After a robust 2017, commercial construction companies are anticipating an even stronger 2018. Trends for this year, include a continuing rise in offsite construction as well as increasing reliance on technology. Another emerging phenomenon is the increased focus on resilient design following the most destructive hurricane season on record and devastating fires and mudslides in California.
Other trends that will likely shape construction this year revolve around federal and state policies, the ongoing labor shortage and anticipated mega projects such as Amazon’s much-ballyhooed HQ2. Construction Dive identified what the editors see as the top eight trends for the coming year, and here they are:
The focus on strengthening structures is driven by the disastrous weather events of the past year. Hurricanes, heat waves, cold waves, flooding, tornadoes and wildfires took their toll, with a nationwide financial hit estimated at $400 billion.
Rather than constructing duplicate replacement structures, more property owners will likely demand resilient site and structure features, heeding the advice and support of organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council. New projects are likely to mimic resilient construction that is already underway, such as re-evaluating building codes and redefining flood zones in Florida and Texas and fire-resistant construction in California.
The construction industry will continue to grapple with a tight supply of skilled craft workers as younger individuals shun construction as a career option, baby boomers retire and the federal government reverses the tide of immigrant labor from Mexico, Central America and the Carribbean. With industry groups continuing to lobby lawmakers for funding for trade education programs to help create a construction industry labor pipeline, these efforts could pay off and help ease the problem.
Meanwhile, the industry is turning to alternative construction methods to compensate for the shortage of skilled labor. Offsite construction and prefabrication, for example, are helping mitigate some labor issues, often reducing labor demands by as much as 50%. Increased use of modular construction in 2018, could also reduce the need for additional workers.
A growing number of U.S. contractors are partnering with prefab companies to incorporate offsite construction into their operations. Suppliers, too, are building up offsite capacity and developing products to help streamline operations. With companies like Google, Autodesk, Marriott and Starbucks embracing offsite construction, so are investors who hope offsite will improve construction industry productivity and returns.
As offsite components increase project speed, they are leading to greater collaboration between general contractors and offsite fabricators. With large companies like Turner Construction and Gilbane adding project manager roles for offsite, this delivery method is projected to gain momentum.
Cities are making big investments in transportation, integrating it into other public infrastructure upgrades. Nashville, TN, for example, proposes to spend $5.2 billion on an infrastructure and transit plan. Minneapolis’s $1.9 billion Southwest light-rail and Boston’s $2.2 billion overhaul of the area’s Green Line light rail are two other notable investments in transportation systems. In addition to traditional rail and bus systems and tunnels, high-speed maglev trains and hyperloop systems are also trending.
Technology and Automation Advances
Automation and related technologies such as 3-D printing are changing construction practices dramatically. Consider Europe’s first 3-D printed building in Denmark, a 3-D printed concrete bridge in the Netherlands, and the 3-D print concrete turbine towers planned in California.
According to Construction Dive, construction technology was the “Trend of the Year” in 2017. It’s not going away; in fact it looks to be ramping with factory-based construction automation and standardizing design and construction, creating a continuum of services.
New Policy Regulations
New policies at the federal and state level will continue to shape the industry. New York City now requires construction workers to undergo at least 40 hours of safety training. Los Angeles instituted a new seismic retrofit ordinance that will impact an estimated 1,200 older concrete buildings. As always, policies and politics will impact the construction business.
Large Companies with Large Construction Projects
While last year saw the addition of new, high-tech campus facilities at Google and Apple, a second new North American Amazon headquarters complex will likely fuel increased momentum for similar expansions in 2018.
Microsoft is slated to begin a multi-billion-dollar redevelopment of its existing Redmond, WA, campus later this year; Marriott and General Electric are also expected to break ground on new headquarters developments.
As more firms continue to expand their facilities, many are also likely to add infrastructure needed to support their operations. Data center construction is an especially fast-growing sector, as companies amass unprecedented amounts of information. By the first half of 2017, data center investments had already doubled those made in 2016, coming in at $18.2 billion.
Augmented & Virtual Reality — Wearables and Drones
With mixed-reality headsets, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, and wearable devices, such as Triax’s Internet of Things-enabled sensors, high-tech wearables and both augmented and virtual reality will continue to make inroads, transforming job sites. Two of the greatest benefits these technologies offer are safety and efficiency — areas where the construction industry has struggled in the past.
Beyond the innovations and investment in con-tech, it’s also possible that technology will help attract younger workers who are captivated by the technology in-roads impacting construction, such as the increasing use of drones on survey sites. One thing is certain: the industry buzz can’t hurt.