Trying to squeeze the entire North American construction industry into one convention center in Toronto over 3 short days is no easy task. Last week, The Buildings Show, home to Construct Canada 2017, was successful in bringing all of the pieces of the industry together for a comprehensive look at the current state of construction and the trajectory for the digitization of the future. But what do the 30,000 trade professionals, cutting-edge technology tools and exhibits, as well as hundreds of thought-provoking seminars really tell us about the future of construction? In a state of evolution and transformation, technology is no longer just a nice to have bonus, but a necessity for companies to stay relevant in the progressing industry, compete for young talent and help projects succeed.
By 2025, the construction industry is anticipated to grow to over $15 trillion worldwide. But for construction companies to get their share of this growth, digitalization is the only answer. According to the World Economic Forum, within 10 years, full-scale digitization could lead to savings between $0.7-1.2 trillion (13- 21%) in the Design & Engineering and Construction phases. Last week, I spoke about the industry’s lack of digitization with Alex Carrick, Chief Economist for ConstructConnect who keynoted the session, “The Digital Revolution in Construction: How It Is Transforming Your Business and the Market.” The reason he believes for the lag in digitization? He concluded, “Construction is very cyclical and fragmented. The industry is risk-averse.”
In many ways, this fragmentation has existed in the abundance of technology solutions offered to construction professionals for the past few years. Although the widespread invention of new technology solutions, materials and products have never provided so many options than it does to construction professionals today, what good are these options without a real strategy and commitment from those implementing the tools? This year, a common theme among the conference was a focus on how to get past a place of technology as an option, to a place of technology as a must, as well as how to put it in use to provide real long-term value and utilization.
From BIM, big data, energy efficiency, material science and more, we followed the technology trends and conversations in the conference for three days last week. Here are the top five insights from Construct Canada 2017 that we think every construction professional should be aware of for the future of construction.
BIM Is Just Beginning to Take Off
Although the concept of building information modeling (BIM) has been around since the 1970’s, the construction industry has yet to embrace the full potential of BIM. From observations on the showfloor, the technology for BIM software in the market is already good, but getting companies to manage it is a different story. The construction industry has been typically risk-averse, with few companies tapping into the technology possibilities for making project changes on the fly and getting integrated project delivery. This synergy is being introduced with CRM on site and is helping to not only allow construction companies to put everything in one place for increased construction productivity but to start to adapt to BIM. Harnessing the power of technology on construction sites is helping contractors get more involved with all stages of adoption.
In Thursday’s session, “Open BIM for Seamless Exchange of Information Over a Project’s Life Cycle,” speakers explored the potential open BIM, especially when it comes to improving collaboration. Erik Poirier, Chair, Communications, buildingSMART Canada, noted, “Once you start scratching the surface [of BIM] you see there’s so much more opportunity.” He continued, “Should we go BIM is no longer a question, it’s really just how.” PlanGrid’s CEO, Tracy Young, further touched upon the growth of BIM in her keynote, “Big Data in Construction: The Key to Unlocking the Potential In Your Business.” She commented, “BIM is in the R&D stage for us [PlanGrid] now, as the industry shifts, which it is definitely going to, we are about two years away from 3D.”
If you’re thinking about using BIM for your business soon, make sure you have full management buy-in to ensure it’s being adopted and utilized fully.
2. Climate Concerns Are Driving Energy Efficient Tech
Canada, in general, has taken a strong stance on its policy for climate change, and it’s clear this is already impacting the country’s thriving construction industry. For The Buildings Show’s summits, many of the conversations circled around new environmental concerns in our changing world and how to reduce greenhouse gases and create low carbon buildings. In fact, the National Research Council of Canada delegated climate resiliency and net zero energy as two of the most important construction tech trends shaping the industry, stating that, “green buildings may contribute to a more productive workforce.”
Today, technology is starting to be implemented in projects to build or analyze data prior to construction, or for analyzation for remodels. On the showfloor, many exciting green technologies were showcased including solutions to monitor buildings, with sensors for temperature control inside of buildings and to make sure cooling is not used the same time as heating. Furthermore, mobile accessible green gadgets, like those monitor leaks and water quality, are now becoming more common as part of the contractor’s toolkit. Basically, the potential for green technology integration in jobsites is massive, and we can’t wait to see more companies committing to environmental consciousness in the future of construction.
3. Materials Matter in the Future of Construction
Building materials aren’t started in factories, but actually in research labs. Throughout Construct Canada 2017, many sessions were held on the future of building materials and why they matter beyond being just high-tech. In the session, “Insights Into Building Facades for the Future: From Design to Performance,” speakers delved into the impact of climate change and extreme weather conditions on buildings. As we enter a new era, speakers, John Kubassek and Jeff Kerof Engineered Assemblies, discussed the need to balance both weather resistant structures and design. The challenge now exists to create a building that is both aesthetically appealing in design and equipped to handle a variety of elements with components like high thermal performance.
Furthermore, many of the show’s sessions explored how traditional materials can be enhanced with new materials. For instance, in the summit session, “New and Innovative Products for Building Envelopes: Update on Technologies and Systems,” a conversation took place on how liquid applied membranes can improve the performance and increase the durability of existing roofing membrane systems to improve performance, as well as provide long-term cost savings.
Building materials are now easily purchased online, and modular construction is growing. In China, 2011 a 30-story building was erected in only 15 days using factory-built modules, which Zhang Yue calls “a structural revolution.”
Evidently, what and how we get the materials we build with is evolving with the integration of technology, and those in the building materials scape should be on the up on innovations that can save both time and money.
4. Truly Collaborative
For the construction industry, especially Project Managers,, the word “collaboration” might seem like a buzzword, but Construct Canada 2017 gave us new perspective. Collaboration for construction means that all project stakeholders can communicate about changes and updates in the moment, on a platform that provides little to no communication barriers. The Buildings Show showfloor was chock full of technology solutions and software claiming to provide enhanced collaboration for teams and projects. However, the technology that emerged as clear collaboration winners were those who integrated cloud-based project management.
As part of the session discussions, collaboration remained a hot topic. At “The Future of E-Construction,” PlanGrid’s CEO Tracy Young provided real-world examples of how software has proven to provide collaboration across the field and office, reducing rework and saving time and money. In “Collaboration: Show me the RELATIONSHIPS,” Cliff Harvey, Strategic Health Capital Investment and Project Advisor, and Brian Watkinson, Principal, Strategies 4 Impact!, discussed how collaboration is a driving force even in LEAN Integrated Project Delivery. The thought leaders made the argument that whether you are a designer, owner, contractor, supplier, etc., collaboration provides immense value to every delivery method and on every project.
Collaboration is all about efficiency, and this topic is not going away. It’s essential for the industry to stay alert to what that really means for their business (e.g., does it truly provide ROI) when thinking through technology implementation.
5. Technology is Driving the New Construction Workforce
In addition to the labor shortage, the industry is undergoing a generational change and a new wave of workers in construction – Boomers are retiring and Millennials are growing. With this demographic shift, comes an influx of technology use industry-wide. Millennials are harnessing technology to increase productivity on job sites. In Construct Canada 2017, many conversations centered on how technology is a valuable recruitment tool. Many companies are debating whether they should make the shift to implementing technology, and to what extent, on job sites, but they don’t always understand the ROI they get and why it matters to their employees.
In PlanGrid CEO’s, Tracy Young, keynote, “Big Data in Construction: The Key to Unlocking the Potential In Your Business,” she noted how students are the future innovators in construction. Entering the construction industry as a fresh graduate herself, she saw the need for a technology that makes teams and projects more efficient. Today, mobile construction software is a driving force for keeping the emerging workforce engaged in their companies and projects. Adding to this topic, during, “Change Management Strategies: Building a Lasting Design and Construction Business,” keynote speakers stressed that as a millennial workforce “becomes the productive engine of our industry,” companies need to both embrace and be effective at change. So, how do you nurture and maintain top construction talent? The answer lies in technology.
This year’s Construct Canada 2017 has given us a lot to think about when it comes to the future of construction. While we don’t want to forget what initially built our industry, we are all evolving together—and what tomorrow holds will surely change our cities and skylines for the better.
If you attended or followed our social coverage of the conference, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the industry trends. Share your insights from The Buildings Show Construct Canada 2017 in the comments below.