Looking Ahead | 9 min read

7 Innovative Building Products Poised to Disrupt the AEC Industry

Posted By
Emily Buchan

Industry is driven by innovation. While the building materials and construction industries were required to innovate quickly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these innovations were already taking root and ultimately inevitable. We’re always looking for better, stronger, and more efficient ways to build. So what’s next?

Building materials manufacturers are facing a range of challenges, from supply chain disruptions to new manufacturing methods. Which ones will help and which ones will hurt your business? Here's a look at some top industry trends and new building materials we can expect to see in the next few years, providing you with solid insight into where construction innovation is taking the building materials industry.

Trends to Watch in the Construction Industry

Growth in Residential Construction

One of the top construction industry trends to note is the fast, high growth of residential construction. Residential construction saw a 4% gain from 2017, even as the rest of the industry struggled through the pandemic. As our planet's population continues growing dramatically, the demand for better housing on a global scale will have an even higher impact on the building materials market. While builders' confidence is starting to tremor, there are key innovations making strides that will impact the industry largely over the next couple of years.

Demand for Sustainable & Environmentally-Friendly Building Materials

With increased public consciousness for our environment, the demand for building materials that are produced sustainably, use green technologies, or that will be gentler on our planet is rising dramatically.

LEED construction credits, once the purview of super-green companies, are becoming more common every day, as companies and homeowners realize the many benefits of having a LEED-certified structure. In fact, over 150,000 residential units have qualified for LEED certification, 43% of which are considered affordable housing.

7 Products Poised to Disrupt the Building Materials Market

1. Product-Based Modular Buildings

Compared to site-built structures, modular buildings are becoming more popular because of the potential savings they offer to both owner and builder. Because the build process has been perfected, they take a significantly shorter time to build, while the ability to buy materials in bulk reduces the material cost of the structure. As our society moves forward, we can expect to see a strong move towards modular construction over site-built structures for a wide range of purposes.

This type of building process can improve efficiency and cut down on project timelines. While industry standards are likely to result with modular building, customization and creativity won’t dip. Collaboration between designers and manufacturers will still be needed to address unique circumstances and improve the process over time. Being able to provide customized solutions will help building materials manufacturers stay in the game.

2. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) Products

As a recycled polymer, PET is seeing more and more use on a regular basis in concrete and pavement. Though it's incorporated as an aggregate, PET actually acts as a structural compound within the concrete while reducing its weight and lowering structural support requirements for concrete pours. PET also has a great deal of promise in the form of foam core products, such as structural panels that have shear and compressive strength.

With a global market valued at $25.25 billion in 2018 and a compound AGR of 5.6%, PET plastics can be recycled three to four times before chemical changes start to take place, making them a prime option as building materials, especially for short-term projects such as emergency housing or disaster relief situations. At a minimum, smart manufacturers may want to look into using this plastic for future production to capitalize on its sustainability compared to other common options.

3. Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT)

Cross-laminated timber, or CLT, uses layers of wood in alternating directions to produce a new engineered wood product that is glued together and capable of great strength and resiliency. CLT has superior acoustic, seismic, thermal, and fire performance while repurposing more waste material than other materials currently on the market. This allows builders and contractors to use it as a green material while realizing financial gains.

Because of the inherent strength and light weight of these panels, CLT panels deliver a wide range of new design options. Consider the use of CLT in the Brentwood library, with its expansive roofing across wider spans using CLT panels that combine steel with the more organic feel of wood, to create a modern elevation without compromising structural integrity.

4. Wool Bricks

Traditional clay bricks have a long history of producing solid buildings with plenty of retained value. But those bricks also require a lot of energy to fire into the finished product without delivering much insulation to the structure. Wool bricks incorporate natural wool fiber into the brick, creating a brick that is not only more ecologically friendly and lighter in weight, but also reinforcement, making the bricks stronger than traditional bricks.

Because their production takes much less energy to produce, this can be a great option for manufacturers to consider, especially in areas where factory emissions are under strong scrutiny from government agencies. It also provides a great option for LEED construction.

5. Self-Healing Concrete

If there's one thing that can be guaranteed, it's that concrete will crack. If it didn't, we wouldn't put joints into concrete pours to create engineered places for those cracks to take place. However, when concrete cracks, it also allows moisture into the crack, which can freeze and expand, widening the crack.

A new material, self-healing concrete, also known as bio-concrete, has dormant bacteria that activates when cracks form, exposing the bacteria to compounds in the atmosphere to seal the cracks a short time after they occur, preventing a lot of annual maintenance and expensive repairs. This allows the concrete to last much longer, too, providing better value over time for property owners, which is partially responsible for the projected 37% compound annual growth rate expected for the product.

6. 3D Printed Modules & Components

From simple components when a supply chain runs short to 3D printed modules—or even entire structures—3D printing or additive manufacturing is here to stay. Delivering plenty of opportunities for innovative designs, 3D printing opens the door for unique architectural styles and building materials.

3D printed structures can also provide emergency housing after a disaster, cost-effective housing for low-income families, or potentially even be how we build structures on the Moon. It can also be used to improve appearance and energy efficiency as in a recent Tennessee credit union project.

7. Robots & AI Adoption

In addition to these amazing materials, changes in how we get the job done are also showing up through construction innovation. Around half of all construction jobs can be automated, which is among the construction industry trends we can expect to see happening over the next five years.

Shifts in import and export regulations will cause us to shift to where manufacturing operations are the most affordable. However, another aspect that comes into consideration is how this technology will shift production costs. How long will you be able to run a robot versus a human crew? How quickly and accurately can they work?

Generate Demand for Your Innovative Products

With new materials and trends at the door for building materials and construction industries, agility and efficiency are necessary to keep up. Digital platforms give manufacturers the ability to communicate more effectively with their distributors, contractors, and other partners, which gives them more insight into the needs of the market where those partners are.

A strong online presence also allows manufacturers to find new partners and consumers to break into existing markets. Understanding how to partner with these companies to keep your manufacturing firm competitive well into the future as well as which trends to follow can make a big difference in your overall success.