If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the future is unpredictable. And while we can never be certain what the future holds, we can learn from past experiences and current trends to build our business strategies and prepare for whatever 2021 has in store.
As an innovator in concrete technology, CarbonCure is tracking the following trends as we enter the New Year.
1. Demand Shifts from Non-Residential to Residential and Tech Industry Construction
Overall, global construction output is projected to grow by 4.1% in 2021. Countries like China, the U.S., and Germany are driving much of this growth, while places like the Middle East are facing a downturn due to pandemic impacts on oil consumption.
The projects fueling growth in 2021 are not the usual ones. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) expects spending on non-residential buildings to decline in 2021 due to the decrease in demand for office and retail space, and increased government debt causing a delay in public sector projects.
The news is not all bad though. According to a report from Dodge Data and Analytics, residential projects are up 22.6% due to low interest rates and demand from people looking to move to individual apartments or away from urban centers, reversing a decades-long trend.
The technology sector also presents a massive area of growth for construction, particularly for concrete producers. As the world continues to embrace digital in all areas of life, tech companies are building data centers, fulfillment centers, and technology campuses to keep up with their seemingly endless growth trajectory. Interestingly, these technology clients are prioritizing sustainable building materials and present great opportunities for suppliers and producers who can meet their demand.
2. Digital Transformation Accelerates
In an effort to support remote work, make job sites safer, account for lost time during shutdowns, and improve processes, companies have invested in new technologies. In effect, the pandemic forced the acceleration of many digital initiatives that were already on construction and concrete businesses’ roadmaps.
We expect this trend to continue in 2021. Some of the most cutting-edge technologies to hit the construction industries include:
- Drones can be used to quickly and efficiently capture high-resolution site photos to discover safety issues, estimate quantities of materials on site, and make orthomosaic maps make even the largest job site visible.
- Virtual reality can show clients what new additions would look like before construction professionals start working on them.
- 3D printing is making the manufacture of custom pieces affordable and can enable a cutting-edge way to lay concrete in vertical piles according to a programmed design. This method is already in commercial use and is expected to grow rapidly.
On the more practical side, concrete companies are implementing everything from slump management technology and dispatch and quality software, to new mix designs with SCMs and mineralization technology to improve performance, drive efficiency, and decrease costs.
3. Safety More in Focus than Ever
Safety has always been a priority on job sites but, since the beginning of the pandemic, it has become a key focus as sites rallied to implement cleanliness protocols and social distancing.
Cleanliness protocols in construction extend beyond masks and hand sanitizer to prohibit the sharing of tools, gloves, and other construction-related PPE like protective glasses, hats, and boots. However, social distancing can be difficult to achieve on a job site, where cooperation and teamwork are required to get the job done.
Until inoculation is widespread, 2021 will see a continued trend of smaller teams, staggered shifts, and longer project timelines to keep sites less crowded.
4. Supply Chain Disruption Persists
The construction industry is reliant on a global supply chain for access to materials, workers, and other goods. The pandemic-related disruption to supply chains forced companies across the industry to find alternative suppliers or pay higher prices for materials.
For example, fly ash—a by-product of coal-fired power plants—is a leading supplementary cementitious material (SCM) used in concrete mix design to replace expensive and carbon-intensive cement. Due to the pandemic and the fact that coal-fired power plants are declining, the gap between demand and supply of concrete-grade fly ash is about 25% in the U.S. However, according to LafargeHolcim, availability is actually a regional issue and the gap between demand and supply is actually much greater in some areas.
There’s no indication that this will improve in the near term. As such, producers are turning to new innovations like other SCMs or carbon mineralization to help fill the void.
5. Sustainability is a Key Differentiator
Sustainability specifications are being requested more frequently by construction clients, especially if the clients are hoping to receive green designations like LEED or special tax credits.
The sustainability trend will gain traction in 2021 as more governments introduce policies for low-carbon construction and as governments, industries, and individuals demand more climate-friendly solutions in all aspects of life.
As a result, sustainable building materials can be a key differentiator for construction companies and producers alike. Concrete is a particular area of focus in sustainability initiatives. That’s because traditional concrete produces more CO2 than the aviation industry. Cement, the key ingredient that gives concrete its strength, has a large environmental footprint.
Producers that are not thinking about developing sustainable concrete mixes will miss out on this business opportunity and lose significant market share to competitors as more industry associations and government bodies set standards for carbon-reducing building practices.
Key Takeaway for Concrete Producers
The world has changed in the past 12 months. And while 2021 has a more positive outlook than 2020, the construction industry faces many new challenges.
The companies that will succeed will be the ones that embrace new trends, innovate, and meet the demands of a changing industry.