How is industrial construction different from residential construction?

Industrial Construction

Hydraulic machines like this excavator are essential tools in industrial construction. Learn more in these videos from Discovery Channel's "Mega-Excavators."

When you think of industrial construction, don't think about my driveway, or my roof or even the building of a new house up the road. Think big. Think massive. Think industrial-size like the big cans of tomato juice at Costco. Those in the industrial construction business design, install and maintain titanic structures including power plants, skyscrapers, warehouses, factories and other larger-than-life projects [source: IDS]. The work can be as varied as working on a bridge, a dam or an oil refinery.

Industrial construction is a specific form of building that requires expert training and highly experienced workers who can multi-task. Many industrial construction companies are large, multi-national firms. Projects are run by a bevy of managers, engineers and architects.


To get a better handle on what this industry's workers do, let's take a trip to the world's largest industrial construction project, the Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia. Located in the eastern part of the country, the Jubail project began in 1975 as the Saudis sought to expand their petrochemical industry [source: Betchtel].

Not only did workers build towering petrochemical and fertilizer plants, an industrial port and a steel works, they also built homes and shops for more than 100,000 people. Jubail City includes two dozen schools, 14 shopping centers and a golf course. At peak, the workforce reached 50,000 at a cost of more than $40 billion [source: Betchtel]. And it's getting bigger. Currently, the second phase of the project, Jubail II, is under construction. Workers are building 22 new industrial sites, including the world's largest desalination facility. They're also building roads, wastewater treatment plants and expanding King Fahd Industrial Port. The total cost of the second phase of the project is $3.8 billion [source: Betchtel].

Let me say it again -- industrial construction means gargantuan. And there's nothing more extreme than the tools they use. For some projects, some lucky drivers get to motor around in a 45,500-ton excavator, the largest in the world. This baby can literally move mountains [source: Technology Digest]. If you loved to play with Tonka trucks in the sandbox as a kid (I certainly did) then you'll love the T-282, the planet's largest dump truck. Empty, the T-282 weighs 465,000 pounds (210,920.42 kilograms) and stands 24 feet (7.32 meters) tall. It can carry 400 tons of material. Drivers often compare the truck to driving a four-bedroom house [source: History Channel].

Most of us, however, have little contact with industrial construction projects. Residential construction projects are another matter.