Those two words evoke a reaction from anyone, even as you read them here. For some that reaction is fear, uncertainty, or even skepticism. For others it might be excitement, optimism, and hope for a more safe and efficient construction project. Whatever side you find yourself on with this topic, construction technology is something that continues to evolve and impact our construction projects and the company bottom line. It is not going away, and to ignore it is to commit to falling behind the competition and losing market share. So let’s take a look at construction technology and address some of the concerns and questions many people have about it for the construction industry.
I often hear the same questions from clients when consulting them on construction technology. What is out there? Where do we start? How do I know what technology is right for our company? What resources are there to help? After we utilize construction technology, what happens next? Let’s take a look at these questions and the answers available.
What is out there?
The options for construction technology are endless. This is a very exciting time for our industry as hardware and software capabilities are growing. With the development of AR/VR uses for the field, construction technology continues to advance. It could be said that we have never before experienced such an advancement in the area of construction technology. Automated equipment, robotics, reality capture (laser scanning), BIM, drones, pre-fabrication, AR and VR, 3D printers, and even artificial intelligence are all currently being used in the construction industry. These are not “future” technologies, they are “now” technologies. Construction companies are using these tools, today, even if others are not.
We are all aware that there is a skilled labor shortage in the construction industry with no change in sight. The baby boomer generation is retiring and as a result we are losing vast amounts of experience and skill when it comes to construction. One solution to this problem is through the use of innovative technologies such as automation or even artificial intelligence. There are already tools in place with companies like Built Robotics and Caterpillar who have created automated earthwork equipment. Digging, grading, and moving of materials is underway as residential lots are prepared and wind turbine and solar farms constructed. Equipment is going about tasks without an operator sitting in or on them, but rather controlled by GPS and programmed activities with one person monitoring them.
Why are we not embracing construction technology?
The answer depends on who you ask. Some will say it is too risky and there are no guarantees. Others will cite the lack of adaptation to change as a factor in holding us back. Historically we are an industry that has been slow to adapt change and recent research shows that manufacturing and other sectors have adapted while construction has not. However, as new generations of construction professionals come up through the ranks (as well as existing personnel looking to get ahead in their careers) they are quick to use the tools available to them, including numerous construction technology tools.
Where do we start?
When a client contacts me about investing in construction technology, the problem is not what technology to use, but where to start. With so many options available it can seem overwhelming. Do we jump into BIM, drones, reality capture, pre-fabrication, virtual or augmented reality? Do we hire a consultant or bring this in house? What is the ROI? While all of these questions do come up, the answer is found in deciding what you want to accomplish. Define the goals, develop the plan to achieve those goals, then start with small successes. A well-developed plan will save you money, time, and a lot of frustration from unsuccessful attempts at implementing construction technology. Use resources available to you such as the Builders Exchange or specific consultants to help you determine and execute the use of construction technology.
A comment about starting to use a new construction technology tool; be prepared for change and challenges. The biggest challenge that construction companies face in utilizing new tools is not the tools themselves or even the learning curve, it is the people that will use them. People can be very resistant to change, no matter how great the tool is. You will want to focus in on the people and processes used with any new tools you decide to use. You can ensure success with any new tool if you anticipate the resistance and address it accordingly.
How do I know what technology is right for our company?
Even when a decision is made on where to start, how do you know which vendor or specific program is the best fit for you? Would project management software achieve your goals? What about BIM or AR? The answer is found in the preceding question; develop the goals, then select the right tools to help you reach those goals. There are construction technology consultants available to help you determine the right tool for your use, so be sure to seek one out. How do you find a construction technology consultant? That’s a great question that we will now take a look at.
What resources are there to help?
Google is a wonderful tool, but you don’t need to search far for help. There are always large national vendors that will try and sell you a specific tool or software, but working with a local vendor will be your best bet to get started. They know the market, they know the tools available (and there are many), and they are not trying to sell a specific product that they might benefit from. The Builders Exchange is a great resource to connect companies with experts in the area of construction technology.
What happens next?
Construction technology will continue to evolve and change. We need to adapt this technology for numerous reasons such as safety, efficiency, labor-shortages, etc. Students are learning the tools that are out there, but more importantly, they are learning to adapt to a changing industry because the technology continues to change. The challenge that you and every other contractor faces is not what technology you will adapt, but when?
Mark R. Dyke teaches construction technology related courses as an Assistant Professor at Ferris State University in the Construction Technology and Management Program, is the Owner and Lead Consultant at Construction Technology Consultants, and Vice President of Construction Technology at Collaborative Construction Group. With over 20+ years in commercial construction he has a passion for advancing construction technology that makes companies efficient and safe.
This article was originally featured in the Fall 2019 Technology Issue of The Source, our bi-annual magazine mailed to thousands of owners, architects, engineers, and all BX members!