Embedded: Tech of the Future

The embedded technology market is looking very promising and that bodes very well for the construction industry. The global market for embedded technology is expected to grow to $221 billion by 2021—and that could have a significant impact on how the construction industry builds roads, bridges and buildings in the future.

Embedded technology can reach far and wide. It simply refers to a system that has a dedicated function, and includes both the hardware and software components needed to perform the action.

A report from BCC Research analyzes the global market trends, with data from 2015 and projections through 2021. It shows the global market for embedded technology was valued at $158 billion in 2015.

Further, the market will reach $169 billion in 2016, rising to that $221 billion number in 2021, which represents a compound annual growth rate of 5.5 percent from 2016 until 2021.

The research firm indicates the IoT (Internet of Things) has emerged and will connect every device, enabling them to speak to each other, which will drive the volume of low-cost embedded devices.

What does all this emerging technology mean for the construction industry? New systems will impact how projects are delivered, as embedded technology can help with mission-critical maintenance.

Opportunities for Construction

Brendan Dowdall, founder and CEO, Concrete Sensors, a provider of sensors that give realtime updates on the drying and curing of concrete and allow for faster and more precise decisions to be made, says there are many opportunities to use sensors and embedded technology in construction.

“On any project, our goal is to help contractors save time and money by providing realtime updates on their concrete,” he explains. “We seek to provide actionable data that is simply easy to use. For example, we can help contractors remove forms faster, tighten bolts on post-tension slabs sooner, reduce winter conditions costs, avoid moisture mitigation costs, and minimize disputes.”

The construction industry can use the embedded systems to make more intelligent decisions on the jobsite as the buildings are being erected.

However, contractors can also play a critical role in building structures that have embedded technology built into them—that will ultimately improve mission-critical maintenance of the structure.

When looking at smart cities and infrastructure, Dowdall says that there are three primary targets for improvement: material, labor and equipment.

“There is so much low-hanging fruit to improve the management and efficiency of cities and infrastructure,” he explains. “For example, more state transportation departments are simply trying to find new ways to use sensors to develop an inventory of their assets.”

Also, the types of embedded technologies used can depend on the type of construction project being performed. For instance, in a building, one of the largest maintenance costs is mechanical systems, while in transportation, maintenance costs are spent on repairing roadways.

“What if sensors could alert you to a problem before it arose?” he asks. “A $5 fix today could save you from a $100 fix tomorrow.”

This is a trend that is beginning to get some legs, as many reports are showing significant growth and opportunities for smart cities. For instance, a report from MarketsandMarkets shows the smart cities market will be worth roughly $757.74 billion by 2020, which is a compound annual growth rate of 19.4 percent between 2015 and 2020.

The building segment is expected to grow with the highest compound annual growth rate, with various disciplines such as building automation, energy optimization, parking management and more being widely adopted.

Among the regions, Europe is expected to be the highest contributor, but Asia-Pacific is expected to grow with the highest compound annual growth rate. Other regions that will see growth include North America, Latin America and the Middle East.

Addressing Cost and Culture

While the smart city concept is beginning to gain momentum, there are some challenges associated with constructing roads, buildings and bridges with embedded technologies.

Dowdall sees two primary “anxieties” from contractors that are trying to implement technology: cost and culture.

“Anxieties surrounding cost are natural,” he explains. “Contractors don’t want to be the sole investor in technology and want that cost to be shared with the owner. Recently, I’ve advocated for a new line item on project budgets for technology.”

He suggests that this would allow project teams to implement technology and measure its ROI (return on investment) in a transparent way.

However, looking beyond cost, there are also cultural anxieties that could perhaps become even more challenging to overcome. He suggest this is the general attitude of, ‘I’ve been doing it this way for 20-plus years and I’m not changing now.’

He continues, explaining, “Buildings are not falling down so in some ways they are right. I think everyone can agree that construction can be painfully inefficient at times and inefficiencies equate to lost time and money. What if a technology solution could ease that pain?”

And so this is where the construction industry is currently when it comes to embedding technology in infrastructure and buildings in order to help with mission-critical maintenance.

Perhaps one of the better questions to ask is: Who will drive the use of all this smart technology in the city? Will it be the contractor, the owner or possibly even the government? The technology needs a champion if it is going to move forward.

Dowdall suggests that while other industries are beginning to operate in data-rich environments, the construction industry is slow to change for many reasons.

“Historically, technology to a contractor meant deciding what project-management system or accounting system they were going to invest in,” he explains. “Today, I see a wave of new technology that will improve the operation of projects. These technologies will help contractors move faster and save money.”

In the end, those construction companies that recognize this trend toward smart, more intelligent cities and infrastructure—and move toward implementing the technologies—will have a competitive advantage over those who are slow to adopt.

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