If you’re part of the construction industry in the US, you have a peculiar problem: too much work for the number of available workers. The unemployment rate for construction workers is at an unbelievable low of 3.4%. Many in the industry say they’ve never seen so many job opportunities – estimated at 250,000 in mid-2018 – for so few interested in taking them. The good news for the workers who are available is that wages are increasing. The bad news for owners and builders is that wages are increasing. Higher wages naturally attract more workers, but many of them are inexperienced and require at least some training to get up to speed on a job. Quality, safety and productivity suffer as a result. The net effect to construction projects is an increase in costs, leading to budget overruns. Something’s got to give.
That something has turned out to be technology.
What technology can give the construction industry includes ways to attract talent, improve training, increase productivity, employ machinery/robots, increase safety, reduce errors, and adjust quickly to design changes. In an October 2018 article, “6 ways emerging tech is addressing the construction industry’s labor shortage,” BuildWorlds describes emerging technology companies that offer solutions to the construction labor shortage issues. Those solutions include:
- Training – Companies now have access to tools to help workers visualize their work before they even set foot on the jobsite. These tools can also transfer on-the-job instructions to workers in the field in real-time. The technology includes virtual reality (VR, simulates a physical 3D presence on the job site using project designs), augmented reality (AR = VR + an overlay of computer-generated jobsite information) and mixed reality (MR, merges virtual content with the real world . . . think holograms). Autodesk Revit Live creates immersive architectural visualizations.
- Workflow – A number of workflow management software solutions are now available – and improving constantly – that enable real-time communication on the job with superior accuracy. This alleviates time wasted on document management – estimates are that construction workers waste 1/3 of their time searching for project data – and time required for rework if/when teams work from the wrong set of design drawings. Check out Autodesk BIM 360 products for workflow management.
- Prefabrication – The modern resurgence of building project modules off-site enables companies to control such variables as site conditions, weather, worker safety, and equipment scheduling. One software-as-a-service product that appears uniquely positioned to lead the renaissance of prefabrication is eVolve MEP, including eVolve Mechanical and eVolve Electrical.
- Equipment – Like it or not, robots are here to stay. There are some jobs that robots are perfectly suited for, particularly dangerous, repetitive and dirty ones in construction: brick laying, rebar bending, welding, cutting, demolition, and gathering debris. As Inc.com points out in “Robots Are the Future of Employment,” robots enhance human work. One of the reasons fewer people entering the job market look to construction as a career is because it has a reputation for being hard labor. Because it is hard labor – for humans. Robots are impacting that. Going forward, a construction job might entail supervising the robot that does the hard labor or loading it with bricks or even programming it. These are the types of careers that can attract employees who grew up with technology and are comfortable using it.
- Supervision – Through the use of software that tracks safety, materials, equipment, labor, design changes, and data access, jobsite supervision has taken a huge leap forward. The job supervisor has an unprecedented ability to monitor the active jobsite and react to questions, RFIs and situations nearly instantaneously. Remote interaction in real-time keeps teams working and productive. As part of the Internet of Things (IoT), web-enabled mobile devices can identify risks before they result in problems by feeding off of data from sensors strategically located on the jobsite. For more about IoT, read the Redshift article “IoT Technology Will Improve Safety and Efficiency on the Construction Site.” The Autodesk BIM 360 collection includes products at the forefront of IoT technology.
- Planning – Imagine running through hundreds of possible iterations of a building design before selecting the ideal choice for the final version. A computer can do that, at least a computer that has been programmed to correct and perfect design “mistakes” and resolve design conflicts. As computing power continues to increase and the amount of data generated and collected worldwide increases exponentially, using machines to process that information in constructive ways is a logical and time-saving next step. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are intertwined technologies that can revolutionize planning and design processes.
Ever since many of us were in high school we’ve been hearing that technology will help us solve the world’s problems. One of those problems facing us today is how to keep up with the demands for better, faster, leaner construction. We’ve seen it in other industries, including manufacturing. Now it’s construction’s turn. Whether it is planning, training and workflow or jobsite and performance improvements, this is the time for technology to shine through.