2020 was a difficult year for the engineering and construction industry, and experts expect demand for many types of construction to shrink in 2021 even as the pandemic is prompting many owners to delay or cancel already-planned projects. Here’s how to use the top AEC industry trends to combat the challenges presented by the industry and leverage ongoing opportunities for your own company growth.
Modular and prefabricated construction, where a structure is constructed off-site and then delivered to the intended site, is seeing an increase in popularity. Conditions at the offsite space allow for better and more consistent quality, and the building hours are shorter, saving labor costs and decreasing construction time by as much as 50%.
Modularized construction and offsite prefabrication are the industry’s answer to existing inefficiencies. This method reduces waste – a big problem in the construction industry in 2021 – by recycling leftover materials. It also decreases disruption to the intended site during the building process, whether onsite is no longer a risk. By 2023, the modular construction market is projected to reach a whopping $157 billion.
According to a 2019 survey conducted by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 80% of respondents said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions. The pandemic has exacerbated the industry’s persistent labor shortage, with 44% of firms that tried to recall laid-off or furloughed workers saying that some staff have refused to return to work, citing a preference for unemployment benefits, virus concerns, or family responsibilities. The existing labor shortage in the construction field is expected to continue in 2021, which is why builders will need to invest in careful training and development to give workers the skills they need to succeed. Better tools, such as new state-of-art technologies that can appeal to the new tech-savvy generation of workers, are a must. Higher wages are also essential when it comes to keeping workers productive and satisfied.
In the AEC industry, collaboration is seeing a surge in popularity when it comes to coordination and communication between field teams and the office. A majority of firms (51%) report they use file-sharing sites such as Dropbox to collaborate with partners, while 36% report they use online project collaboration software. Still, according to a study by KPMG, 82% of owners feel they need more collaboration with their contractors. One tool that helps companies manage these field-to-office miscommunication issues is document workflow management software. Replacing manual paper-based documents with digital construction forms and automated workflows, teams are able to collaborate and manage control over field documents — eliminating redundancies and streamlining inefficient processes.
There is an increasing demand for sustainability to reduce the carbon footprint throughout every stage of the construction process (i.e., building, maintenance, demolition). From 2006 to 2018, the number of LEED-certified projects in the United States increased to 67,200 from 296. Companies can measure the success of going green in construction through metrics such as lower operating costs, improved occupant health, and higher occupancy rates.
Safety is a huge concern in the construction industry with 21% of workplace fatalities taking place in the construction field. In 2018 alone, 1,008 construction workers died on the job from falls, being struck-by-object, electrocution, and caught-in/between hazards. Better safety equipment, such as wearables and IoT devices, help reduce injuries onsite by measuring the users’ biometric conditions and environment. If someone falls, the devices can alert management to the user’s location. One example is Cat Detect for Personnel from Caterpillar; it incorporates RFID tags into wearers’ personal protective equipment, such as safety vests or hard hats.
Automation is another emerging technology trend in the construction industry that is set to increase efficiency on construction job sites. Self-driving vehicles and drones performing repetitive tasks will help speed up the construction process, improving productivity and accuracy, without displacing jobs. In fact, automation leaves workers free to focus on specialized tasks while drones and robots take care of repetitive tasks, decreasing overhead and waste.
Design-build – where a single firm takes on the responsibilities of architects, contractors, and construction workers – is seeing a dramatic increase in popularity. The single point of responsibility allows for smoother communication, more organized feedback, more organic teamwork, and faster product delivery. Industry buy-in has been unequivocal with 47 out of the 50 states now using design-build for their public construction projects.