If you’re just starting a new construction project or reading this article, you’ll probably be using concrete at some point soon. Thankfully, concrete construction has come a long way from pouring cement into wooden forms: From self-healing formulations to entirely 3D-printed constructions, you may be surprised to discover just how far concrete has come!
While there’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple, your project may benefit from adopting one of the following methods and techniques. Not only are many of these methods extremely cost- and time-effective, but they’re also surprisingly easy to implement—so much so that they might be substantially easier and less expensive to use for your project than traditional concrete construction methods.
As you’ll see shortly, some of these cutting-edge techniques don’t even involve concrete directly; in some cases, the improvements are all in the design process. Read on to find out more!
1. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality has not only become beneficial for concrete construction, but it’s also now widely used throughout the construction industry as a whole. With augmented reality, prototyping and planning have become leaner, less expensive, and more flexible than ever before.
What exactly is augmented reality, and how can it benefit you and your project—let alone one specifically involving concrete?
Augmented reality is similar to virtual reality, but instead it “augments” your field of vision with virtual structures—namely, your construction project. This process is usually performed using a smartphone or some other “smart device,” where software simulates how your structure will look by placing it into your camera view. This way, you can “view” your project through your camera lens without any need for physical prototyping.
While augmented reality may seem fairly high tech, there’s a good chance you’ve done most of the work already: If you’ve been planning your project “on paper,” you’ve likely used computer-assisted design (CAD) software to do so. With many augmented reality programs working in tandem with most major CAD software distributions, you can automatically convert your existing project plans into an immersive, or at least semi-immersive, augmented reality experience using a smart device.
2. 3D Printing and Modeling
As with augmented reality, 3D printing and modeling allow you to convert your designs into tangible prototypes—and, in some cases, build your entire structure or modular components directly using concrete 3D printing.
While building-scale 3D printing is still in development, conventional 3D printing can still help you design, prototype, and build many components of your project. In its most accessible form, resin-based 3D printing can be used to print scaled-down prototypes of your designs, which may grant a helpful perspective beyond simply imagining the design or viewing it through software.
Now, if you have access to concrete 3D printing technology, then certainly take advantage of it: Construction companies have achieved overwhelmingly positive results by simply 3D printing their concrete structures rather than dealing with form molds, setting times, and other drawbacks usually associated with conventional concrete construction.
Plus, with many concrete 3D-printed structures showing similar—if not superior—performance to factory-formed structures, 3D printing is set to become more commonplace in construction soon.
3. Pre-Cast Foundations
We know what you might be thinking and, unfortunately, it’s not quite practical to form a concrete foundation in a factory and then transport it somewhere—at least, not all at once that is.
Here, a “pre-cast” foundation is built using some number of pre-cast modules. These modules can range in size from cinderblocks to larger, modular components. The latter has now become a favored concrete construction method. In any case, using modular components to build your foundation offers far greater flexibility than traditional poured-concrete construction methods.
The benefits aren’t just limited to flexibility in design: By using the right techniques and materials, precast foundations are far less prone to structural errors and easier to repair or insulate. Of course, assembling pre-cast modules is somewhat more involved than simply pouring the foundation—but at least you won’t have to deal with building forms and pouring messy cement!
4. Pre-Cast Flat-Panel Modules
Foundations aren’t the only major structures that can benefit from pre-cast modules: Floors, walls, and other large sections can, too. With many of these components now made in controlled factory settings, it’s now possible to achieve the flexibility of modular construction with the strength of concrete—all without the mess of pouring concrete at the job site.
Also known as “cross-wall construction,” using pre-cast flat-panel modules is quickly becoming a popular construction choice for concrete buildings. Manufacturing panels in a controlled setting not only lends new flexibility to concrete construction but makes it much easier for construction teams to adhere to specifications while significantly shortening project times.
5. 3D Volumetric Construction
3D volumetric construction combines the speed and flexibility of modular construction with the design capabilities of 3D printing and other forms of additive manufacturing. The result is completely pre-fabricated, 3D concrete modules, such as individual units in a concrete apartment building. Where pre-cast foundations and flat-panel modules still require major assembly at the job site, 3D volumetric construction reduces major onsite assembly to—quite literally—stacking blocks together.
Of course, like pre-cast foundations and flat panels, 3D volumetric construction requires off-site facilities for producing the modules. While utilizing such facilities may come with additional overhead, the increased flexibility, control over design, and adherence to specifications are often worth any additional investment.
6. Self-Healing Concrete
Self-healing concrete is finally starting to take shape in the construction world. While concrete has been around since ancient Rome, even the most modern formulations are still prone to cracking and degrading over time. As a result, regular concrete repair remains a crucial part of concrete maintenance—but maybe not for much longer!
By mixing beneficial colonies of bacteria directly into the concrete, self-healing concrete becomes capable of automatically filling cracks, gaps, and other damage as they form. While this technology is still relatively new, it’s already delivering promising results and could potentially reduce—if not eliminate—many routine concrete repair tasks in the near future.
7. Raised-Access Flooring
Concrete has also become a preferred material for raised-access flooring, where concrete panels are suspended above the ground using specially-made hardware. With this extra space, it’s possible to run HVAC, electrical wiring, and other utilities below the floor—or, in other words, completely out of sight. Plus, with concrete as the primary material, raised-access flooring is both durable and inexpensive.
In addition to providing extra space for utilities, raised-access flooring can also help improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the utilities themselves. For example, raised-access flooring allows underfloor air distribution, an efficient and low-energy alternative to many conventional HVAC systems.
8. Insulating Concrete Formwork (ICF)
Insulating concrete formwork (ICF) uses hollow polystyrene “bricks” to rapidly construct forms for foundations, walls, and other concrete structures. After stacking, the bricks are filled with pre-mixed concrete, resulting in a thick wall with an insulative exterior.
Speed and flexibility are the primary benefits of using ICF in a construction project. Since the polystyrene forms are small and lightweight, they’re quick and easy to stack into almost any arrangement with only a few people. In most cases, a small team of builders can assemble and pour entire foundations or exterior walls in a single day!
While concrete already has good insulative properties, the extra insulation provided by the polystyrene forms makes for a “one-step” construction solution. Since the form itself becomes part of the structure, rather than being removed after setting, construction teams no longer have to spend valuable time building and setting up temporary forms. Plus, drywall and exterior siding can be directly affixed to the polystyrene.
9. Thin-Joint Masonry
A modern approach to traditional masonry techniques, thin-joint masonry utilizes small, thin layers of mortar to secure concrete blocks and bricks. Where traditional methods of mortaring would use thick layers, setting times could quickly become an issue—especially where large amounts were required. With thin-joint masonry, setting times are massively reduced, with the side effect of cost- and time-savings from using less mortar.
The results of thin-joint masonry also lend to a more modern aesthetic, where blocks or bricks will have only a fine seam between them.
10. Kinetic Footfall Energy Capture
While it’s still an emerging technology, kinetic footfall energy capture is already showing promise as a viable form of alternative energy for buildings with high foot traffic. By embedding kinetic sensors into concrete floors, kinetic footfall energy captures and stores the energy from footsteps. This captured energy, combined with that from other passive energy sources, can help supplement the building’s energy needs.
Finding the Right Construction Team
No matter the type of concrete construction you use, hiring the right construction team is one of the best ways to guarantee great results. For more information on our concrete construction services, call our team at 713-254-1703.