on the cusp of delivering massive advances for construction.
Builders have already become accustomed to using computer-aided design tools to create mockups and schematics, but 3D printing allows these models to be translated into reality more rapidly than ever, allowing complex bespoke designs to be generated with limited wastage and low labour costs.
A construction firm in Shanghai has been able to use large 3D printers to build small demo houses in less than 24 hours for less than £5,000 each, highlighting the sheer scale of the efficiencies that this technology can unlock.
Drones have caught on quickly in police and military settings, but in many respects their full potential for aiding construction work has not yet been utilized.
These small, manoeuvrable and affordable airborne devices have numerous applications in monitoring construction sites from above, and also offer considerable promise as surveying tools that can collect data more rapidly, frequently and accurately than any human worker ever could.
In future, it could become commonplace for drones to be used to gather vital information to aid the creation of structural models and maps, allowing companies to efficiently purchase materials and allocate resources with greater ease than ever before.
The advent of the smartphone and the mobile app ecosystem has been one of the biggest game-changers in recent business history and the construction sector has reaped the benefits of this paradigm shift.
Already, construction firms have gained access to countless labour-saving software tools, from simple utilities like virtual spirit level apps to holistic solutions like Skycatch, a drone-assisted service that delivers progress reports and real-time updates to help construction companies respond faster, plan better and work more efficiently.
This momentum is only set to continue with the emergence of new apps such as CalcuMate, described by OSC as "a turning point for the construction industry and how things are processed", which helps builders to estimate the exact quantities of screws required for specific joints, allowing them to minimise guesswork and wastage while also making sure that the structure is sound.
What's more, the nature of technological progress means that innovations such as these are likely to become more numerous in the years to come - meaning construction firms need to carry on doing everything they can to stay ahead of the curve if they want to maximise their efficiency and retain the largest competitive advantage possible.
Efficiency, safety and environmental standards in the construction sector are set to be transformed by the use of drones, apps, smart materials and 3D printing in the near future.