Over the past century, informational and technological advances have moved us from manual labor to fully automated processes that have affected every corner of modern society. The construction industry is no exception. The economic sector is now embracing modern technology with many advancements to improve efficiency and profitability.
Residential, commercial and industrial construction accounts for a large part of the American economy. Civil construction such as roadways, airports and marine facilities also contribute to the nation’s economic health.
Because construction is an important part of our economic ecosystem, it's critical for the construction sector to evolve so it can continue to thrive. Changes, advancements and trends in the construction industry occur because of a need to build infrastructure more efficiently, economically and safely. Many recent construction industry changes come from material and labor improvements, but the most significant advancements have been the result of information and data, which allowed technological innovations to flourish. Here is a look at ten changes that have advanced the construction industry.
Computing technology has allowed for the biggest changes and advancements in all types of construction. Whether it’s a single-family house or an interstate highway, computers help every part of modern construction. From the systems used to design a project to the machinery employed to build it, somewhere there’s now a computer involved.
The construction industry began using computers during the 1980s. A decade later, most construction companies had some sort of office computer system, whether it was to estimate costs, account for payroll or communicate with clients, suppliers and professionals like engineers. Many construction companies quickly realized the marketing power offered by computers and turned to websites as their main advertising platforms.
But long before construction companies turned to computers, their material suppliers and equipment manufacturers were way ahead of them. Tool companies used computer power to build cordless devices. Heavy equipment makers realized their controls and monitoring systems became highly advanced once controlled through microchips. It’s going to be fascinating to see what computers will do for construction in the decades ahead.
Computerization hasn’t only affected construction material and equipment improvements. Computers advanced the construction industry by allowing immediate and seamless integrated communication. Smartphones are now the hand tools found on every job site. Customized apps allow interconnection between all participants in a project that was impossible just a decade ago. Web and cloud-based communication offer incalculable efficiency to construction managers and their business clients. The accuracy and immediacy of computerized communication devices have significantly advanced the construction world.
In many ways, digital communication is more effective than unnecessary phone calls that interrupt project flow. Virtual conferences are another extremely efficient advancement in construction communication, allowing for international project coordination. Team communication programs and other software platforms are important advancements that let everyone on the construction team communicate with ease and speed.
Changes and advancements in the construction industry didn’t only happen in the communication and management departments. The industry has been revolutionized on the design end of the business, as well. Hand-drawing and blueprinting construction plans are long-gone. In their place are computer-aided design (CAD) programs that are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
One of the breakthrough construction industry advancements is the process of Building Information Modeling (BIM). This process is a holistic approach to the design-build method that has changed the industry’s business model. With BIM technology, an entire project can be designed on computer software and built virtually before an excavator disturbs the dirt or a construction crane hoists steel.
BIM allows every individual involved in a project to take part before it’s built. Then, they’re able to contribute throughout the physical construction process. This process is a true breakthrough in the construction world as contributors catch many mistakes before they’re made in real-time. Everyone in the chain — from designers to suppliers — can find better construction methods and suggest alternate materials in the digital world.
Designing and virtually building a project on a computer screen provides a “layering” capability. This function means each component or phase of a building is set out as individual entities that layer together to form the whole project. All information about each layer is predetermined, and this removes the guesswork that happens where one stakeholder doesn’t know what another’s roles and contributions are.
Layering and immersive visualization are an important part of BIM because they open the way for increased communication and collaboration. BIM is a sophisticated program that allows all stakeholders to see the project before it happens and they can provide input on how to make it better and safer. BIM processes allow you to predict fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh dimensions — time, money, sustainability and budget — in addition to conventional height, width and length factors. All these dimensions are a crucial part of every construction venture.
Overall, BIM leads to better designs, improved construction methods and greater project success. That’s a win-win for everyone involved in the business.
3-D printing is a fascinating change and advancement happening right now across the construction field. Once thought of as a science fiction invention, 3-D printers are now hard at work manufacturing materials, tools and machinery parts in factories and construction sites across the nation. There seems to be no end to the bright future of 3-D printing, and it’s just in its infancy.
“Additive manufacturing” is the industry term for 3-D printing. It’s a process of constructing parts or components from digital program files into three-dimensional objects. 3-D printing involves thin material layers that create an accurate cross-section of the object and fabricate them into a completed entity.
Building materials and construction methods aren’t the only advances found through 3-D printing technology. A team at Oak Fridge National Laboratory built an excavator using three main 3-D printed components. These were the excavator’s control stick, its heat exchanger and the cab that its operator sits in. Printed materials included steel for the stick, aluminum for the heat exchanger and a carbon fiber reinforced ABS plastic for the cab.
In many ways, the 3-D printing process is like making plywood and laminated veneer lumber (LVL). The multi-layered plies set out by the printer bond like glulam beams that have been used for decades in the wood frame construction industry. The 3-D laminating techniques of today use more advanced materials like carbon fiber and high strength metals.
Prefabricating building components through 3-D printing will speed up construction schedules. Faster schedules translate to faster building phases and reduced costs. As the technology behind 3-D printing improves, the process should become more economical, which makes this advancement even more attractive.
3-D printing processes are only part of the next-generation advancements in the construction industry. Huge strides are being made in high-tech areas like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). This futuristic technology is here now, and it’s paving the way for autonomous equipment.
High-technology advancements give construction equipment operators extreme benefits. Many types of heavy equipment have ergonomically designed controls, such as joysticks, and work cabs with environmental comforts like filtered air-conditioning units. These advancements offer safer and healthier workplaces. However, technological changes may end up replacing equipment operators and transitioning them into supervisors of robotic and autonomous equipment.
Drones flying by and hovering over work sites isn’t a thing of tomorrow. This technology is available now, and drones aren’t alone in the field of construction robotics. Sending a remote-controlled drone to inspect work in high, remote or dangerous locations saves significant time and reduces the risk to human workers. Drones also do aerial surveys and assist in every task from estimating to approving construction phases.
Construction site robotics occurs on the ground and in the air. Autonomous construction equipment frees human labor to do other things than repetitive tasks that machines can do better. An example is robotic excavators that have remote monitor systems with GPS navigation and compactors that automatically adjust for exacting site conditions. Automation also now extends to modular and prefabricated construction techniques.
Manufacturing and assembling construction components through modular and prefabricated techniques isn’t something new. Building components in a controlled environment is a typical construction approach. However, there have been significant advancements in prefabricated and modular methods.
There’s a distinction between modular and prefabrication. Modular refers to a collection of components constructed in a closed environment and shipped to a site to make up part of a mass unit. Prefabrication is manufacturing the parts of a component off-site, rather than ineffectively building at the project’s location.
Modular component and prefabrication techniques make excellent use of robotics and autonomous equipment. Because their environment is controlled and mostly automated, construction materials coming from a factory save an enormous amount of project time and save a considerable amount of costs. More advancement in prefabricated and modular techniques will certainly continue to change the construction industry to make it more streamlined and economical. Part of these improvements will be implementing green technology across the construction industry to reduce energy and fuel waste.
While there's nothing new about the notion of going green, sustainability-oriented technology is advancing as the construction industry matures and conforms to modern regulations and consumer demands. Going green used to mean reducing, reusing and recycling. While that philosophy still exists in the green movement, it includes highly advanced materials such as low-carbon emitting fuels, sustainable energy sources and super-strength steel and concrete.
Green construction technology has been around for a while now. In the later part of the 20th century, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed a building rating system for promoting responsible design concepts with concerns on durability, utility, economy and comfort. They called the program Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and it’s been a success far beyond what the original developers imagined.
Today, LEED certification is a mark of green excellence. The worldwide program prescribes seven adherence levels that include green principles in design, construction techniques, energy-efficient materials, on-going operation costs and maintenance requirements. LEED certification aims to help building operators and their owners use resources efficiently and be environmentally responsible throughout a building’s life.
Net Zero, or Zero Energy, is another advancement that’s changing the construction industry. These energy-efficient buildings aim to be electrically independent of the grid. They produce internal power through renewable energy sources such as solar technology. Highly advanced insulation and glazing materials also add to reducing energy consumption and insuring zero energy buildings are among the greenest and most sustainable structures on the planet.
Sustainable construction is a responsibility that project owners and managers take very seriously. Working in a sustainable environment can reduce long-term operating expenses. Green construction technology includes environmental design such as using natural light and climate control sources as well as making projects energy neutral.
Green technology extends beyond construction design and material specifications. Many heavy equipment manufacturers like Caterpillar now take a green approach to machinery design. Some of the green machinery advances have been consumer-driven and some have been a response to environmental regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Green technology is now becoming standard in heavy equipment manufacturing.
Some of the biggest construction industry advances have come through heavy equipment technology. Modern construction equipment like excavators, skid steers, loaders and dozers have highly advanced and highly technical improvements built into their design and manufacturing processes. Automation and robotic controls are just part of the improvements that companies like Caterpillar implement in machines for today and tomorrow.
Tier IV engines and clean diesel fuel technology are two advancements that have helped clean up the construction industry’s environment. Tier IV is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiative aimed at reducing carbon-producing emissions for diesel engines. Caterpillar has incorporated Tier IV and clean diesel fuel technology in today’s machines to advance tomorrow’s construction industry because they are the world’s largest manufacturer of heavy construction equipment.
Heavy equipment technological advances have also improved the construction industry’s safety record. One of the biggest advances in construction has been in worker safety, and that shows in the number of accidents prevented and the reduction in injuries within the notoriously risky construction industry. Caterpillar strongly supports every construction-related safety initiative and has worked hard to ensure that Cat® machinery safety features continue to improve.
The most beneficial change in the construction industry is the advancements in safety. In the past, it was not uncommon for workers in the construction industry to operate under the bare-minimum safety requirements.
Fortunately, the attitude in the construction industry has shifted away from simply being safety-compliant and has moved toward a mindset of commitment to keeping fellow workers safe. As a result, the accident and injury rates are steadily declining year-by-year, and it's now the norm to have safety be of paramount concern to construction workers and managers.
Technological changes also contribute to increased safety on construction sites. Today, heavy-duty construction equipment has motion sensing and facial recognition technology that keeps operators and nearby workers safe. Motion sensing technology alerts operators to nearby objects, buildings or people. Facial recognition technology can recognize operator fatigue or distractedness and interrupt operations until it's safe to proceed.
Another significant advancement in the construction industry is the access to quality, reliable and technologically advanced machinery for rent. With major dealer networks like The Cat Rental Store, contractors and construction companies can now have an entire fleet of the latest equipment at their disposal. Construction business owners find that renting their machinery is efficient and economical in both short- and long-term planning.
The heavy machinery and construction equipment industry has significantly changed with advancements in technology. Today’s machines have highly sophisticated computerized controls and drive systems. New equipment from Cat leads the way in the construction machinery world, and much of the advancements have been through increasing power capacity while reducing energy consumption.
Caterpillar is a green leader in manufacturing construction equipment. Cat-brand machines are advancing in technology so rapidly that many older models don't offer the same smart features that newer models do.
Today, many construction company owners and managers find that renting Cat machinery is convenient and practical. Cat rentals have the most up-to-date technology and advanced systems available anywhere in the construction industry. That includes some of the cleanest emissions, the highest energy-efficiency and the safest technology available today.
For these reasons and more, construction stakeholders turn to renting Cat machinery. Leading constructors understand the value of Cat equipment and that’s been long-proven by the thousands of Cat rental machines hard at work on sites across the country. These high-value rentals simply make sense economically.
Renting equipment is also a convenient way to "try before you buy," allowing operators to test out the latest in equipment technology before committing to ownership. Renting has its distinct advantages, and the rental market will only continue to expand over time as more contractors look to partner with trusted suppliers for the latest heavy machinery.
In the rapidly advancing construction industry, technological changes are altering the market for the better. Contractors have more choice and more support to help them improve key metrics like productivity, profitability, sustainability and safety. Construction companies can now improve these aspects of business by taking advantage of construction equipment rentals.
The next time you need construction equipment that's safe and efficient, consider these main benefits gained by renting construction equipment:
The Cat Rental Store is your one-stop source for all your construction equipment needs. For serious solutions to temporary situations, The Cat Rental Store is a convenient place in a busy world. We have over 1,300 locations in our nation-wide network, and we carry hundreds of models to meet your needs. Partnering with an extensive dealer network like The Cat Rental Store ensures you'll always find the right size equipment for the job.
Rest assured that our Cat fleet contains the most modern and technologically advanced machinery you’ll find in the changing and dynamic construction industry. For value, service and safety, call The Cat Rental Store today at 1-800-RENT-CAT.