This year has seen construction technology pick up speed in Australia. More construction companies than ever before are embracing technology and many others are looking at new and unique ways to increase safety, collaboration and proficiency in the industry.
Whether through the adoption of cloud-based project management solutions or the development of cutting-edge apps, the Australian construction industry is entering a new era of digitisation. Smart companies know that if they don’t adopt new technologies, their competitors will.
Here are some of the construction tech highlights of 2018, and what we can expect to see more of in the future:
Smarter Solar Power
Construction is underway at Australia’s first smart solar-powered residential development in Western Sydney. The Essentia project is set to become one of Australia’s largest new age residential developments, including 74 homes, and it will feature fully integrated solar and home battery solutions that will automate appliances and home energy consumption. The project is expected to be completed by 2020.
The $1.5m installation deal was signed by Australian company Natural Solar, the nation’s largest installer of solar and battery solutions, and global developer Mulpha. The partnership will see Natural Solar provide each home with a 5.13kWp solar system and a 10kWh SonnenBatterie to store excess power from daytime solar production to maximise the energy produced.
One example of Aussie's stepping up to the challenge are the co-founders of materials and project tracking app, Matrak.
Matrak began with Brett Hodgkins, one of the co-owners, who used to be responsible for tracking materials at his family’s window installation business. Brett was frustrated by the workers having to down tools every time they couldn’t find a particular window panel, and so he found a better way.
He developed an app to help track when materials were arriving on site. Five years later, Matrak has 10 full-time staff and closed a $765,000 seed funding round earlier this year. The $1 million business now has 30 customers using its platform to track materials shipments and create interactive site drawings.
Matrak is not the only Aussie construction tech start-up raising cash, either. From inventory apps to new building technologies, Australian companies have secured significant investment during 2018. In fact, according to CB Insights, more than $US1 billion has been invested in construction technology businesses since 2013.
Parkd is another exciting Aussie company. It has come up with a way to build car parks using a modular system so they can be deconstructed quickly if needed. The modular car park builder raised $6 million to list on the ASX last year with its Lego-type car park idea.
Project Management Software
Managing construction projects as we well know is a challenging and complex task. This is where cloud-based project management software, like Procore, comes in to help make construction management much more easier, collaborative and efficient. The Australian construction industry has been a leading adopter of cloud-based solutions and it's expected that more and more companies, and tradespeople, will jump on board with project management software as it continues in popularity.
Prefabrication is fast becoming established as a core part of the construction sector in Australia. It has the potential to increase efficiency, precision, productivity and affordability, while simultaneously reducing waste. All 128 rooms of the four-storey Bendigo Hospital Hotel were assembled in just six days on site with one crane and a small team, after having been prefabricated and shipped to the site.
Australia Embraces BIM
Building Information Modeling (BIM) affords numerous benefits, such as more effective design, a reduction in change orders, fewer on-site mistakes, and a more efficient construction process overall. BIM is the centrepiece of the digital revolution in construction. Within the industry, BIM has become synonymous with construction technology. In Australia, it is typically being used in complex projects that are highly engineered or can utilise BIM in the maintenance life cycle of the project.
A New View With Virtual Reality
Sydney’s award-winning, 37-storey, EY Centre used a 3D modelling system and virtual reality to create aspects of the building which were then digitally manufactured to ensure precision. The concept underwent two years of extensive testing in Thailand, the U.S., and Australian laboratories of the CSIRO. This cutting-edge development by Mirvac is a prime example of how implementing VR can improve outcomes.
Robotics Technology Does Heavy Lifting
If Australian businesses accelerate their uptake of new technologies, such as robotics and redeploy displaced workers, automation is set to deliver Australia a $2.2 trillion dividend over the next 15 years, according to the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.
Aussie-based Fastbrick Robotics has been making headlines across the globe after completing the first fully automated construction of a three-bedroom house in less than three days. The ASX-listed company says engineers verified that the structure met relevant building standards, setting the stage for commercialisation of the product.
All was made possible thanks to the company’s Hadrian X, a truck loaded with pre-cut bricks and a laser-guided robotic attachment.
Following this successful project, they will now begin the next phase of executing a global commercialisation strategy to meet the demand for this technology. Hadrian X will improve safety by taking the heavy lifting off labourers, while its accuracy should reduce waste by managing materials more efficiently.
Robotic technologies have the potential to make jobs safer and could also help positively impact on efficiency.
3D printing is on the rise
Internationally, 3D printing in the construction sector has evolved to printing complete houses and offices. Australia has yet to reach this scale, but the sector is developing rapidly. One of the more advanced examples is Laing O’Rourke’s use of 3D printing in wax to create intricate building facades.
Sky’s the Limit
Drones have gained momentum and are now used widely on Australian construction sites for site inspection and progress monitoring. Their ability to capture broad-scale aerial photography and send real-time images and data to computers or mobile devices will ultimately be used for simulating a construction environment. Thus, it can be applied in test scenarios and used to facilitate evidence-based decision making. In Australia, Propeller Aerobotics and Swarm UAV are leading the way on this technology.
The new year should see some innovative progression regarding materials used in the build phase of construction projects, for instance, concrete. Research facilities in the United States are exploring adding carbon fibres to concrete mixture so that the slab of concrete is able to conduct electricity. Smart concrete has many potential applications, such as helping structural engineers to identify problematic areas in a concrete structure long before stress or cracking is visible.
All of the tech advances listed here will continue to enhance the industry. As we move forward, the development of new physical construction equipment and materials will go hand-in-hand with digital technologies to create powerful new methods of operation in the industry.