The UK’s construction industry is currently facing a unique set of challenges – from a global pandemic and recession to political uncertainty. However, if there’s one thing that history shows, it is that the sector can bounce back from a crisis. In the decade since the ‘credit crunch’, the sector sustained several years of impressive growth, with the value of UK construction work reaching record levels in 2017.
A key factor in this successful response was an openness to innovation in the construction industry. Since 2010 we have seen growing adoption of new technologies that revolutionised every part of the building business – from design to planning to site management. By investing in construction innovation, the industry overcame the last economic crisis – a valuable lesson for today’s builders.
So, what were the most important construction innovations of the last decade and how did they help the sector?
7 construction innovations since 2010
Here are 7 digital construction innovations which played a major role in helping the industry grow in the past decade.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) software has been one of the most important developments in digital construction technology since 2010. Around 70% of all projects now use BIM and you must be BIM certified to win UK government contracts.
With BIM software, building plans are represented in a 3D model which is accessible by everyone involved in a project. This helps to:
- Boost collaboration
- Enhance communication and reduce misunderstandings
- Improve project management processes
Example of construction innovation with BIM: 22 Bishopsgate will be the tallest building in London’s financial district when complete. BIM software helped improve management of the project and was used to identify problems and fix them early.
Learn more: Read our blog on BIM innovation in the construction industry
2. Cloud-based construction software
One of the most important construction innovations of the past decade has been the emergence of cloud-based construction software. Until relatively recently, most tools for project planning, HR or inventory management ran on servers at company headquarters. However, this meant that site managers depended on printouts or downloads to manage work – a risky and inefficient process.
Today, most kinds of construction software are available in the cloud, meaning anyone with internet access and the right ID can see crucial information. Cloud-based construction software is valuable because:
- Access to the latest information is always guaranteed
- 75% of businesses use cloud-based construction software for the mobile experience – this lets them instantly sync plans and communicate over the cloud
- Cloud-based software like PlanRadar can save users up to 7 hours per week
Example of cloud-based construction software: Learn how cloud-based PlanRadar was used to manage construction documentation and create reports for the upgrade of Vienna’s metro.
3. Architecture apps
The past decade has seen the emergence of a variety of architecture apps which make building design and project management significantly smoother. Architects can now create models entirely on touchscreen devices that can be viewed anywhere. This digital construction innovation means:
- Architects can share and update blueprints in real time
- By going mobile, building inspectors, site managers and individual labourers can check plans and tasks on smartphones and tablets
- Communications are more efficient
Example of architecture apps: London architecture firm Assael uses an architecture app to improve how information is shared between their architects and structural engineers.
Learn more: Read our blog on architecture apps
4. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is one of the most promising innovations in construction technology to have emerged in the past decade. By ‘learning’ and spotting patterns, AI systems can dramatically enhance many aspects of the building process, including:
- Safety – sensors can tell if workers appear tired or are not wearing helmets
- Project management – AI can reduce delays by ‘spotting’ bottlenecks
- Resource management – AI systems can direct staff to the right job at the right time
Example of AI in construction: London architects Mamou-Mani designed Polibot, a construction robot which follows blueprint plans. What makes it ‘intelligent’ is its ability to ‘see’ and mistakes, such as placing building blocks out of line, then correct them.
Learn more: Read our article on AI in the construction industry
A growing number of companies have started launching construction robots in the past decade which could begin to transform building sites. Benefits include:
- Safety – robots can be tasked with doing dangerous jobs
- Efficiency – many building tasks involve repetitive, low-skilled activity so it is more productive to hand those tasks over to machines
- Faster – robots may be faster than humans at certain tasks and make fewer mistakes
Example of robotics for construction innovation: Hadrian X is one of a handful of new bricklaying robots – its designers claim it can lay up to 200 bricks per hour.
Read more: We analysed the use of robotics on construction sites here.
6. 3D Printing
One of the most compelling innovations in construction technology of the decade has been the emergence of 3D printing. It is now possible to print prefabricated sections or even entire buildings with this technology. 3D printing can help with:
- Rapid prototyping
- Creation of unique, unusual, or ‘one-off’ designs
- Waste reduction – you only use the materials needed for the printing which means no unused or damaged materials are sent to landfill
Example of 3D printing in construction: In the Netherlands, one architecture firm has used a 3D printer to produce an entire house.
Learn more: Read our blog about 3D printing in construction here.
7. Internet of Things (IoT)
The IoT involves connecting ever more devices to the internet using sensors. The IoT has already taken off in a big way in the construction industry – in 2019 the market for devices and software in the sector was a staggering $7.8 billion.
IoT sensors connect individual workers, equipment and parts of buildings to the internet and can be used in a wide variety of ways. It can help by:
- Reducing losses – missing equipment is a common problem that could be resolved immediately with IoT
- Monitoring movement – all visitors can be given connected badges which ensure they remain in safe areas
- Manage equipment better – IoT can tell if lorries, drills, diggers and other equipment are under-used
Case study of IoT in construction: One US building vehicle firm uses Verizon Connect’s IoT technology to coordinate its trucks, monitor for wear and tear and track its drivers. These are just some of the most significant innovations in construction technology in recent years – and show how much potential there is for new tools and solutions.
Learn more: Read our article on the Internet of Things in construction
Construction innovation should be accessible for all
The rate of innovation in the construction industry over the last decade has been impressive and countless new tools and techniques have been adopted on building sites across the UK. However, research shows that the industry continues to lag other sectors when it comes to deploying new tools – it is often only the biggest firms that use the most advanced tech.
Nevertheless, it is easier than ever for construction firms of all sizes to benefit from cutting edge technologies. Easy-to-use platforms like PlanRadar allow firms to quickly and painlessly incorporate new tools into their processes and benefit from innovations in construction technology – whatever their level of digital maturity.
To discover how PlanRadar can help you bring construction innovation to your sites, begin your 30-day free trial today.