In October 2020, BuiltWorlds released a briefing titled “In Focus: Five Reasons Building Materials May Be the Key to the Built World’s Transformation.” As the title suggests, the article dives into 5 possible reasons why innovative building materials could play a critical role in the transformation of the built environment. The following factors were identified as reasons building materials could be key to the industry's transformation:
- Simple Economics
- The Push for Carbon Reduction, Energy Efficiency, and Sustainability is Accelerating with help from IoT
- Modularization, Robotics, 3D Printing Mean New Materials
- Materials are Key to Labor Productivity
Today's briefing will address the five reasons identified in 2020 as potential contributors to the transformation of the built world, determine if they are relevant factors today, and look at potential catalysts moving forward.
1. Simple Economics
The economic landscape of 2023 undoubtedly is a driving force in the transformation of the broader AEC industry and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Coming off the heels of Covid, contractors, owners, developers, and the like are looking for ways to minimize costs while maintaining, if not improving, quality.
In the 2020 Analyst Briefing, materials were identified as a no-brainer alternative to decreasing costs and increasing efficiency. The same can be said today — prefabricated building components, for example, are one way to significantly decrease labor costs. Multiplying those savings across several projects would result in tangible benefits worthy of repeated use.
2. The Push for Carbon Reduction, Energy Efficiency, and Sustainability is Accelerating with help from IoT
Carbon reduction, energy efficiency, and sustainability are hot topics in the construction industry — now more than ever, contractors are hiring teams specifically to address green building practices. Building materials like concrete and steel are used extremely often, but create a considerable amount of CO2 when produced. The gradual adoption of technology solutions to track things like pollution and energy consumption put a spotlight on traditional building materials that are negatively impacting the planet.
Today, there are several solutions on the market designed specifically to track sustainability and ESG metrics using the cloud, IoT functionality, AI/ML, and different modeling techniques. The push for environmentally friendly practices identified in 2020 is just as relevant today as three years ago.
3. Modularization, Robotics, 3D Printing Mean New Materials
The advent of innovative technology for commercial use in construction is a transformation in itself. In the time between these briefings. Modularization, robotics, and 3D printing were relatively new ideas in 2020; today, these are extensively household names for some of the largest contractors around the world. Whether it's for a pilot program or everyday use, the continued use of different processes such as modularization, robotics, and 3D printing will continue to influence the types of materials used in the industry.
4. Materials are Key to Labor Productivity
Similar to materials being an option to counter rising labor costs, they can also indirectly address the labor shortage. Following the pandemic, there is an alarming amount of jobs left open. That coupled with an aging skilled workforce, the industry is in need of a surefire way to fill the gaps. In fact, the median age of construction workers is 41 meaning there could be a significant shortage in a few years.
As the 2020 briefing alludes to, building products and materials that are intuitive and simple to install could help alleviate the pains caused by an aging workforce. However, I'm not sure providing easier-to-use materials makes up for the decreasing number of skilled workers in the field. It'll be interesting to keep an eye on this as we recover from the pandemic.
The final prediction for materials influencing chance in the built world is similar to the argument that IoT technology helped drive advancements in carbon reduction, energy efficiency, and sustainability. Waiting for building materials to arrive wastes considerable time and money. The need for materials to be delivered on time and undamaged directly caused the development of various supply-chain solutions.
In addition to pureplay logistic solutions, we are also beginning to see segmented solutions in the form of digital marketplaces that make procuring materials on site effortless.
Somewhat surprisingly, many of the reasons raised in 2020 are still being talked about today. Despite the slow progress, it's fair to say materials are helping to transform the industry, if only incrementally.
Looking forward, Safety, Durability, and Aesthetics may emerge as other ways materials can transform the built environment. Innovation offers a path to transformation; there's just no telling how long it will take for that to come to fruition.