Global construction market turnover is estimated to reach $10.10 trillion in 2021 and Asia will account for nearly half of that value. For an industry which accounts between 6% and 8% of the global GDP, the pace of technology adoption has been rather slow, thus hampering economic and productivity gains. However, the combination of new mega trends such as urbanization, connectivity & convergence, smart is the new Green, artificial intelligence, and social trends are driving transformational changes in the construction industry.

Poor planning, lack of automation, inadequate risk management, and unsophisticated supply chain practices are major factors hampering productivity and resulting in significant budget overruns & time delays in all types of construction projects.

Construction process still uses a lot of paper, even though digital tools are adopted in various stages of design, detailed engineering, planning, onsite construction and supply chain. Moreover, the sector depends on multiple layers of subcontracting, thus resulting in inconsistency of skills and technology levels of contractors.  Lack of standardization and varying levels of sophistication among these contractors add to the difficulty of workforce development.

An end-to-end paperless process through digital collaboration allows for automated construction permits, real-time sharing of information, and timely progress and risk assessment.  Despite increasing availability of digital solutions, industry has to overcome the challenge of rolling out technology across multiple sites, subsectors, and stakeholders. The way forward will be a platform that promotes interoperability.

Digital transformation in the construction industry focuses on three key areas – Asset Digitization, Construction Automation, and Design Automation. Asset digitization will enhance design and operational benefits, while construction automation will improve productivity, safety, and cost. However, design automation is revolutionary and has the potential to change the underlying concepts behind built environment.

  • Asset Digitization

Three technologies are at the forefront of asset digitization in the context of construction industry:

    1. 7D BIM – “Design for Maintainability” is the key theme behind next generation building information modelling (BIM) system. The seventh dimensional (7D) BIM focuses on asset life cycle management and integration with facility management systems. It facilitates seamless access to information such as component specifications, operating manuals, equipment warranty details and so on from the building model.
    2. Artificial intelligence (AI) – AI finds a variety of use case in construction including automatic, clash-free and efficient routing of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, predictive building modelling, improving efficiency of building air-conditioning systems using machine learning, helping to ascertain building stability in event of an earthquake and others.
    3. Augmented Reality (AR) – AR will take the asset digitization and visualization once notch higher by enabling real time collaboration between various participants such as architects, designers, planners, and contractors. Moreover, it will help in understanding how a building will assimilate with its surroundings in actual location, thus acting as a powerful tool to woo investors and customers alike.
  • Construction Automation
    1. The combination of three powerful technology solutions – 3D printing, robotics, and drones – has already made its way to the construction industry and has potential to completely change the physical nature of a construction site.
    2. 3D Printing:  The ambition of 3D printing pioneers in the construction industry, such as Chinese firm Winsun or Italian company WASP, is to create a supersized printer capable of printing entire buildings. However, as with other technology applications, the beginning is small, focused on printing of bespoke components or parts. The 3D printing industry is also witnessing some unintended, but positive developments:
      1. Sustainable Materials – Development of 3D printers that use locally available and sustainable construction materials such as wood, straw, clay, ceramics and so on is generating lot of interest. WASP was the first to pioneer this concept and is advancing the concept of “zero-mile” homes, which only use materials available locally for 3D printing.
      2. Prefabricated Construction – Current construction processes have an extremely very high concentration of on-site activities, thus leading to logistics, safety, and coordination issues. Moving heavy lifting off-site to factories through pre-fabrication is already being practiced, but not very widely though. 3D printing robots are well suited for mass production of prefabricated walls, roofs, and floors, thus reducing site work.
    3. Robotics:  Replacing construction labour with robots is a scenario that gets played out often in the minds of technologists, economists, and social scientists alike. While this may be a reality one day, it needs to overcome obstacles in terms of regulation, certification, codes and interaction with other construction equipment. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a mobile robot called Digital Construction Platform, which they are hoping can be quickly integrated into an existing construction site, as it uses material and process that fit into the existing construction codes. The other practical application is the development of a bricklaying robot, developed by US based Construction Robotics’, which is six times as fast as a human worker. Use of robots in hazardous and inhospitable environments, construction, refurbishment, or disaster management could potentially be the next big opportunity.
    4. Drones – Drones are already used in large construction projects for carrying out site survey, progress monitoring, construction planning, safety inspections, and hazardous area monitoring. Drone technology advancements will help the industry take a giant leap in terms of cost, time, quality and safety. The market for commercial drones used by construction industry globally is likely to reach $10 billion by 2022. Drones will also be increasingly used to manage existing buildings and infrastructure assets.
  • Design Automation – Generative Design
  1. This most nascent field of building engineering uses complex computer algorithms to automatically generate various design combinations, based on functional requirements and other key input parameters such as material choice, weather, and so on. Advancements in the future will include building’s structural and utility systems mimicking the construction in human or animal bodies; for example, water flowing through veins integrated into walls, rather than through a separate pipework. Animal bone like structures using carbon fibre could enable the construction of large spaces without the need for columns.

The powerful combination of these digital trends will propel the construction industry to a new paradigm and perhaps result in more disruption and change in the next decade, than what the industry has seen in the last one hundred years.

Frost & Sullivan’s Buildings research team is working on a visionary report titled “Impact of Digital Transformation in the Buildings and Construction Sector”. Please reach out to if you would like to contribute to this study.

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