Contributed by Eric Weisbrot
Construction as an industry has noticeably lagged in moving operations toward a more digital realm compared to other business verticals. A report published by McKinsey in 2017 highlighted this truth, citing a near stagnant rate of productivity growth among construction businesses. Comparing that to the 1,500 percent growth of industries like manufacturing and agriculture, it is clear construction is ripe for disruption. But those who have earned a living from the construction business, including licensed and bonded contractors and project managers, have been slow to adopt new technology over the years.
Now, however, the industry is in dire need of change. Many statistics show a labor shortage in construction, high occurrences of waste and inefficiencies on job sites, as well as skyrocketing budgets and capital spending for substantial projects. In order to combat these growing concerns and bring technology into the fold, the construction environment is starting to grasp the power of the following revolutionary changes fueled by technological tools and resources. Here are seven ways technology is influencing construction today.
Countless technology firms are focusing their energy on developing autonomous construction machinery, some led by former tech company engineers and designers. Self-operating machines, including bulldozers, excavators, and cranes, are already operating on sites around the world. Their mainstream entrance into the market is imminent in the next several years. Machines that do not require a human touch can be used to tackle repetitive, simple tasks that take skilled workers significant time and effort to complete. The inclusion of robotics in construction has the potential to reduce waste and inefficiencies across the board.
Drones and 3D Printing
In addition to self-operating machinery, the technology behind drones and 3D printing is also making its debut in the construction field. Drones have been used to help monitor job site progress, as well as lend a hand in the inspection process for projects both small and large. 3D printing offers a new way of designing projects and creating some structures that would otherwise require ample time and effort by individual construction professionals. These technologies have other far-reaching implications in construction as they become more developed and more widely used.
^^ A very typical stock image for "construction" ^^
Contributed by Darren Lester
For as long as I’ve been involved in and around the construction industry, there’s been an underlying consensus that we need to clean up the public's perception of the industry.
Disasters like Grenfell Tower and scandals like the Carillion collapse tend to bring this into sharp focus and we see a renewed energy to show people the positive stuff in construction.
The legitimate worry is that all of the negativity, combined with the image of the stereotypical construction worker, complete with hard hat and hi-vis jacket, will limit our ability to attract younger, smarter, tech-savvy professionals and the must-needed next generation workforce.
So the logical conclusion is to try to push the good stuff even harder.
But perhaps this is the wrong approach.
Unfortunately, the truth is that the public image of the construction industry exists for a reason — it’s mostly accurate.
To portray anything else would be misleading.
Our industry has huge issues, from top to bottom.
We’re embarrassingly inefficient. Rarely deliver as promised. We overspend. We’re huge polluters. We're wasteful with resources. We put people’s physical health and lives at risk on a daily basis. We have a terrible record of mental ill health amongst workers. We’re rife with corruption and 'old boys' clubs. We treat women unfairly. We lack any sort of competent leadership. And we’re pretty much the worst of laggards in adopting digital technology.
I could go on.
If we continue to try to put a positive spin on things, or suppress these issues in order to exemplify the glimmers of hope there are within the industry (and don't get me wrong, they do exist), then we’ll end up with another generation of workers who simply knuckle down and accept that this is as good as it gets.
Ironically, shining a light on these shortcomings, by making them painfully transparent to the whole world and by holding our hands up to say “sorry, things aren’t great”, perhaps we can give ourselves the best chance of driving change.
Because all of the sh*t that’s wrong with our industry is actually what could attract the smartest, most ambitious young professionals and entrepreneurs (and the capital to back them), who see an opportunity to really disrupt and rebuild a huge industry.
Yes, we should continue to educate young professionals about the industry, and show them that there are more options to a career in construction than working on a cold, wet building site. But all industries have their stereotypes - that in itself isn't holding us back from change.
But perhaps we should also share with them our biggest failings, and present them as rewarding opportunities for those willing to challenge the status quo.
Not an easy thing to do, but maybe we'd end up with real change, rather than a slightly improved public image.
Contributed by Jake Ortego
Within the last few months, I have heard each of these statements:
I’m sure that each of these statements is rooted in a truth relative to a certain point in the AEC process. But buried in many of the comments is an increasing feeling that the quality of the design documents themselves are on a downward slope despite the notion that technologies such as BIM should be improving the designs.
Many will admit that the idea of BIM is fantastic. Albeit, a true single building model is a dream that may be unrealistic. These concepts are then quickly countered with criticism that the technology creates nearly as many problems as it fixes. Even the most outspoken BIM supporter would agree that it is not a perfect system. So, should we abandon it for the “old school 2D” model?
Put that thought aside for a minute and set the way-back machine to the 1860s. Back then, chemists figured out a way to duplicate a drawing using ferro-gallate. Construction reprographics was born…with a blue tinge. And with that, an entire profession was eliminated. The once critical job held by tracers and copiers was now a thing of the past.
What does this have to do with BIM?
While drawing reprographics seems like simple technology to us now, imagine how revolutionary it was when it was invented. There were many who undoubtedly thought it created more problems than it solved. Somewhere I recall reading that the design professionals of the time criticized early blueprints for being “…inadequate and free translations of the author’s original lines.” It took 20 to 30 years for the cost of the blueprint to drop low enough to make hand copies and tracing uneconomical. And it wasn’t until the 1940s that someone figured out how to drop the blue and go to the white sheets we see today.
Now, we can’t imagine not having instant reprographics of the drawings. This clunky new technology changed AEC forever. Then there was CAD. This technology got its start in the 1950s and you better believe that it was not an instant hit. CAD was criticized for inhibiting the brainstorming process and viewed as much slower than traditional sketching. But at the same time, it spawned libraries of standard steel shapes, doors, patterns, and that “person” that is put in the drawing for height comparison.
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
In the last few years, it has been proposed that owners might benefit from hiring specifiers directly; it has even been suggested that specifiers might help owners choose architects. Specific aspects of these ideas, and of related issues, were addressed by member presentations at the Construction Specifications Institute's (CSI) annual convention over the last handful of years.
In 2014, at the convention in Baltimore, several Institute directors and interested members met to discuss a report that had been submitted to the Institute board by Ujjval Vyas, PhD, of the Alberti Group. This report, titled "The Risk Management Value of Specifications," was prepared at the request of CSI. The report's Executive Summary noted conditions that would surprise few specifiers: Specification software is beginning to replace activities traditionally done by a specifier; contractors are becoming more involved in specifications, especially in design-build projects; and specifiers suffer from the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome - their value often is not appreciated by their employers, with commensurate effect on stature, compensation, and opportunity for advancement.
What will happen to specifiers in the next decade? Will they be replaced by software? Will they shed the grunt work of word processing and become even more valuable, devoting their time to product research, coordination of documents, and adding intelligence to the building model? Or will they simply fade away?
Just as has happened with drawing - we moved from linen to vellum to digital images, and we moved from drafting to CAD to building modeling, yet all of these options remain in use - all of the above possibilities for specifiers will exist in some degree, and it's possible someone will continue using a typewriter to write specifications. But which of these possibilities, or what combination of them, will be most common?
What I see suggests the answer won't be to the liking of most specifiers. Specifying software will get better, it will extract more information from the building model, it will get easier to use, it will further automate editing of specifications, and it will be seen as a replacement for specifiers. Contractors will continue to increase their importance during construction, and designers will continue to lose credibility with clients. Will specifiers soon find themselves in the unemployment line?
What happens, both to specifiers and to specifying as a career, will be affected by what specifiers do to influence the discussion. If they do nothing, they will be further marginalized, and though they might not be laid off, they may not be replaced when they leave. Based on what I've seen, that is the likely course.
Contributed by Tom J. Moverman, Esq
There was a time, not too long ago, that future innovation was of no interest to the majority of the companies in the construction industry. Most companies were happy with the way things had been done for decades, and they were not interested in changing that. However, as construction companies start to realize the money and time that can be saved with innovations such as wearable technology, that old school attitude is changing.
Travelers Insurance estimates that the wearable industry shipped $20 billion in products in 2015, and that number is increasing rapidly. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that there are nearly seven million construction field workers who could benefit from the use of wearable technology, that is technology that can monitor health and other worker elements instantly and deliver reliable data, and the push is to get wearable technology on every one of those workers.
The Benefits of Wearable Technology
The two primary areas that benefit from wearable technology are worker health and job site safety. For example, a hard hat that has sensors on it can monitor the health of a worker, while simultaneously broadcasting real-time images of the job site to safety personnel. In some cases, safety personnel can see problems coming before the workers even know what is going on, and that is technology that can save lives.
Wearable technology can collect job site condition data and relay that to project managers and site supervisors. Companies can collect video and data from wearable technology that can be used to better train future workers, and develop more effective ways of using construction equipment. Many of the conditions that workers and site supervisors could not see in the past involving dangerous materials or high-risk working situations would now be studied in detail to create more effective safety measures.
Construction companies can use wearable technology to increase worker productivity and get real data about what happened leading up to an accident. Companies can also tell exactly what workers are doing on job sites, and track the location of each worker in real time. If a worker is somewhere they are not supposed to be, the site supervisor can act immediately and accordingly.
The Problems with Wearable Technology
Wearable technology can improve worker health, make a job site safer, and even help a company to create more efficient methods that save money. But despite all that it can do, there are still issues with using future innovations in an old school environment such as construction. For one thing, workers may not want to wear the technology because they won't like the feeling that "Big Brother" is watching them. Reliable workers have nothing to fear with technology that reports their every movement, but some workers may find this technology too intrusive.
Another big issue with this new technology is the idea that workers will be more interested in the technology than the job at hand. If a worker knows their hard hat is collecting environmental data for a job, then that worker might be more tempted to try and see what the data looks like as opposed to doing their job. New technology is not only useful, but it can also be distracting as well.
Hard hats that can read environmental conditions and safety vests that report worker vital signs are just the beginning of wearable technology in the construction industry. Newer technology that is either in development or already in the field include specially designed glasses that help skilled workers to be more precise in their measurements, exoskeletons that protect workers and make lifting heavy objects much easier, and hard hats that can do 3D mapping of any part of a construction website.
The future of the construction industry includes wearable technology that can save money, save lives, and speed up the construction process. Instead of shying away from all of these technological advances, the construction industry has proven that it is looking forward to these future innovations.
Tom Moverman established the Lipsig Brooklyn Law Firm with Harry Lipsig and his partners in 1989; The firm’s focus is in products liability, personal injury, construction accidents, car accidents and medical malpractice.
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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