Technologies forming part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ can improve the economic and environmental sustainability of an industry that contributes around 11% of all global carbon emissions, a new study shows.

Researchers including from the University of Exeter Business School examined how these Construction 4.0 technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, drones,

AI and self-healing materials, could impact on the sustainability of the construction industry.

High carbon emissions, low productivity and increased costs in the construction industry could be addressed with greater understanding and adoption of cutting-edge ‘Construction 4.0’ technologies

By creating the first ever Construction 4.0 framework and testing it in a real-world setting, the researchers concluded that industry concerns such as high carbon emissions, low productivity and increased costs could be addressed with greater understanding and widespread adoption of these cutting-edge technologies.

The researchers expect their framework will help policy-makers develop interventions and support mechanisms to increase the deployment of Construction 4.0 technology while addressing any negative impacts.

It was tested through a case study of the construction industry in the United Arab Emirates, a country enjoying an unprecedented 9% growth in construction per annum, and where 75% of all solid waste comes from construction.

Informed by all available academic research on Construction 4.0 over the past 10 years, the authors’ framework identified which technologies are in use, categorising them under the headings of ‘digitalisation’, ‘automation and advanced manufacturing’, ‘integration and collaboration’, and ‘intelligent environment’.

Through interviews with senior industry professionals, academics and government officials and a survey sent to 1,000 industry professionals they established that the use of Construction 4.0 technologies is likely to increase by around 20% in all categories in the next five years.