By Bahar Ferguson
According to the Construction Industry Institute (CII), construction technology refers to the collection of innovative tools, machinery, software, etc., used during the construction phase of a project that enables advancement in field construction methods, including semi-automated and automated construction equipment. Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds to improve the efficiency of construction. This technology is necessary today to combat the major problems facing the construction workforce.
There are a lot of challenges that face today’s construction workforce, such as labor shortages, worker productivity, safety and the rapid rate of technology advancements. With the speed at which technology is evolving and how rapidly our country is urbanizing, it’s very hard for the construction industry to keep up. There is so much more demand for construction workers as our society continues to grow and expand. Construction companies cannot afford to stay at their current productivity levels. As our society progresses, so must the way our industries operate.
Think about what it would be like on a job site without any power tools, heavy machinery — or technology. All the work would take so much longer to complete and require much more manual labor. Technology has helped to make construction sites safer and workers much more productive.
So why does it take so long for the construction industry to start using these new advancements? Employers are hesitant to try new technology out there because there is so little data about the impact it has on productivity. Investing in new tech for their employees is not a cheap venture, so it’s understandable companies want to make sure they will get a return on their investment.
It can definitely feel like a race with your competitors to incorporate the new technology, but you can quickly go out of business if you aren’t investing in the right technology. You should definitely do your research before investing in technology, but if you’re too slow to incorporate the latest tech, you’ll fall behind very quickly. Those companies who fall behind could lose business to their competitors who have the latest tech and may be able to complete the job quicker or more cost effectively.
Labor shortages are a common thing affecting construction employers. Most employers have dealt with the struggle of hiring and retaining great employees. With the shortage, some of the work ends up needing to be subcontracted at higher wages and slowing down the job time. With most employers struggling to find skilled hourly labor for their jobsites, it can be beneficial to invest in the latest tech. By adopting the most up-to-date technology, you will more easily attract younger, more tech-savvy workers. Younger workers may lack the hands-on skills and experience that more advanced workers have but will thrive at adapting to new technology.
The number of skilled craftsman has slowly been dwindling over the years since the recession hit in 2008. So many construction laborers left the workforce and retired or changed career fields. The number of workers has only fallen since then.
The tech that the construction industry is turning to in order to combat labor shortages and productivity is robotics. Robotics are advertised as being more cost- and time-efficient. Robotics are working to automate processes, to get tasks done quicker, cheaper and more accurately. Robotics will help shorten downtime during tasks because they can continually operate for longer hours. With robotics doing a lot of the heavy lifting, you won’t have to struggle as much to keep a full staff. You won’t have downtime waiting for skilled subcontractors to complete jobs on the construction site, thus increasing your staff’s productivity. With less of the burden being put on workers, it allows for safer environments for staff. With the robotics being more in the line of fire there is less chance of workers being injured.
Another great tool developers have been working on is putting robotic exoskeletons on the jobsites. If you’re picturing Marvel’s Ironman suit, you’re not far off. Exoskeletons are metal frameworks fitted with motorized muscles to add to the user’s strength. While it won’t give you the ability to fly, it can help prevent injuries from stress and strain on the worker’s bodies. Exoskeletons are not commonplace at constructions sites yet but could be in the future.
We have also seen a rise of 3D printing since its now possible to print complex parts out of various materials that are used in construction. This has drastically sped up the process of bringing in materials to construction sites. 3D printing capabilities have grown to such a large scale that the parts that they are able to make are much bigger than you’d think. 3D printers can run for long hours to help production so you can be sure what you need is finished when you need it.
Another great tool is using drones to do site surveys. Drones have come a long way; they can make accurate measurements, create virtual designs and improve visibility of the job’s progress. The use of drones can contribute by more quickly scoping and helping to create a virtual reality of the project so you can easily determine the feasibility of the project. Drones also give you that aerial view so you can more easily spot mistakes and cut down on having to rework things. By spotting a mistake, even a day earlier, can save you a whole day’s worth of lost work. This is really important when productivity is such a pain point for construction jobs today.
Even when you are just starting to design, the building engineers and architects need access to the latest development software. There are a lot of different options out there such as ArchiCAD, AutoCAD, SketchUp or Revit. There are plenty of programs and all have their own benefits and features.
Technology in construction can be a controversial topic for some, but I think it’s pretty clear that construction must evolve along with technology. While not all technology is beneficial to the construction industry, overall, the impact is good. The capacity for efficiency is only going to get better. It’s becoming more of a requirement for construction companies to have an IT team to manage their equipment and software. You should make sure your team is equipped to handle the rapid rate at which construction is growing.
Bahar Ferguson is president of Wasatch I.T., a Utah provider of outsourced IT services for small and medium-sized businesses.