What does the future hold for Australia’s construction industry?

19 Dec 2017

The development of new construction technology is opening the door to a completely different industry paradigm. With digitisation on the horizon, the construction industry is on the verge of widespread adoption of a range of new technologies, according to a new report.

Kate Nelson

Head of Business Technology & Innovation, Building

In collaboration with Lendlease, Aconex, Ernst & Young and the Victorian Government, startup advocacy body, StartupAUS, has produced Digital Foundations: How Technology is Transforming Australia’s Construction Sector. The report looks at the changing face of ConstructionTech*, including how Building Information Modelling (BIM), machine learning, artificial intelligence, smart buildings, drones, 3D printing and robotics will continue to drive innovation in the industry.

Digital Foundations sheds light on a rapidly growing area of innovation, with more than $98 million invested in Australian construction technology startups since 2016. The construction sector is the largest non services sector in the Australian economy – contributing $134.2 billion to the economy (8.1 per cent of GDP) in 2015-16 and employing 1.1 million people. Successful digital solutions could provide an increase of $25 billion year on year within the decade.

According to the report, innovative ConstructionTech startups are not looking to disrupt tier one construction firms, rather are looking to provide digital solutions and technological additions that help improve existing businesses and overcome some of the challenges in the sector.

In 2017 Slingshot, a specialist in bringing corporate sponsors together with relevant start-ups, created CoVentured. The online platform enables businesses to collaborate with start-ups and deliver innovative solutions. Lendlease has joined CoVentured in a bid to develop innovative solutions for customers through diverse partnerships with startups.

Research conducted for the report found new construction focused equipment, such as robotics, prefabrication, 3D printing and drones, are likely to become more commonplace. Widespread take-up of autonomous trucks and wearables, such as smart watches and virtual reality technology, is expected in the construction sector over the next five to 10 years.

It was also found materials used in the build phase of construction projects, such as concrete, will be transformed through innovation. Research facilities in the United States are exploring adding carbon fibres to concrete mixture, enabling the concrete to conduct electricity.

Improving safety, improved quality, shortening completion time and achieving cost reduction, are amongst the benefits of transitioning to digital, according to the paper. Drones are being used, for example, to survey dangerous areas and sites with limited access.

In 2017 Lendlease was recognised as one of Australia’s most innovative companies, coming in at number 14 in the list compiled annually by The Australian Financial Review. The company has a vested interest in supporting the emergence of new technologies that will help us live out our vision of creating the best places and continue to push the boundaries of our building and development projects internationally.

But Lendlease also has a responsibility – to challenge and change the industry for the better. This can be achieved through disruptive thinking and increasingly, the availability and adoption of digital solutions, such as the use of BIM at the Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital project, currently under construction in Melbourne’s west. The team has utilised digital solutions such as BIM to add value to the delivery of this important healthcare facility.

Innovative tools have also been implemented at Lendlease’s Darling Exchange project in Sydney, where 3D modelling and prototyping has brought the project’s structurally complex and architecturally striking façade to life.

According to the report, ConstructionTech boasts considerable potential in Australia due to the size of the sector nationally and overseas, coupled with research and early development technology. This presents us with an opportunity to be an international leader in the implementation and export of digital construction solutions.

But in order to do so, the report makes clear: startups in the sector will need to continue to mature and professionalise, and connections between stakeholders will need to strengthen and multiply. To support new innovations coming through, and standardise approaches to technology, the sector will need to work together. 

*ConstructionTech consists of the digital solutions offered in the planning, design and building phase of construction projects.