The overall construction industry outlook for 2021 varies by country and region. For example, GlobalData expects a 3.2% growth for the sector worldwide in 2021. That’s the slowest growth in a decade, but the industry is not sluggish everywhere. Although the Middle East is in a downturn, Chinese officials are stepping up infrastructure investments to prevent similar conditions in that market.
Concerning broader construction industry trends, 2021 is set to be a year that shows some common themes becoming more evident globally. Here are nine to watch, all of which will likely influence the construction industry as a whole as well as its employees.
1. Modular Construction
Some estimates indicate that the modular construction market worth will climb as high as $157 billion by 2023, but this trend is already displaying staying power. It involves constructing the modules of a building off-site, then transporting them to the destination for assembly. This method often cuts costs and shortens the construction timeline.
Marriott plans to open the world’s tallest modular hotel in early 2021. It will feature 26 stories and be built in only 90 days. Projects that include modular construction allow developers to finish faster than before, which could pay off during boom periods or when industry demands change quickly.
2. 3D Printing
3D printing constructs items layer by layer and typically much faster and cheaper than conventional methods. The construction industry has shown substantial interest in 3D printing, and people working in it are likely to continue seeing what’s possible in 2021.
3D printing in construction should result in much more than the creation of pieces meant to impress. In Mexico, construction is underway on 50 3D-printed homes. A specialized printer can create each abode in about a day.
Much discussion about 3D printing in construction centers on whether the technology might be a realistic way to address the housing crisis. The method is particularly intriguing considering the labor and time reductions it brings. In 2018, a four-person team associated with the Marines used 3D printing to make a concrete barracks building in only 40 hours. Traditional methods usually require 10 people working for five days to build the structure out of wood.
Due to examples like these and others, 3D printing should continue to revamp the construction sector in 2021 and beyond.
3. Sustainability Innovations
Requests from construction clients often include sustainability specifications, especially if customers want to receive eco-friendly designations or tax credits. The sustainable trend in construction shows no signs of slowing this year. Plus, new developments give people even more options for planet-friendly structures.
Researchers at Heriot-Watt University recently went on a BBC program to show off a new kind of brick. It’s called the K-Briq, and the pioneering product produces only one-tenth of the CO2 emissions associated with conventional bricks. Although it weighs, looks, and functions the same way a traditional brick does, the K-Briq’s composition is from 90% recycled construction site and demolition waste materials.
Construction industry professionals are also excited about the potential of mass timber for sustainable construction. That material naturally captures carbon, which stays trapped inside the wood until the building degrades or gets destroyed. Sustainable construction industry trends in 2021 should remain hot topics, especially as people become more concerned about climate change and how to mitigate it.
Construction work can be grueling on the body, especially since it requires people to stand and perform strenuous physical activities for the majority of their workdays. These aspects of the career have encouraged companies to investigate using exoskeletons for their workers.
Some construction employees use power gloves to improve grip strength and dexterity when they perform tasks like drilling. However, most exoskeletons are more extensive and appear as full-body suits. One industrial-use exoskeleton offers a strength amplification of 20 to 1, which means hefting 200 pounds feels like lifting only 10 to a suit’s wearer.
Some Japanese workers wear exoskeletons to continue working past retirement age. That said, with the intensive work demanded by the construction sector, it’s easy to see how the exoskeletons could be useful at any age, particularly for reducing strain-related injuries.
Robots are making impacts in industries ranging from agriculture to medicine. These high-tech machines have, not surprisingly, upended the construction sector too. Some models let workers perform layout tasks at sites more efficiently than traditional mechanical systems allow, for example.
Potential also exists for the construction industry to get acquainted with collaborative robots — also called cobots. Cobots represent one of the most substantial recent robotics advances for many reasons, including their plug-and-play setup and the fact that they’re mobile instead of fixed.
Robots could help construction projects stay on schedule and get finished under budget. However, interested companies must investigate which machines make the most sense for helping with time-consuming or labor-intensive tasks.
6. Construction Companies Hiring More Workers
Despite the slow growth anticipated for this year, a recent study from the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate showed that construction companies intend to expand their workforces in 2021. The research indicated that 75% of firms would increase their headcounts in 2021.
However, nearly a quarter of respondents (22%) expected hiring challenges when attempting to fill vacant positions. They reported that sourcing workers for salaried and hourly craft positions is exceptionally difficult. These obstacles are likely some of the reasons that robotics, 3D printing, and modular construction are becoming more widely used in construction.
7. Increased Interest in Used and Rented Equipment
Construction firms will continue to consider renting equipment or buying used merchandise instead of buying things new. Those choices are construction industry trends for 2021 because both of them allow companies to keep pace with technological advancements at lower price points.
Rented equipment, in particular, enables construction businesses to see if different machines deliver the expected payoffs. If they do, representatives can make decisions later about whether to purchase them. Similarly, used equipment is often made available with the latest software updates and kept in good condition, making the not-quite-new options appealing to firms that want to stay competitive while saving money.
8. Redesigned Protective Equipment for Women
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety vests were, until recently, primarily made for men’s bodies. That meant women had no choice but to wear uncomfortable gear that often presented safety hazards because it was so loose.
In the United Kingdom, a brand called Multiplex recently began offering a dual-tone women’s waistcoat for construction workers in supervisory roles. It was not previously available in a version sized for females. Similarly, Skanska toured multiple worksites to get feedback on several vests made for female bodies. After committing to creating new garments for females, it now has customized attire.
Construction professionals should expect continued progress in this area moving forward. There’s a continued emphasis on diversity in today’s society, and although women are minorities in the construction industry, they are valuable contributors and need protective equipment that keeps them safe and is suitable for the work they do.
9. Technology That Keeps Project Costs Down
Although a wide variety of issues and inefficiencies can make projects cost too much, industry experts have weighed in to say that technology could reduce those budgetary excesses. For example, drones can capture high-resolution photos of a site faster than other methods, and virtual reality can let clients see what new additions would look like before construction professionals start working on them.
Construction firms will continue to choose technology to support their labor needs, save time and improve processes. However, while looking for options that accomplish those goals, many will also want assurance that the investments will have positive effects on project costs.
Construction Industry Trends in 2021 Will Have Lasting Impacts
This list gives a glimpse of some aspects of the construction sector that will shape the remainder. As the topics covered here gain more attention, people should anticipate that many of them will forever change how construction brands keep clients happy and run their operations.