8 Innovations that Will Change Construction As We Know It

construction innovations shape the future of the industry

Construction innovations are progressing rapidly, and the industry now has a tremendous amount of resources to advance construction technology. Construction tech funding hit a record high of $2.1 billion in 2021—a 100% increase from the year before. 

These investments in innovations pay off significantly; research shows that firms that are rated as "digitally savvy" outperform companies by as much as 48% on revenue and 15% on net margin. And this is true across many fields, including AEC.  

There’s never been a more exciting time to be a part of the construction industry. As it continues to change at an accelerated pace, innovations will bring about even more developments and advancements. Here are 8 innovations we believe will shape the future of the industry as we know it today.

Watch more:

The Rise of Construction Tech: What Every Organization Must Embrace

1. AI and Machine Learning for Construction Workflows

Optimized workflows are essential to well-running projects and teams in the AEC industry. However, due to the complexity of construction, workflows have the tendency to be disconnected and manual in nature. The three most significant areas within optimized construction workflows are communication, data, and transparency. AI is making it easier to succeed across all three of these areas, resulting in greater productivity and profits. The fact that Accenture proclaimed AI has the potential to increase industry profits by 71% by 2035 doesn’t hurt either. 

Machine learning is also helping construction pros optimize their workflows and aid decision-making. Predictive analytics is quickly establishing its foothold in the construction industry’s core stack of technology tools. By leveraging current and historical data as well as machine learning, companies can make predictions about future outcomes. These predictions can then be used to make more informed decisions and strategize next moves.

Predictive analytics and machine learning are especially valuable in today’s world of complex construction projects and operations. Companies need a precise way to mitigate risks, take advantage of opportunities, and prepare for challenges. This information also gives workers the freedom to focus on higher-value activities that are more likely to move the needle. 

BAM Ireland is an excellent example of this benefit. The multinational construction company leveraged Construction IQ as its predictive analytics tool for all projects. Doing so led to a 20% improvement in on-site quality and safety and a 25% increase in time spent on high-risk issues.

Pype’s Smart Plans leverages AI to manage core construction documents, including spec books and submittals. The software platform reads through these unstructured drawings to extract contract compliance items, ensuring no requirements are left behind.

AI and machine learning can also increase safety at construction sites by automating safety observations and inspections. Josh Kanner, Founder and CEO of Newmetrix, says that construction pros can utilize these technologies to create computer vision models that can identify safety issues. 

“You don’t need to have people walking around, you can actually have the machine help you understand what those scenarios are. So now you’re able to get hundreds of additional observations a week, and thousands a year," says Josh.

Newmetrix’s product, Vinnie, makes use of AI to ensure safety protocols are met on jobsites. The construction innovation can identify potential safety hazards, missing PPE on workers, social distancing infractions, work at height, and more. The ability to analyze risks within their context allows construction firms to mitigate risks quickly and generate customizable reports on set benchmarks.

Josh talks more about these innovations on the Digital Builder podcast. Check out the episode here

2. Resource and Workforce Management Software

Managing resources and a workforce are massive expenses for construction companies. Effective workforce management can help companies keep operations running smoothly, optimize resource allocation, and avoid unexpected expenses as well as delays.

Today, more companies are turning to software platforms to bring more efficiency and actionable analytics to their workforce, whether they be remote, on-site, large, or small.

Construction innovations in workforce management solutions include predictive tracking, forecasting, and mobile-first interfaces. These solutions remove many of the manual processes that come with resource planning.

For instance, Bridgit Bench, a resource management tool built for the construction industry, integrates optimization and agility into a dynamic planning process. Eyrus, a jobsite intelligence tool, ensures workers are deployed where needed at the right time, as well as tracks progress across key areas of projects. Meanwhile, the labor management solution Triax uses IoT technology and connected devices to provide real-time tracking of workers, equipment, and other resources that you have on the jobsite. 

Solutions like these allow companies to access metrics and forecasting analytics to better allocate resources to the right projects at the right time. Workforce management solutions are especially important in our current economy, where volatile markets require firms to be as precise and efficient in their operations as possible.

3. The Next Wave of 3D Printing

You probably aren’t surprised to see 3D printing on this list. After all, it has long been cited as one of the top construction innovations. However, its future is even brighter these days as the technology moves from a novelty to an emerging industry standard.

With the right implementation strategy—and some creative thinking—3D printing can help speed up projects, make materials more accessible, and enable you to create beautiful designs. 

As Stephan Mansour, a 3D Printing & Emerging Technology Advisor at MaRiTama Ltd points out, “Everything can be 3D-printed; it’s just a matter of how far you want to go, how scalable it is, and how much money you’re going to put in.”

In terms of use cases, you can 3D print design elements like facades to make them more intricate and detailed. 3D printing can also be used to print parts, fixtures, and furniture for your building. This is particularly useful when you're dealing with supply shortages or when you're working in a remote area. Rather than waiting weeks or months for the materials you need, you can print them within a few hours or days.

We can expect to see 3D printing technologies continue to mature and grow in the future. As companies look for ways to improve quality control, address skilled labor shortages, and explore advanced designs, 3D printing will be here to help them make it a success.

4. AR, VR, and the Metaverse

We’ve all heard of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). VR immerses us completely into the digital world, while AR brings digital elements to our surroundings in real time. Immersive reality combines these two realms into one world—which is where the metaverse comes in. 

The metaverse is an iteration of the internet that allows users to experience it like the real world. This is made possible with gadgets such as AR glasses and VR headsets. These devices, as The Wild explains, allows the metaverse to move "content from the internet into 3D immersive environments that can be shared and interacted with by multiple users (often taking physical form as avatars.)"

Immersive reality brings real benefits to businesses, particularly those that rely on cross-departmental collaboration to get things done. It allows teams to “meet” in the metaverse so they can interface in a rich, virtual environment—something that isn’t possible when you’re behind a computer screen.

What’s more, platforms like The Wild and IrisVR can integrate with construction tools such as Revit and Autodesk Construction Cloud solutions. This enables teams to access these applications in a shared space so they can collaborate in real-time. 

Because of these use cases, it makes sense then that the technology is making waves in the construction industry. 

5. Sensor Data

Tracking the various components of your business—including manpower, job sites, and equipment—is essential. Proper monitoring aids project planning, promotes smoother operations, and ensures compliance with safety and worker regulations. 

Here’s the good news: thanks to construction sensors and IoT technology, keeping an eye on the many moving parts of your projects is easier than ever. There are various solutions in the market that can enable you to monitor site conditions, track materials through the supply chain, improve worker safety, and empower better facility management.

Forward-thinking firms are also using sensors to forecast and prepare for future events. “With the use of sensor data and Forge as a software foundation, we are able to predict future product failures," explains Chris Schoneveld, BIM Manager at Alkondor Hengelo

"So for a maintenance task, we could analyse the use curve of a building and protect our products against future failures. And doing multiple tasks on a single maintenance job benefits our company’s eco footprint due to a minimization of traffic movement."

6. Digital Twins

Digital twins is certainly a buzzworthy term, but what benefit does it have for the construction industry? As it sounds, a digital twin is a digital replica of a physical entity, including its potential and current assets, systems, data, processes, workflows, people, and devices. In the context of construction, digital twins gather data through sensors to better understand a physical structure and then create its duplicate.

Having a duplicate source of a physical structure allows workers to assess, manipulate, and optimize the building. As they analyze the digital twin, they can uncover potential means of creating efficiencies, developing safety protocols, reducing risks, and improving quality. Digital twins also enhance BIM by serving as a digital thread, connected directly to a physical structure.

Since almost 80% of a building's lifetime value is realized during operations, the data and insights provided by a digital twin helps owners better maintain their facilities, streamline operations, and improve capital planning. 

You can also use digital twins to determine if a built asset is meeting certain KPIs and metrics. “If you have certain sustainable goals, you’ll be able to see if you’re achieving them. If you have equipment and want to measure mean time between failure, having a digital twin helps you do that,” explains Bob Bray, Senior Director & General Manager for Autodesk Tandem.

It can also help owners strategize for the future. As Bob points out, “A digital twin gives you the knowledge to inform, predict, and look at future decisions based on how that asset is performing in the real world.” 

Lastly, the advantages of digital twins are especially relevant during times of social distancing, remote work, and travel restrictions. Essential information about a property is readily accessible with a digital twin, avoiding the need to travel or even leave a home office.

To learn more about digital twins, check out Episode 16 of Digital Builder. 

7. Truly Connected Construction

Simplicity in construction? It might not be a buzzword, but we’d argue that simplicity is the lifeblood of the most powerful of innovations. When data, workflows, and technology connect, they’re all the more powerful. Apple is a key example of this fact. The same information flows seamlessly between the company’s iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks. These harmonious connections keep things simple and effective.

We see the same concepts play out in connected construction. Construction companies often have to deal with information silos and paper-dependent processes. These challenges are exacerbated by the massive volumes of data and resources that make up the industry. For stakeholders to work efficiently on projects, they need a solid foundation, a single source of truth.

This foundation can be built and maintained with connected construction. Connected construction equates to integrated and connected data, workflows, and technology. It brings information, processes, and people together in one common data environment. It powers effective decision-making, whether they occur during daily operations or as part of a long-term strategic plan. For companies that genuinely want to empower their people to make the most informed decisions possible, connected construction is the answer. 

8. Advanced Takeoff and Estimating Tools

The days of putting together quantity takeoffs and estimates using spreadsheets are over. Or at least, they should be. The rise of advanced takeoff and estimating tools are helping construction pros implement these processes more efficiently and with greater accuracy. 

Modern takeoff and estimating solutions work in the cloud, enabling you view and manage bids from anywhere. These tools also help connect data and teams on one platform, leading to better collaboration. And thanks to automation and 3D visualization, you're able to work faster, produce competitive bids, and ultimately win more work

Autodesk Takeoff is one helpful tool to create competitive bids from accurate estimates. Another tool, BuildingConnected centralizes all bidding activity and offers collaboration tools like shared calendars to help your team stay on top of bids. It's easier to stay on top of project files, key dates, and stakeholders so you can ensure that no detail slips through the cracks. 

Moving Innovation in Construction Forward

The construction industry is truly evolving right in front of our eyes. We’re confident these 8 construction innovations will prove to be especially valuable in the industry today and in the future.

Connected Construction - Guide to Autodesk Construction Cloud

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.