Disruption is a word that is overused in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere in the tech world. The idea is that sometimes a new player comes along with an approach to doing things in such a radically different way that it disrupts the entire industry.

With advancements such as building information modeling (BIM), virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR), semi-private cloud-sharing of information, drone photography, the Internet of Things (IoT), prefabrication and/or modular construction, 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and so on and so forth… — the construction industry of the next couple decades will look absolutely nothing like the previous couple decades.

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Financial Times’ Matthew Klein has proposed an interesting alternative theory about the skilled labor shortage in the US that has impacted all sectors of the construction industry, but especially the residential market.

He posits that by looking at homebuilding data in Japan, the implication is that the US isn’t facing a labor shortage so much as it is dealing with sub-par productivity. Despite the fact that Japan’s population is less than 40% of US population, only 14% more homes have been built in the US since 1992.

Surely an aging society without a reservoir of cheap (and often illegal) immigrant labour would have fewer builders as a share of the labour force than a relatively youthful and foreigner-friendly country such as the US. Unsurprisingly, there has been a glut of articles over the past few years warning of “labour shortages” due to the combination of aging and falling immigration rates, with the implication that this has been restraining construction and inflating house prices.

Reality is the other way around. Despite radically different demographics and essentially no immigration, Japan has consistently employed a much larger share of its workers in the construction industry than the US, although the share has dropped over time. Even at the peak of America’s housing bubble, only about 5.5 per cent of workers were employed in construction. In Japan last year, more than 7 per cent of employees worked in construction — and that’s a lot lower than in the early 2000s…

Another way of putting all of this is that America built about the same number of housing units in 2016 as in 1992, but somehow required about 46 per cent more people to do it. Japan built 31 per cent fewer houses in 2016 than in 1992, but its construction workforce had fallen by 19 per cent. Productivity deteriorated in both countries, but productivity fell much further in America than in Japan.

Inhabitat’s Kristine Lofgren reports that the order form and website for Tesla’s new solar roofing system is now live. In a previous article, Inhabitat had the following to say:

The seamless look of the new technology is thanks to “integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware” according to Tesla’s website. Electrek said these features come from Zep Solar, a mounting equipment company SolarCity acquired before Tesla’s acquisition. Zep Solar engineers designed the rail-less system Solar City employed to slash solar installation times in half.

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Earlier this week, I shared an article that touted all the amazing benefits to be gained from prefabricating some assemblies offsite. So how long will it be before the entire construction industry shifts to a paradigm in which building consists primarily of assembling prefabricated components?

FMI, a management consulting firm that specializes in nonresidential construction, recently conducted a survey of 200 firms on their knowledge, use and strategy for implementing Building Information Modeling (BIM) and prefabrication. ENR’s Jim Parsons shares some insight from one of the study’s authors:

Right now, it is hardly surprising that contractors’ opinions and results are mixed, Hoover says. “We’re in a messy transition of baby boomers who want to hold on to old ways and new people coming in,” she says. “The better companies are luring younger workers who can deal with technology and understand change, and they’re the ones who will make prefabrication happen.”

Indeed, Hoover says prefabrication’s growth in construction may well be inevitable as its advantages continue to overshadow current work practices. “If you’re not willing to do things that will reduce schedule by 50%, reduce risk and improve safety, you’ll be out of it,” she adds.

Ultimately, what may attract more GCs and specialty contractors to understanding, adopting and improving their prefab mind-set is the same trend that affects other aspects of the industry—labor.

In other words, the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality is still a major driver of key construction strategic decisions.

Marriott is going modular in a major way. By prefabricating portions of hotels off-site in controlled environments, and then assembling the modular components, the hotel chain sees numerous advantages. With one prefab modular hotel already operational, the company is now planning to pursue the process on up to 50 more.

Clayton Moore, of Digital Tends, has more:

“As construction costs are at a peak, it’s a real challenge to find good, qualified subcontractors based on the general building boom that is happening throughout the United States,” explained Jacobs. “We ‘re on pace to approve another 400 to 450 hotels this year and we think we can influence ten percent of those projects with modular construction. If we can cut four to six months off of a typical development timeline of 12 to 14 months, that’s a significant savings for our owners.”

Jacobs explained that the package that arrives at a build site contains two fully finished rooms and a finished hallway, as well as all the accouterments one ordinarily finds in a hotel room. Subcontractors on site then finish the electrical and plumbing connections.

“From a staging perspective, our waste goes from four to six percent down to two or three percent,” Jacobs said. “The big takeaway from this process is that we can completely control the quality of the product. Much like the industrial assembly lines used in other sectors, we can identify quality issues right as the rooms come off the assembly line, and find solutions before they ever get shipped to the site. It’s a pretty impactful way to produce a furnished building at the end of the day.”

Here’s a time-lapse video of the construction — perhaps “assembly” is a more accurate term — of the Pullman Courtyard Marriott:

Business Insider’s Danielle Muoio on Friday provided the following update regarding Tesla’s ambitious and potentially disruptive photovoltaic glass roof tiles:

CEO Elon Musk tweeted in March that the company would begin taking orders for its four solar roof shingle options this month. But during a TED Talk Friday, Musk said that two of the tile options won’t be available for purchase until early 2018.
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Researchers at MIT have confirmed that the future of the A/E/C industry is now in fact here.

In the proof-of-concept, a vehicle of sorts, moving along a track, carries a robotic arm that utilizes a precision-controlled nozzle to place a variety of materials including spray foam insulation and concrete. ScienceDaily reports:

Structures built with this system could be produced faster and less expensively than traditional construction methods allow, the researchers say. A building could also be completely customized to the needs of a particular site and the desires of its maker. Even the internal structure could be modified in new ways; different materials could be incorporated as the process goes along, and material density could be varied to provide optimum combinations of strength, insulation, or other properties.

Ultimately, the researchers say, this approach could enable the design and construction of new kinds of buildings that would not be feasible with traditional building methods.

The robotic system is described this week in the journal Science Robotics, in a paper by Steven Keating PhD ’16, a mechanical engineering graduate and former research affiliate in the Mediated Matter group at the MIT Media Lab; Julian Leland and Levi Cai, both research assistants in the Mediated Matter group; and Neri Oxman, group director and associate professor of media arts and sciences.

And this is what that future might look like:

Internet of Things, or IoT, is the concept in which everyday objects such as lightbulbs, thermostats, garage door openers, etc. are imbued with network connectivity and the capability for communicating with other devices. But just as is the case with our computers and other networked devices, security is an increasingly critical factor.

This was made abundantly clear when the BrickerBot malware hit the scene. Catalin Cimpanu, of BleepingComputer.com reports:

If you’re unfamiliar, BrickerBot is a new malware family that was first identified at the start of the month by Radware researchers. The malware made headlines because it was the first threat of its kind that intentionally bricked IoT and networking devices, by rewriting the flash storage space of affected devices with random data.

After BleepingComputer.com successfully made contact with the developer behind the hacks, this is what he had to say:

The IoT security mess is a result of companies with insufficient security knowledge developing powerful Internet-connected devices for users with no security knowledge. Most of the consumer-oriented IoT devices that I’ve found on the net appear to have been deployed almost exactly as they left the factory.

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I hope that regulatory bodies will do more to penalize careless manufacturers since market forces can’t fix this problem. The reality of the market is that technically unskilled consumers will get the cheapest whitelabel DVR they can find at their local store, then they’ll ask their nephew to plug it into the Internet, and a few minutes later it’ll be full of malware. At least with ‘BrickerBot’ there was some brief hope that such dangerous devices could become the merchant’s and manufacturer’s problem rather than our problem.