The search for engineering efficiency can go beyond designing greener equipment in more environmentally friendly manufacturing plants. There are plenty of improvements that can be made on the jobsite when working with off-highway equipment in the construction and related industries. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) recently announced some green trends in this area, courtesy of Todd Imming of The Korte Co.
1. The art of prefabrication. Building things elsewhere prior to their installation on a project site isn’t necessarily new, but it’s come a long way and is gaining in popularity as pressure ratchets up on project budgets and timelines. This is happening most on structures designed to contain repetitive elements. Think hospitals, hotels, jails, nursing homes—anything institutional. The technique has a few big advantages:
- Building elements in a factory before on-site assembly keeps more of the job out of the elements that could potentially delay construction.
- With external conditions well controlled, fewer workers are needed to build prefabricated parts compared to what would be needed on site.
- It’s safer to build these components prior to assembly, as workers aren’t needed in dangerous positions or conditions.
- Fewer workers are needed on site, too, because assembly is much easier than building piece by piece from the bottom up.
- Expect to see more projects use prefabrication techniques—especially those on strict deadlines with tight budgets
2. Improvement in Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM has also been around a few years, but the technology improved to the point where contractors and owners are finding it extremely useful. In fact, BIM is required as a cost- and time-saving element of all government-funded structures in the United Kingdom. It’s against the law there not to use BIM.
BIM software allows designers to produce 3D mockups of a planned structure that also incorporate cost and time information. Variables—such as construction methods or different materials—can be manipulated in the software to compare the costs over time of differing techniques or materials used.
3. Virtual/augmented reality. No longer just for video gaming, construction companies have begun using VR/AR technology to enhance worker safety training. Workers can visualize what they are learning instead of just reading it in a booklet. That reinforces how serious construction site hazards can be—and has made work sites safer.
Firms also use apps that tie VR/AR technology to their BIM software. Contractors and owners can do virtual walkthroughs of a structure long before it is complete. Owners can make more informed design decisions earlier in the construction process, saving time and cutting costs.
4. Fly ash bricks. If you’ve driven past a coal-fired power plant, you’re likely to see two kinds of piles: Heaping mounds of coal ready to burn, and heaping mounds of waste ash from fuel already used. Waste ash is typically stored in “ash ponds” that do nothing but sit, posing serious risks to groundwater. That was the case in India, where the rapid expansion of coal-fired plants prompted concerned locals to wonder whether there was a way to use the mountains of coal ash quickly rising across the country.
Fly ash bricks are lighter and stronger than traditional bricks or cinder blocks. They’re also cheaper to make. It’s helped mitigate the fly ash problems in India while also making it cheaper to build dwellings for a rapidly increasing population. The idea is catching on in the U.S., too, as firms are capitalizing on the chance to produce better-quality building materials while lessening the environmental impact of ash ponds.
5. Solar roads and materials. Pilot programs underway throughout the world show that roads made of extra-tough solar panels can work. The technology is expensive and is not yet perfected, but the potential benefits of dual-use materials such as solar roads has proved too attractive to abandon. The maturation of technology that allows electric vehicles to charge up while in contact with solar roads sweetens the pot.
And it isn’t just about rights of way. Roof-mounted solar panels are great, but if an entire structure can also generate electricity, it’s that much more clean, free energy pumped into the grid. Solar-capable building materials may put the enterprising fly ash brick makers out of business, but they may also help end our reliance on fossil fuels for power generation.
The Korte Co.