Cutting-Edge Materials Revolutionize Concrete Trade

January 8, 2019 Conley Smith

From scientists studying how cigarette butts can conduct energy in bricks and pavement to paint developers rethinking chemicals and colors for more energy-efficient homes, technology and innovation will continue to dominate the news for all construction trades in 2019.

 

With the cost of building materials rising regularly, more and more contractors of all stripes are turning to somewhat wild and wacky materials as these future innovations are starting to redefine how projects are conceptualized, designed, and executed.

More than ever, the concrete trade is front and center as builders and contractors look for potential solutions that could lower costs, speed up construction, and improve quality and safety. As such, everything from 3D printing to self-healing concrete is becoming less and less far-fetched.

In fact, last year’s AGC/FMI Risk Study of contractors found that 64% of those surveyed rated “concrete” as the most likely trade to experience peak disruption over the next five years. Contractors are beginning to embrace new technology and methods of working—including estimating software, robotics, AR/VR, wearables, and drones—to be more competitive and agile.

What is Driving Concrete Tech?

With building materials representing nearly half the total costs of most projects—or $1 trillion globally—the McKinsey Global Institute believes new and better construction materials will have a major impact on how the industry builds everything from residential homes to office buildings.

For example, the price of asphalt in the U.S. was up 44.9% year-over-year in 2018, the biggest increase of all construction material costs. With traditional materials, such as concrete, cement, and asphalt, making up most of this demand, new materials will need to be developed that can lower carbon footprints, improve cost efficiency, and make for a more agile supply chain.

Leading Trends in Concrete

Here are a few of the most buzzed about trends:

3D Printing - This is where submodules or complete concrete structures are printed before assembly. While 3D printing is still in the early stages of development, there is much buzz around Project Milestone in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, where engineers, contractors, and architects have joined forces to create one of the world’s first 3D-printed commercial housing projects.

The project will use a huge 3D printer to fabricate five concrete houses in a wooded area near the city’s airport. Plans call for the first home, a three-bedroom dwelling of just over 1,000 square feet, to be completed in mid-2019—though the entire initiative will take five years because the technology has not been refined.

Self-Healing Concrete - Developed by scientists in the Netherlands, self-healing concrete uses bacteria to close cracks on concrete and is being tested across the United States and Australia. By using chemicals similar to those found in human bones, infrastructures can “heal” themselves by resealing after a break, in much the same way as human bones fuse together again after a fracture. Experts predict this technology could be invaluable in earthquake-prone regions where a concrete crack tends to grow and often means the whole structure is unstable.

Concrete Canvas - Contractors take a layer of “concrete cloth” and then add water, allowing it to set. This innovation is used for drains, channels, and passages. One advantage is that unlike regular concrete, concrete cloth materials can be installed in the rain and other wet conditions, virtually eliminating rescheduling due to weather conditions.

Precast Concrete - While cast-in-place may continue to be the preferred choice for concrete slabs and foundations, precast concrete is becoming a strong option because of its quality, affordability, and longevity. Globally, experts predict precast will be worth $138.96 billion by 2022 because of increasing demand for new construction globally due to urbanization and industrialization.

Embracing Off-Site Solutions

While McKinsey reports that nearly 80 percent of all construction work is still done physically on-site, the construction industry is clearly beginning to embrace off-site solutions that can help improve predictability, consistency, and repeatability. Given the harsh reality of the current labor shortage and shrinking workspaces in many urban areas, contractors are starting to turn more and more to technology to help them work smarter to ensure productivity and profitability.

 

While you may not be ready to invest in a 3D printer, you may want to make sure you are using the right digital end-to-end construction tools to win more concrete work. Check out On Center’s free Concrete Trade Paper to learn how contractors are realizing significant gains in speed, accuracy, efficiency—and profits.

 

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