Technology Impacts On Future of Infrastructure

With the possibility of some of the projects on President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan being approved, the future of the nation’s infrastructure is a hot topic and front and center for all to see. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, issued every four years since 2001, recently gave the nation’s water systems a D grade and wastewater systems a D+ grade. Overall, the nation’s infrastructure received a D. This remains in line with the last few reports, and heightens the sense of urgency to take action.

To help address some of these infrastructure challenges, American Water invested a record $1.5 billion in 2016, the majority of which was for water and wastewater infrastructure.

American Water commends the House Transportation & Infrastructure Sub-Committee on Water Resources and Environment for providing a forum to discuss the challenges that face our water and wastewater infrastructure and the potential solutions available through the continued partnership of the private and public sector.

The value of the ASCE Report Card is in raising customer awareness of the critical nature of these issues and the value of our water and wastewater infrastructure, which is largely hidden underground. A lot of work needs to be done to raise the grade of the nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure, recognizing that a healthy water system truly promotes economic vitality and protects our environment, which can only improve future scores across the country. The water and wastewater infrastructure sector is more in need of improvements.

Tech Helps Build

In order to fully implement the large amount of projects that will come from the government infrastructure plan, the construction industry will have to upgrade technology. Matt DePaolis, construction solutions manager, Autodesk, points out how it will benefit the industry.

DePaolis says technology poses a great number of opportunities for improvement in the construction industry. It helps combat the excessive waste and stagnant labor productivity that has plagued the industry. The biggest challenge the construction industry faces today is attracting and upskilling a workforce capable of meeting demand. It’s estimated that $3.7 trillion will need to be invested each year globally just to meet the demand for infrastructure. The first step in tackling this challenge is to fully digitize the construction site.

John Walewski, associate professor, Texas A&M University, echoes the need for digitization. Walewski says clearly one thing happening is the digitalization of the construction site. Design has been digital, but the construction site was paper. Now, all the new technology makes it digital. However, the field can be different than the computer design that was created. There are no standards for digitalization of the site.

The quicker the construction industry embraces the new technology, the better off they will be. DePaolis says construction companies that demonstrate willingness to embrace technology are going to be the most successful in recruiting the top talent from those tech savvy millennials who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025.

The technological advancements go beyond having a strong workforce. Walewski describes the many benefits to the use of technology. There is higher productivity in your workers, a return on investment on your tech. The company gets more work and more jobs because some technology is required on jobs, beyond BIM (building information modeling).

Addressing Hurdles

As great as the new technology sounds, there are challenges in being able to implement it on the job site. DePaolis says the challenge associated with adopting new technology and practices has very little to do with the technology itself, but rather more to do with human conditions. Past generations have been reluctant to adopt any change; newer generations expect it and in many cases look forward to it. Developing a framework for introducing new technology onto the jobsite in a way focuses on the human elements of change management, which will be critical to every company’s success.

Most companies are taking a wait-and-see approach to the technology. Walewski says there’s been an emphasis on equipment having the technology and almost all big companies have smart equipment. Construction technology is becoming a category in itself. Overall, the construction industry is lagging behind in getting up to date. Some companies are looking to new recruits to learn and use the new technology. A lot of contractors are risk adverse and won’t invest otherwise.

The technology that can improve the jobsite and the contractor’s job is just the tip of the iceberg. The improvement of the nation’s infrastructure will rely on new technology in the roads, electrical, wastewater, bridges, and all other aspects.

DePaolis says technology brings us unlimited processing power to solve the most complex problems effortlessly, it connects our talented workforce across geographies and commercial interfaces to get the best ideas, it enables digital connectivity among assets to deliver better outcomes, and it enables freer access to capital from reduced risk and alternative funding. It is doing this for all companies regardless of type, size, or location.

With plans to create more smart and connected cities, a lot of leaders are slow to embrace the ideas brought forth for the future. Walewski says a lot of municipalities and cities are taking a wait-and-see approach. They are watching other cities upgrade their systems and infrastructure with the new technology and seeing how it goes.

As the plans for improvements become finalized, the construction industry will start to choose what technological improvements will fit the best with the projects at hand. There will be a lot of companies vying for the infrastructure improvements nationwide, the more tech savvy a construction company is, the better chance of being the one to bring our roads, rails, bridges, dams, sewers, and energy sectors in to the future.

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