This time of year everyone wants to give you their predictions for the coming year, hoping you won’t remember a year from now if they were wrong but intending to remind you if they were right. So here are my top seven trends in the concrete construction industry for 2018. If I’m wrong, I’ll let you know a year from now. And if I'm right? I'm always right, just ask my wife (not).
1. Automation (including 3D concrete printing and autonomously operating equipment): This one probably won’t make huge leaps in 2018, but it’s coming very soon. If you ever get a chance, tour an automotive assembly plant and watch what robots can do. And because you don’t have to worry about them getting sick or injured or jumping over to your competitor, they are a solution to Trend #2.
2. Workforce: Finding the right people will continue to be a challenge. No surprise there, but I think that as labor shortages become more severe, wages are going to rise and that will attract more workers to construction. The other factor that will drive wages up is the increase in the average skill level needed for concrete workers. We are moving toward a leaner but more highly trained workforce.
3. Off-Site Solutions: What the British call hybrid construction—a combination of precast and cast-in-place concrete that takes advantage of the strengths of each—is going to increase. We'll see other prefabricated building components as well. This also relates to Trend #2 because it helps reduce the number of workers needed in the field.
4. Information: Concrete contractors are moving from using technology solutions for specific tasks to having real-time and accurate information at their fingertips on mobile devices. Construction productivity is on the brink of a huge leap due to integrated and intuitive software that doesn’t just give you a bunch of numbers but rather provides easy-to-understand information that enables you to make good decisions. The totally connected jobsite is now a reality.
5. Teamwork/Productivity: The process of building efficiently is what produces the profit. Those concrete contractors who learn how to work well with the GC, the other subs, suppliers, and owners will end up with higher margins and those who don’t will end up by the side of the road. Lean construction methods that push continuous improvement across the project team are a part of this.
6. Timber Construction: Build With Strength is fighting this battle for the concrete industry, but wood will continue to make gains in some types of construction. People like wood. The concrete industry should focus on its strengths, which are many.
7. Resilient Construction: In the wake of all the natural disasters in the U.S. during 2017, owners are looking for structures that will survive hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes. Concrete is well equipped to answer the call, for residential and nonresidential buildings and for infrastructure. One imperative is that concrete infrastructure needs to be designed and built to resist corrosion—we know how! Let's build concrete structures that will still be here long after we are gone. To learn more about designing and building resilient infrastructure, plan to attend the Infrastructure Imperative Conference in Cleveland, Nov. 13 to 15, 2018.