- Despite facing challenges like labor shortages and economic uncertainty, the construction industry has continued to thrive in 2022, with a 17% increase in total construction starts. However, according to Dodge Data & Analytics, construction starts are expected to remain stagnant in 2023.
- In light of this economic forecast, it will be crucial for construction companies to adopt technologies that increase productivity and efficiency to maintain financial stability.
- Here are the top construction technology trends to watch in 2023 that can help the industry achieve these goals and set itself up for long-term success.
Trend #1: Using Robots to Address Labor Shortages
What once felt like a futuristic improbability is now a growing reality—robots on construction sites. A shortage of skilled workers has the industry looking for ways to maximize output using existing resources. Supplementing worker efforts with construction robots is proving a worthwhile investment.
A robotic dog named “Dave” is improving safety, efficiency, and accuracy on a refurbishment project at Heathrow Airport. Developed by Boston Dynamics and equipped with a Trimble X7 scanner, the four-legged bot retrieves site data and scans, reduces “slips, trips, and falls” accidents, and improves the accuracy of 3D models.
While construction robotics will likely never replace construction workers, they may soon take over those monotonous, time-consuming tasks. For example, TyBot, a rebar-tying robot by Advanced Construction Robotics, recently tied 11,044 rebar intersections on the Florida Department of Transportation’s Gateway Expressway project, setting a 2022 record. Such output replaces four to five workers over a 10-hour shift.
Investment in construction robotics is forecasted to increase from 99.7 million U.S. dollars in 2022 to 113.1 million in 2023 and all the way to 242.4 million by 2030, according to Next Move Strategy Consulting.
What to Watch Out For:
- Trimble and HP partner to deliver an autonomous site layout workflow
- Civ Dot performs site layout on irregular surfaces, and data is easily integrated from Trimble equipment
- Semi-autonomous tools, like Hilti’s drilling robot, provide relief from strenuous tasks
Trend #2 Moving Beyond Point Solutions to Integrated Platforms
Based on end-user feedback, construction technology vendors are realizing the drawbacks of multiple point solutions and shifting efforts toward building robust integrated platforms. Point solutions are difficult to adopt and impossible to scale, making them impractical for many companies. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic added pressure to streamline and digitize workflows, so project teams could collaborate from various locations without sacrificing productivity.
Integrated platforms offer a consolidated solution that streamlines workflows and supports many or all day-to-day operations. According to McKinsey & Company, 20 percent of construction technology companies now offer solution suites that address more than five operational use cases, compared with just 13 percent in 2017.
Emerging integrated platforms include Trimble Construction One, a connected solution suite that gives customers access to more than 40 Trimble applications with capabilities that span every phase of construction projects. Included are one login, one subscription contract with one set of terms, connected workflows between multiple products, and dashboards that help users to make better decisions for the business.
What to Watch Out For:
- Trimble Construction One offers multiple connected workflows, with many more debuting in 2023
- Autodesk, Procore, Bentley, and Hexagon also look to build connected construction offerings as an alternative to point solutions
- Hilti ON!Track Asset Management System integrates with Trimble to offer a single source of truth for tracking and managing tools and equipment
Trend #3: Investing in Digital Processes
AECO (architecture, engineering, construction, and owner) organizations will continue to invest in technology to digitize and optimize workflows in 2023. For some organizations, this will be an initial investment in their digital transformation -- taking processes from paper to pixels. For others, this will be an additional investment in improving already-digital document management, design processes, and field operations, and obtaining critical data to drive business decisions.
Nearly two-thirds of owners plan to continue investing in developing and improving digital workflows they already have, according to Dodge Data & Analytics' Smart Market Brief: Connected Construction series. Seventy-eight percent of owners plan on investing in new digital workflows, with an emphasis on digital workflows for design review, bidding and procurement, submittals, and field inspections/daily reports.
Similarly, the report found that 77 percent of architects plan to invest in new and existing digital workflows. Top areas of investment include construction documentation, design development, and conceptual/schematic design. A majority of engineers plan to invest in the same three digital workflow areas as architects.
Contractors too are eager to digitize across a wide range of workflows. Sixty-four percent of GCs/CMs currently using digital workflows plan to make additional investments in job costing/projections, project document management, and job costing/WIP analysis. Eighty-five percent of GCs/CMs who don't currently use digital workflows plan to make significant investments in job costing/projections, job costing/WIP analysis, analytics/reporting, subcontractor management, and project document management. Top areas of investment for specialty trade contractors include project document management, job costing/projections, materials/inventory management, and labor management.
What to Watch Out For:
- Digitizing construction supply chains will reduce procurement efforts and minimize impacts from production- and shipping-related delays
- Organizations that have invested in internal digital workflows are making more informed decisions, increasing efficiency, and tracing causes of root problems. Digital workflows that streamline processes involving multiple external stakeholders are the next frontier leading organizations are focused on conquering, per the Dodge Data & Analytics Connected Construction report series.
Trend #4: Integrating BIM and GIS Data for Asset Management
Until recently, BIM (building information modeling) and GIS (geographic information system) lived separately—BIM for creating 3D building and infrastructure assets and GIS for displaying geospatial shapes and environmental assets. Technology innovators, like veteran software engineer Chris Andrews, are realizing the potential of connecting BIM and GIS data to create information-rich models and enhanced designs.
Such integration allows designers to evaluate design concepts while visualizing geographic terrain, surrounding facilities, and nearby infrastructure. In conjunction with clash detection, BIM-GIS integration improves design accuracy and completeness of existing conditions and design.
Technology-forward owners in the Nordics and U.S. are leveraging common data environments (CDEs) like Trimble's Quadri and Connect platforms to better automate and integrate field workflows that rely on BIM and GIS design data. Field users like surveyors, inspectors, and contractors are able to reduce data prep and troubleshooting times, and lower the risk related to data integrity via APIs and connectors -- a process that is far better than today's file-based exporting and importing.
Additionally, combining BIM and GIS is monumental for asset owners. Using a CDE with BIM and GIS data makes it a source for all the survey and construction as-built and progress data necessary for asset lifecycle management. This field BIM and GIS data is integrated from devices like survey tablets, LIDAR scanners, drones, and earth moving machines back to the CDE. It can then be used to integrate and automate processes like asset updates or payment validation and optimization.
Combining BIM and GIS data also enables teams to view the built environment alongside assets, providing enhanced information for emergencies, maintenance activities, or operational improvements. Tools such as City Engine enable advanced 3D modeling based on real-world GIS data for large-scale urban assets.
What to Watch Out For:
- Other GIS trends, such as real-time GIS data and machine learning spatial prediction models
- BIM-GIS integration plays a key role in delivering sustainable and energy-efficient built infrastructure
- California's CalTrans CALMS (CalTrans Asset Lifecycle Management Systems) program creating data standards and interoperability with partners Trimble, Autodesk, ESRI, SAFE, and TopoDOT
Trend #5: Increasing Use of Digital Twins
Another market set for substantial growth in the coming years is the global digital twin industry. Allied Market Research expects the valuation to increase from $6.5 billion US dollars in 2021 to nearly $125 billion by 2030. Digital twins are a digital representation of a real-world object. In construction, a digital twin could be a digital replica of a physical building or municipal asset such as a road or highway. Owners around the globe are seeking out digital twins of their assets to improve operation, maintenance, and planning methods.
Digital reality company Hexagon recently began offering digital twins of entire cities. City governments can do a lot with this data, from monitoring assets to assessing potential risks to planning new projects, all in a digital environment. AI firm Cityzenith just completed a digital twin phase for the City of Las Vegas. The city will use the model to support its transformation to zero carbon. Vancouver’s Canada Line commuter railway is also getting a digital twin, complete with sensors that provide real-time performance data.
Asset owners aren’t the only ones getting on board with digital twin technology. Emerging digital twin trends point to software vendors increasing digital twin capabilities, streamlining interfaces, speeding up simulation times, and investing in considerable improvements.
One challenge the industry has around using digital twins is the immense amount of data that is generated or collected by owners and their project partners. Owners are looking to industry solution providers to help them better manage and use these immense data sets. Common data environments (CDEs) like Trimble's Quadri and Connect platforms help owners both standardize and make big data available for multiple systems and users within their business environment.
What to Watch Out For:
- Microsoft reveals digital twin technologies for construction and building management industries
- The U.S. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law specifically calls out investment in digital construction tools, including digital twin technology
- Norway Road Authorities plan for digital twin asset management integration of field survey and construction data via common data environment
Trend #6: Employing Technology to Advance Sustainability
With each passing year, sustainability becomes less of an afterthought in the construction industry and earns a seat at the head table. The fixed nature of embodied carbon, high energy costs, and limited resources demand it. Autodesk reports 82 percent of AEC companies now have a dedicated sustainability team in place, and 74 percent of AEC firms are investing in technology to improve sustainability.
Technology firms are responding, with $4.5 billion invested globally in greener construction technologies in the past five years. $2.2 billion of that was invested in 2022 alone. Plug-ins like the new Embodied Carbon Assessment tool from Trimbleand One Click LCA help engineers understand a design’s carbon levels. Within Tekla Structural Designer, designers can break down embodied carbon values and inform decisions that reduce a building’s environmental impact. Carbon Clean offers out-of-the-box CO2 capture solutions for construction jobsites. Converge uses sensor-powered AI to help contractors design more carbon-friendly concrete mixes and reduce concrete waste.
Additionally, construction management systems can be leveraged to support sustainability—effective use of these tools arms construction companies with valuable information about resource usage. Per Trimble’s Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Construction Technology, “project management systems give construction teams greater control over risks that commonly lead to waste and inefficiencies. … Higher visibility also ensures that sustainable materials and solutions are actually being implemented.”
What to Watch Out For:
- McKinsey reports the construction industry is poised to accelerate toward sustainability in the post-COVID era
- 2021 and 2022 saw the introduction of many electric machine models (including heavy equipment) into the market. While current adoption numbers are small, as battery life and cost improves, and possible regulatory and financial support incentivize OEMs, we will likely being seeing more of this technology
Trend #7: Embracing Autonomous Machinery
The construction industry is slowly but surely catching on to the capabilities of autonomous machinery. The mining industry has been an early adopter of the technology—Caterpillar began its first autonomy program more than 30 years ago and just recently surpassed 5.5 billion tons of material autonomously hauled. Construction companies will likely see similar productivity and efficiency gains by fully embracing autonomous machinery.
Alongside Caterpillar and other equipment and technology manufacturers, Trimble has developed autonomous vehicle technology ready for the jobsite. Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform is the industry’s first automatic steering control solution for soil compactors.
There are, however, a few factors holding back the widespread use of autonomous vehicles in construction. Wireless networks lack the required data upload capacity, network coverage is not always available or reliable, and other machinery can interrupt a network connection. Jobsite networks that solve these capacity, coverage, and connectivity issues must first be implemented to support autonomy.
What to Watch Out For:
- The industry is expected to invest $4 billion in artificial intelligence by 2026, which will likely improve autonomous machinery safety and accuracy
- Industry companies will partner or acquire to advance autonomy, like Caterpillar’s acquisition of Marble Robot or Mortenson’s partnership with Build Robotics
Trend #8: Continuing Shifts to Cloud-Based Software
While much of the construction industry has made the leap to cloud computing, the next few years will likely bring along the stragglers. A 2017 Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) survey found that 85 percent of construction contractors use or plan to use cloud-based solutions. Moreover, the percentage has likely increased, especially in the post-COVID era, where real-time updates and virtual collaboration are essential.
“Before cloud computing was widely adopted by the industry, people on site would require an IT infrastructure, printers and, in some instances, a dedicated server room to facilitate the exchange of data between teams,” explains Peter Damhuis, vice president of RIB CCS. “When everything is in the cloud, there is no need for major infrastructure on site. Construction companies need only connect their sites to the internet.”
One of the more recently introduced platforms is Trimble Construction Cloud. Developed in 2022 and powered by Microsoft Azure, the cloud-enabled construction management software links project teams, data, processes, and stakeholders across all project phases. “[Trimble Construction Cloud] leverages connected workflows, precise spatial data, and constructible models to modernize the entire ecosystem and accelerate customer success,” said Jennifer Lin, SVP and chief platform officer for Trimble.
What to Watch Out For:
- Companies comfortable with cloud computing with add Internet of Things (IoT) devices to gather more impactful data
- Leading construction cloud technology providers will announce new integrations for interoperability, influencing technology selection and stickiness
- Cloud computing shift by construction companies continues to happen today in order to lower costs, reduce risks and provide more scalable processing of the big data collected year over year
Forecasting Trends Beyond 2023
As we look beyond 2023, here are potential construction technology trends we will be watching:
The Influx of Tech Workers in the Job Market
Could laid-off tech workers provide some relief for the construction industry labor shortages? With large companies like Twitter, Amazon, and Meta cutting thousands of roles, a surplus of experienced individuals are looking for their next place to land. This presents an opportunity for construction companies struggling to fill roles. For project management, technology, cost management, and similar positions, companies may look to the newly available top tech talent.
A Renewed Focus on Training for Digital Tools
According to Dodge Data & Analytics SmartMarket Brief: Connected Construction: Perspectives Across the Project Team, insufficient training is the leading reason for no or little use of digital workflows. The report also notes that "more training on digital workflow tools" is the top way to improve satisfaction with stakeholder connectedness. We expect technology vendors to offer more training as part of implementation plans, and for companies to invest in turning their occasional users of technology into power users.