Trends Shaping The Construction Industry
The building and construction sector is a key industry, generating wealth and income and contributing in major ways to global development. The industry is responsible for employing around 8.6% of the workforce, and boasts several massive accomplishments that range from underwater tunnels, soaring cityscapes and skyscrapers, to inspiring architecture and infrastructure.
Most important to note is that this sector has one of the highest material consumption footprints consuming almost 50% of the total material footprint across the global economy, and 36% of the global energy use. With these statistics, it becomes increasingly clear of the importance that any effort towards reducing carbon emissions, adapting to circular models and going greener for our planet should include this major industry player — and soon.
The industry is also one of the slowest to innovate and move to adapting a digitalized approach compared to nearly every other industry. Profitability is low, around 5 percent of EBIT margin despite high risk and insolvencies, and customer satisfaction is often impacted by frequent time and budget overruns and lengthy claims procedures. A 2016 McKinsey analysis found that construction projects typically take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are subsequently also often over budget.
Showing a low performance and lagging productivity impacted by factors like the Covid-19 pandemic, struggling material suppliers, skills shortages and environmental concerns surrounding intense resource usage and high energy requirements, the industry is rife and ready for change. Predictions of stricter sustainability and safety regulations, persistent cost pressure from infrastructure and affordable housing as well as evolving needs from customers will catalyze change and lead to fundamental changes like new entrants, sustainability requirements, the industrialisation of new materials and digitalized products in construction.
Sustainability and circularity
The global conversation about climate change puts increasing pressure on the industry to reduce carbon emissions. More specifically, focus is changing from linear value chains to more circular ones, where the collective approach is fundamentally changed to adapt to more efficient models that see and use waste as a resource. Forecasted regulations like better insulated buildings may become a requirement in the near future, potentially leaving old traditional methods obsolete in coming times. Further intensified by the implementation of UN sustainability targets, construction companies and materials suppliers will be pushed to factor sustainability into their products, processes, and designs. The current pace of urbanization will require significant investment in infrastructure and housing to accommodate regional population shifts, highlighting the need for urban sustainability.
While sustainability is an important decision factor already, it’s only the beginning of a rapid shift in developments. Regulation changes means that businesses will need to consider their impacts all the way from sourcing, manufacturing, supply chains to water usage and waste generation. All elements will need to become optimised for sustainability. It is not only the large regulatory bodies that will lead this shift, but also the customers that are becoming more sophisticated — demanding prioritization of smarter buildings, operational and energy efficient processes, flexibility and adaptability.
Industrialization and new materials
Innovations in traditional basic materials like brick and mortar are necessary to enable a reduction of the industry’s carbon footprints. New materials that are modular, lighter in weight, as well as less carbon and resource intensive will be in demand. Light weight materials allow easier transportation making longer haul transfers cheaper and easier. Examples of these can include light-gauge steel frames, cross-laminated timber or our own Polyblocks. Productization and the development of these new materials illuminates the need for factories and investments in manufacturing machinery, equipment R&D and technology. Companies will need to assess the impact of each of these disruptions, and decide how to act on them in order to be able to develop and define new-business models and operating models in line with these trends.
Collaboration is a key component of driving the shift towards circularity in the building industry. Digital technologies can enable better collaboration, control of the value chain and a fundamental shift towards decision making that is driven by data. This will pave the way to a new way of approaching process and following a principle of ‘design that follows availability’. Innovations in this area will change the way the industry approaches operations, design, building and engagement with other stakeholders in the industry. Smart buildings and infrastructure integrating the IoT will enable more efficient operations, increase data availability and open the field for new business models. Companies can improve their own efficiency and on site collaboration, where the design phase is integrated with the rest of the value chain. As digital channels are spreading to construction, this brings the potential to transform interactions for buying and selling goods across the value chain, and even incorportating used ones that promote a circular approach such as Concular or Globechain.
In a nutshell, new breeds of players and entrants will disrupt current business models.
Construction is in the perfect storm, with key drivers like industrialisation, digitalisation and globalisation all hitting at once, creating a need for bold and fresh ideas to give the right answers. Due to the sector being highly regulated and really slow to transformation, rippling change through the construction industry is an ambitious challenge. The new field of technology that is opening up in this sector is fueled by start ups accelerating the development towards modern approaches that make use of technologies like digital twins, augmented and virtual reality, machine learning and BIM. Companies that familiarize themselves with the next normal and move quickly will be in the best position to create value and hold a competitive edge in the coming future.
The challenge itself is big and complex, but the size of the prize is enormous.