Keep up with the evolving construction materials industry

New developments in construction materials look promising. Make sure safety evolves alongside them.

Anh-Tai Vuong
Written By Anh-Tai Vuong President of DuroVac
Construction Site with Materials and Workers
May 2021

While last year’s COVID-19 outbreak caused an initial slump in the global construction industry, the outlook for 2021 and beyond is optimistic. Demand and prices are on the rise as vaccine rollouts and lockdown measures take effect in the U.S. and Canada.

Construction is uniquely positioned to help stimulate economic recovery in North America by creating jobs. Even subsectors still facing supply disruptions or uncertainty are embracing new trends, technologies and innovations to position themselves for growth.

In particular, new construction material developments mean more efficiency and sustainability, which will help at both the private and public level. The 2019 Canadian Infrastructure Report suggested that nearly 40% of the country’s bridges and roads were in fair, poor, or very poor condition. Meanwhile, 30% of public transit tracks would require investment over the next decade to keep them operational.

The need is there. With new technology driving development, the industry can expect some changes in the coming years to the tools at their disposal.

Let’s take a look at construction material trends of today and tomorrow — and what these developments mean to the manufacturing industry.

The Big Three

While trends are always changing, the building and construction industry has relied on the same basic building blocks for the last half century. There are other materials in constant use, but these Big Three have done most of the heavy lifting.

1. Concrete

Concrete is still the most commonly used construction material, but new types of concrete systems are gaining traction.

Concrete is the most commonly used man-made material on Earth, and it has been used to build everything from bridges to skyscrapers and more. Concrete is often held together by a liquid binder such as cement to cure and harden over time, making it a real workhorse in the industry.

2. Steel

Steel is another common building material, easier to install even than concrete and more fracture-resistant than other similar metals such as iron. Its impressive strength-to-weight ratio makes structural steel the go-to option for the framework of large structures like stadiums and skyscrapers.

3. Masonry

Masonry construction is also popular, consisting of individual units such as bricks bound together with mortar. Concrete blocks reinforced with steel are also common masonry components used for industrial projects.

Of course, what has worked in the past will not always continue to work in perpetuity. While these three materials won’t disappear from use any time soon, we are seeing more companies investing in forward-looking, sustainable building material options.

Industry advancements

Construction companies making the most of the lull caused by the pandemic are looking to invest in sustainable, next-generation building practices. These include creative and sustainable material use — especially when it comes to concrete.

1. Self-Mending Concrete

Take the ubiquity and reliability of traditional concrete and then saturate it with bacteria that interact with materials around them, binding them into new structural compounds, and you have a game-changing concept. These biological compounds are known as living materials (built by and made out of light but dense fungi and bacteria) and when applied to concrete, the bacteria grow into the pores of the material, adding to its strength and resilience.

It can even grow into cracks and fissures that might eventually form in concrete, filling and repairing them. This technology has the potential to improve bridge and building stability in a transformative way — especially in earthquake-prone areas.

2. Insulated Concrete Forms

Insulated concrete forms are made of blocks of polystyrene foam or other rigid insulation connected together with space in between for pouring a concrete wall. ICF can be used for foundation walls and above-ground walls alike.

This framing helps offset carbon footprints and strengthens building stability. ICF also performs well in the NFPA 286 15-minute room corner fire test, making it more fire-resistant than traditional polystyrene insulation.

Staying OSHA compliant

If your company is in the business of manufacturing construction materials, including concrete, you’re likely dealing with a great deal of dust. No tech development will change this fact.

Silica dust is a natural waste product in concrete manufacturing, and without proper engineering practices, it can pose a major health risk for workers. OSHA sets two specific eight-hour day limits for crystalline silica exposure: an action level of 25 µg/m3 and a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3.

Luckily, as trends in manufacturing evolve, so do solutions.

A portable vacuum system equipped with dual-stage HEPA filtration can prevent silica dust from becoming airborne, meeting all OSHA compliance regulations. The DuroVac PowerLift® Silica (PLS) offers 99.97% HEPA filtration along with forklift portability.

PLS filters also last an average of 5.4 years, meaning you can focus on developing your own process instead of worrying about constant maintenance costs.

The takeaway

While the global pandemic means a short-term slowdown in projects, we’re already seeing a long-term boost in technological advancement. The promise of new developments may not change the realities of construction material manufacturing — or compliance with regulations. Be sure your company invests in the right engineering equipment to keep your workers safe.