- Advancements in manufacturing techniques have helped improve the construction industry.
- Prefabrication, 3D printing, and modular construction are helping speed up construction and lower material waste.
- These six examples demonstrate how the convergence of construction and manufacturing improves worker safety and construction-project sustainability.
The lines between manufacturing and construction continue to blur, disrupting everything from the materials used to the labor market, which hasn’t fully recovered from the 2008 economic downturn.
What’s the Difference Between Construction and Manufacturing?
Manufacturing and construction are similar industries in that both involve the creation of an object. Construction is focused on the process of making buildings, bridges, tunnels, and more. Manufacturing is more focused on creating goods, such as tables or smart phones.
As the construction industry nears the third decade of the 21st century, it has begun to transition toward 3D printing, prefabrication, modular construction, and other manufacturing techniques—not only to circumvent labor shortages but also to build faster, more cost-effectively, and with fewer materials than traditional methods.
Perhaps no company epitomizes the industry convergence of manufacturing and construction as clearly as Northern California’s ConXtech. Founded by husband-and-wife team Robert Simmons and Kelly Luttrell in 2002, ConXTech combines Autodesk Revit–assisted Building Information Modeling (BIM) and manufacturing processes to create standardized interlocking connectors for steel beams and columns that require no on-site welding. That means faster construction, less waste, and safer buildings—all without imposing limits on architectural creativity.
As Markforged’s Richard Elving sees it, the world stands ready to enter a new age: the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In that epoch, prefabrication, generative design, and virtual reality—as well as robotics, reality capture, and 3D printing—will transform the architecture, engineering, and construction industries, allowing for much faster and safer building construction, along with marked cost savings.
The October 2017 wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes in Northern California might prove to be the catalyst that spurs wider adoption of prefabricated houses. The combination of a tight labor market and the state’s strict building codes has caused long waiting times for residents eager to rebuild. Startups like Connect Homes and Acre Designs have stepped in to fill that need, manufacturing construction materials and offering homeowners an opportunity to build smart, efficient homes in a fraction of the time and with less labor.
Construction companies continue to adopt 3D-printed concrete, but buckling and collapsing walls remain a problem. However, Professor Akke Suiker at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands has developed mathematical equations that engineers can use to set parameters for 3D printing stable walls. By factoring drying times, material composition, and wall dimensions, Suiker’s equations could help construction companies 3D print homes with less material and better outcomes.
According to sources in the region, Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030”—an ambitious plan to diversify its economy, modernize its infrastructure, and improve government services—must turn to technologies such as 3D printing, augmented reality, and virtual reality to be successful. Although companies in the Middle East have embraced BIM, they need to adopt new construction and manufacturing techniques to maintain growth.
While steel, concrete, wood, and masonry have served the construction industry well—and will continue to do so—forward-thinking company Advantic understands that, in some cases, standard materials won’t do. The company’s light and less-labor-intensive composite materials can overcome corrosion problems and support more complicated building designs.
This article has been updated. It was originally published in September 2018.