In today’s construction market, there’s little doubt that technology holds transformative power.
Not only have new technological advancements led to greater efficiency in day-to-day operations, but they’ve also created new opportunities for companies to gain a competitive edge and focus on strategic growth.
There are several ways technology is making positive impacts on key priorities within the construction industry, including workforce, safety and risk management, and operational efficiency.
Finding solutions for construction labor challenges
Labor shortages in the construction industry remain significant and widespread. A new survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that 80 percent of construction companies report having a tough time filling hourly craft positions – which represent the bulk of the construction workforce. On top of that, 56 percent also are finding it difficult to fill salaried positions. According to AGC, preparing, attracting, and re-skilling the future workforce are necessary steps in reducing that figure – and technology can help bridge the gap.
How can technology help with labor shortages? First, investing in cutting-edge approaches can help recruit and retain more young adults from tech-savvy generations into construction careers. Second, technology can streamline labor needs. By adopting tech methods to reduce on-site worktime, such as using virtual construction tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and automating inventories and ordering, a contractor can better manage productivity levels and its workforce.
Addressing construction safety and risk
According to the latest Construction Technology Report by JBKnowledge, almost 50 percent of today’s contractors now have dedicated IT departments, and more construction companies are using technology solutions to internally manage workflows like estimating, project scheduling, and project management as well as to improve safety. Here are some of the ways technology is helping with efficiency and safety:
- Wearables. With wearable technology’s popularity and growth in consumer markets, the construction industry is now considering how to use different features to improve worksite safety. Some potential applications for wearable technology include monitoring an employee’s movements or vitals and providing real-time alerts if work conditions become dangerous. Smart helmets, for example, turn traditional hardhats into on-the-ground safety systems that can detect a worker’s level of fatigue or a worksite’s carbon monoxide level or temperature.
Smart helmets turn traditional hardhats into on-the-ground safety systems that can detect a worker’s level of fatigue or a worksite’s carbon monoxide level or temperature.
As another example, gear like augmented-reality glasses can provide workers with real-time guidance and detect errors before an accident, which, along with the proper training, could help improve productivity and safety.
Plusses like these will likely fuel more experimentation with wearables and research on their effectiveness at improving safety. Nearly two-thirds of insurers, for example, expect wearable technologies to have a significant impact in coming years, according to a survey of more than 200 insurance executives.
- Mobile devices. The importance of mobile capabilities has soared, the JBKnowledge report shows, with 83 percent of firms surveyed saying mobile is “important” or “very important” to their operations vs. just 59 percent who thought so in 2012.
The daily use of laptops in the construction field also has increased, from 64 percent in 2015 to 78 percent in 2017. And use of smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices is quickly streamlining much of the construction process, from creating and approving blueprints to post-construction monitoring.
In terms of safety benefits, the adoption of mobile technologies enables real-time communication with all members of a construction team as well as faster incident reporting and injury documentation, all of which can help reduce the risk of injuries and the cost of workers compensation claims.
Boosting worksite efficiency with labor-saving strategies
Automating certain construction tasks, such as material handling, packing, or welding, not only allows for precision, speed, and accuracy, but can also represent a significant time and financial savings as well. Reducing time and improving accuracy means projects are more likely to stay on track and on budget.
- Robotics. Robotics continue to redefine certain aspects of the construction business – with significant benefits, such as:
- Increased construction speed
- Less building-site construction waste
- Safer worksites and fewer injuries
From a financial standpoint, these benefits can also translate into lower construction, financing, and insurance costs.
Robotics enable skilled workers to spend more time overseeing the project and work in conjunction with robots to become more efficient. Automated robots, for example, are increasingly handling repetitive and physically challenging tasks such as bricklaying and beam construction.
Robotics allow skilled workers to spend more time overseeing the project and work in conjunction with robots to become increasingly more efficient.
While use is still not widespread, the construction robot market in the U.S. is expected to reach $166.4 million by 2023 from $76.6 million in 2018 – a CAGR of 16.8 percent between 2018 and 2023, according to one forecast.
- Workflow efficiency and virtual construction. The demand for BIM is likely to continue, as will BIM’s influence on how construction projects are bid and won. In fact, as a virtual construction method, BIM ranks as the most requested technology solution in JBKnowledge’s survey.
Why is BIM so popular? With BIM, project teams can evaluate a simulated model of a project at various stages in its lifecycle, from design to breaking ground, and right through to commissioning. It provides designers, contractors, and owners with a digital model of the project before the first shovel of earth is turned.
This technique helps diminish risk and boost transparency by letting everyone see how project parts will fit together, from building materials to HVAC systems to landscaping. The workflow value comes into play as detecting problems and solutions digitally before projects begin helps avoid costly revisions later.
- Drones. Fast-pace growth of commercial drones continues to make a big impact on the construction sector, with nearly 40 percent of construction companies using these tools today. For those companies that are intent on exploring emerging technology, drones also dominate all other tech offerings, rising by 10 percent in popularity this year.
What’s fueling such reliance? Construction workflows dependent on drones are expanding rapidly. These include:
- Site mapping
- Site documentation
- Structural inspections
- Percent-complete calculations
- Real-time surveillance video
In addition, these devices boast major time, cost, and safety benefits – which can translate into lower risk as well. For example, drones allow builders to leverage data to conduct preconstruction simulations. This gives builders the ability to test various models and designs which ultimately helps reduce the chances of error once actual construction begins. Moreover, the ability to perform construction tasks remotely and unmanned also decreases the risk of worker injuries.
For all these reasons, the JBKnowledge report concludes that drones have reached a tipping point and may be well on their way to being viewed as essential jobsite tools – instead of just a luxury.
Introducing technology brings new risk
The construction industry is counting on technology to help solve its labor shortage, improve worker safety, strengthen risk management, and boost efficiency and productivity. But new technology also brings new risks – especially when it comes to drones. To learn about managing drone risks in the construction industry, read our related article here.
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