What's Next for the Construction Jobsite?

The construction jobsite is evolving, with the help of technology—but there is still more coming. Now, it is time to peek behind the curtains to see what is coming—and what your construction company needs to know about advancing technologies.

There is a lot of technology available that makes tasks easier and safer. From smart safety equipment, to augmented reality on equipment, the jobsite can be one of the most advanced places, well before the structure is built.

One sector that is growing is infrastructure. A recent report highlights the plans for infrastructure improvements and investments during the next few years.

This report comes at the same time as another big announcement. After years of underinvestment and deferred maintenance, the nation's infrastructure received a D+ grade in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers. As the urgency to improve infrastructure grows as a national priority, technology at the jobsite can help streamline processes on these projects.

Material and Labor Management

Before implementing new technologies at the jobsite, contractors must first identify what challenge the new solution is going to help improve. For many, this comes in the form of better management of tools, equipment, materials, and even the workforce.

For instance, Dale Beard, CEO, Intelliwave Technologies, says one of the largest hurdles is site materials management to help workers quickly identify and locate materials. Worker productivity ranges from 30 percent to 50 percent, which can be drastically improved by being able to provide laborers more accurate, real-time information on material availability. There are work processes that also need to adapt with the introduction of technology solutions, meaning that technology is in fact only part of the overall solution to help improve worker productivity.

Even with all the latest technology on a jobsite, if skilled labor is missing, a job cannot be completed, let alone be completed on time. The good news is technology can help solve the workforce crisis that the construction industry is currently facing.

Liang Wang, CEO and cofounder, Robo Industries Inc, says 74 percent of contractors complain about the shortage of skilled operators. It is challenging to find a good operator and keep the cost in check, he explains. There is no question that safety issues keep haunting the construction and mining industries. A large number of injuries and fatalities occur every year requiring new technology to improve the operating conditions and prevention of tragedies. Contractors and machine owners seek solutions to solve low productivity, rising costs, and safety issues.

The ability to use technology to tackle these issues sometimes present separate challenges. Beard says typically the industry views technology as only one part of the solution. While on the other hand, the other major element, work process, including mindset, needs to evolve how work is completed in a future state. Change is hard in most circumstances, especially when tasks have been done a certain way for years or even decades.

To help, Wang suggests new technologies need to demonstrate strong performance and reliability to gain acceptance and adoption. AI (artificial intelligence) technologies and autonomous operation will transform the industry. Operators have a natural resistance to the technology and may be reluctant to face and adopt the inevitable trend. There will be a period of time that the traditional operating practice is blended with a fully autonomous operation.

Being able to explain the numerous benefits of using more technology on the jobsite is what allows contractors to adopt it. Beard states having access to accurate data in the field changes the way work is done. In the past, most crews relied on supervisors to get them the information needed on material whereabouts or material usage. Now with direct access to that information, workers can make faster, more informed decisions right in the field. Ultimately this results in higher worker productivity and a lower cost on a construction job. Another benefit is reduced material over-purchases.

A Look to the Future

When will the jobsite become fully autonomous, with robots helping constructing infrastructure and buildings? In some ways the industry is already there—and in some ways it has a long way to go.

Wang explains that fully automatic operations are inevitable at the jobsite of the future for the construction industry. With an autonomous and intelligent machine-control system, many problems and bottlenecks will vanish. Such operations show the promises of increased productivity, intelligent project and operation management, precise operation, smarter project decision making, reduced costs, efficient operation, improved safety, and enhanced project management.

Those ready and willing to use new technologies on the jobsite will need to keep some things in mind however, says Beard. “Technology is only part of solution. What’s actually needed is a full solution set to address the problem. We have seen many contractors try to integrate technology into their work processes, only to conclude that the technology isn’t ready for construction,” Beard explains.

The decision to integrate technology on the jobsite into the construction process is not one to be taken lightly. There are many options available. There is technology for: planning and managing the project, keeping yourself safe at the jobsite, smart tools to get the job done better, alternative realities that display the finished product or changes to the job, and many more uses.

Being able to identify what works best for a particular construction job, company, or worker is the key to having success on the jobsite.

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