What Emerging Technologies Will Revolutionize The Construction Industry?
The construction industry has been slow to catch on to the internet train. Home improvement retailers Home Depot, for instance, still relied on fax until very recently for paperwork related to orders for supplies. It's only just switched to email. So it may seem futile to expect new technological advancements to have a great impact on the sector.
But I am optimistic about several emerging technologies that could mean great things for construction. Of course, advancements in construction in the future will largely depend on new IT technologies and emerging technologies in other fields such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering etc, as well as in social, political, economic and environmental changes. At the moment, there are a few technologies that have clear potential for reducing problems like wastage of materials, labor and time that the building industry is rife with.
3D Printing Technologies
3D printing technologies are being researched (and some already exist) to construct buildings flexibly and quickly with large 3D computers. Some designs 3D printers have already been successfully tested. By January 2013, existing printers were able to print about 2 meters of construction material in an hour. Improvements are expected to allow the printers to print 3.5 meters of materials in an hour and complete a building in a week, which is a mind-blowing time-save.
MIT has already built the frame of a home in a day with this technology, which otherwise could take a month to do with a construction crew. Now, Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars hopes that he will be able to build a two story building in a single flow, in 2014, with Italian Enrico Dini's D-Shape 3D Printer. If successful, this technology could not only speed up construction on earth, but on extraterrestrial buildings such as on the surface of the moon where there won't be a lot of labor!
Nanotechnology and Quantum Computing
It doesn't seem to be too far-fetched to expect quantum computers to become the go-to processors for speeding up difficult calculations and decision making in the next decade, in many industries including construction.
The first quantum computer was already sold by D-Wave Systems in 2011 to aerospace, defense and security company Lockheed Martin Corporation to tackle challenging computation problems. Since one of the major problems of the construction industry is the problem of optimization of labor, cost and quality, quantum computing should be able to help to solve complex optimization problems and provide better quality at lower costs while balancing labor costs and needs.
It turns out that while quantum technology will still take some time (maybe a decade) before becoming widely used, I think that once it hits the commercial sphere, the construction industry should be able to capitalize on it and speed up processes and decision making significantly.
These days, architects do not typically build homes that can be easily renovated or restructured in the future. Since the average American family moves once every 10 years, this means old homes are often torn down or reconstructed, adding to construction and demolition waste. According to the EPA, renovation of buildings accounts for around 44 percent of the waste stream from the industry each year, demolition adds 48 percent to waste and new construction another 8 percent.
Sustainable architects are expected to counter this problem by buildings homes with recyclable materials as far as possible. Old windows and doors can be reused for the same project or other projects. Durable modular frameworks of metal can be used for concrete constructions and reused in other projects when tearing down the original building.
There can be several other ways of reducing waste or changing the nature of waste to something more sustainable. This is possible at the moment, for instance, by using durable, up-coming self healing concrete and natural insulation materials like flax and hemp, sheep's wool wood fiber, cellulose and expanded clay aggregate. Natural insulation is expensive at the moment, but I expect that rising demand, rising oil prices and government regulation will make it more accessible to people.
What other emerging technologies do you expect to change the face of the construction industry?