In the history of the construction industry, there are many projects that have become memorable for all the wrong reasons. From Boston to Shanghai, the world’s worst construction mistakes are concrete examples of what not to do. Read more
For those in the trade, building a construction company from the ground up is a worthwhile and profitable endeavor. But, a successful business doesn’t just materialize out of sawdust.
If you are planning to start your own company, this list of what to do and what not to do will help you build a strong foundation for your new business. Read more
Drones in Construction
Construction has always been regarded as a highly human activity — working with your hands and tools to make something out of nothing that often looks attractive to boot. Well, robots are poised to lighten our load, so to speak, with drones in construction experiments being deployed to test their abilities for erecting permanent structures.
While it may seem impossible, the early results are quite promising when looking at a few limited applications. For other applications, some industry experts predict that the limitations of drones may mean that construction practices will have to change, not the robots.
It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, it’s a Construction Worker!
The most immediately-deployable use for drones in construction right now comes from what could be considered their posterchild: the quadcopter drone. These instantly-recognizable propeller-driven devices are catching fire as the most commercially-viable form of drone technology at the moment. They are lightweight, relatively cheap to manufacture, highly maneuverable, respond equally well to preprogrammed algorithms and remote inputs, can be easily outfitted with equipment like cameras and, most importantly, they can fly.
Private firms are already selling drone flight survey services to visually inspect areas both from a bird’s eye distance and up close. Drones can navigate tight spaces effectively, such as mines and partially-completed structures, for survey purposes without having to endanger a human being. Software allows them to stream extremely-accurate data to map out areas with 3D modelling. Hi-resolution cameras also provide visual inspections of components like utility lines to look for anything out of the ordinary.
But can they build? Sort of. An early experiment from ETH Zurich’s Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control demonstrated that robots could be used to construct stable structures completely autonomously while responding to conditions in real time. Each unit successfully navigated the space while avoiding their partners to build a tower… out of polystyrene blocks.
Naturally, the small load-carrying capacity of these devices limits their usefulness for most typical building projects. Increasing their size only makes them pose a greater threat to human coworkers while eliminating the agility that makes them so appealing.
Researcher Ammar Mirjan suggests that these robots’ limitations will cause design of construction to shift and not the other way around. They already excel at building tensile structures and other complex geometric configurations from lightweight objects. “It is likely that the conditions of how things are designed and built will be altered and hence resulting in new forms of architectural materialization” he tells Gizmag. “History suggests that new tools and technologies often shift existing processes.”
I Am Bender. Please Insert Girder.
Aside from the small, fleet-winged quadcopter models, other heavy hitters are entering the scene. Larger-model drones in construction actually show a huge amount of promise in several niche applications.
For one, they are incredible stone masons. German Architecture firm Gramazio Kohler helped spawn the R-O-B project that gave birth to mobile fabrication units capable of laying bricks in complex geometric patterns that actually strengthen stability. They also look great! In one project, they constructed a wall for the Gantenbein Winery in Fläsch, Switzerland that resembles 3D grapes when viewed from afar.
Another area larger-sized robots display potential is in tearing things down. Demolition remains one of the most dangerous components of an already-dangerous industry, so having robots that can deconstruct areas without putting human lives in danger brings obvious benefits.
Husqvarna has their DXR140 demolition robot that is currently remote-controlled but is entering autonomous trials. Swedish firm Omer Haciomeroglu has an even more captivating design that uses high-powered water jets to effectively “erase” concrete from structures and expose the rebar to be re-used again. The ERO models even recycle water and turn the concrete into aggregate to be used again.
As you can see, drones in construction is less science fiction than a looming frontier that holds the power to transform the industry from the ground up — literally.
3D Printing in Construction
3D printing is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It enables the fast fabrication of nearly any product or part without the need to conduct extensive searches or pay a premium. As printers come down in price, more construction contractors are beginning to adopt this technology to good use. Here is a look at how 3D printing in construction stands to transform the industry.
Novelty No More
Not so long ago, 3D printing was a novelty, not just in the construction industry, but in general. This is no longer the case. The building and contracting industries are now adopting the new technology to produce specialized and niche parts, and to increase flexibility in design. The new technology is cost-effective and much faster than the old ways and products can be produced that are far more accurate and customized than ever before.
3D Printed Buildings
In China, the new technology is even being used to create entire buildings. While one company is using a custom material whose components are not being revealed, the buildings are exceptionally inexpensive to create (less than 10 percent of the cost of traditionally-constructed buildings), which results in astounding profit margins. 3D printers the size of basketball courts are used to create these structures, which the company claims cost a mere $5,000 USD to produce.
Even the common component for 3D printing in construction is inexpensive and sturdy, however. A company in Dubai is utilizing this technology with an “ink” that is comprised of green construction waste and cement to create walls that are sturdier than traditional concrete. The first 3D printed office is currently under construction in that city.
This new common composite ink carries a number of tangible benefits. It is able to support itself while it sets. This results in more flexibility in design and a reduction in traditional constraints regarding the need for specialized support structures. It allows, among other things, for hollow curved structures.
This means that less material is used and an exceptional savings in construction costs. Waste, too, is reduced by up to 60 percent. Labor costs for these structures are down by up to 80 percent and production time is reduced by up to 70 percent. These savings are astounding and in the end, while this means greater profits for contractors, it also means the savings will likely be passed on to buyers, resulting in greatly reduced housing costs.
Safety concerns are always an issue, but with reduced labor, time and waste, it stands to reason that safer construction sites could result. What this means for the contractors insurance industry remains to be seen, but it is a foregone conclusion that carrying proper insurance policies is still vital to mitigate risk and liability issues.
Self-Healing Concrete May Revolutionize Construction Industry
A new material developed by a microbiologist in the Netherlands could solve the problem of concrete stressing, cracks and collapse in the future. Henk Jonkers, professor at the Delft University of Technology, has been experimenting for several years with a concrete mixture that incorporates self-repairing capabilities.
This self-healing concrete is designed to maintain the structural properties of concrete years after it is poured, reducing costs of repair and maintenance throughout the world. Clearly, Jonker’s development has the potential to revolutionize the construction and contracting industries, if not civilization as we know it.
How Does the Self-Healing Concrete Work?
To engineer a self-healing concrete product, Jonkers turned to Mother Nature. “Nature is supplying us a lot of functionality for free,” he tells CNN. “In this case, limestone-producing bacteria.”
The bacteria Jonkers uses naturally produces limestone as a by-product of its digestion process. Two different strains, Bacillus pseudofirmus or Sporosarcina pasteurii, can be used. In conjunction with some sort of food source embedded within the concrete, the bacteria automatically stimulates digestion and reinserts limestone minerals at the source of cracks and water leaks. While substances like glucose sugar can be used to fuel this process, Jonkers chose calcium lactate because it helps reinforce the concrete mixture rather than weakening it.
Another challenge Jonkers and his team faced was sustaining the repair actions over extremely long periods of time. Similar solutions used algae, but that algae must be kept alive somehow with water, oxygen and a reliable food source. The bacterial strains Jonker uses instead can remain dormant in concrete for as long as 200 years, waiting to activate when cracks and pockets begin to affect the structure.
Best of all, this strategy means that the bacteria activates at just the right time. Each bacterial colony is contained in a capsule, along with the calcium lactate food source. The capsule is made from a biodegradable plastic material. As cracks in the concrete form over time, oxygen and water reaches the capsules and dissolves them. As a result, the bacteria becomes useful just as it is needed, creating fresh limestone deposits that seal up cracks and prevent structural wear.
The Amazing Potential of Self-Healing Concrete
Stress cracks and water intrusion are two of the biggest sources of architectural weakness in concrete structures. Even as the concrete is being poured and dries, tiny air pockets and stress cracks form. Over time, these cracks create uneven weight distribution to the point where collapse becomes possible.
The solution in the past was to lace concrete with internal rebar scaffolds, but even this practice has its limits. When water intrudes into the concrete, it can rust away the rebar and destroy the construction from the inside out.
This type of degradation calls for massive, expensive renovation projects. For underground or underwater structures that are affected the most, repair costs skyrocket astronomically.
Jonkers’ product can significantly cut costs and material use of renewal projects like these, reducing humanity’s carbon footprint in the process. As global demand for concrete increases at an alarming pace, solutions like these help businesses, governments and contractors save resources and prevent disasters.