As the construction industry continues to move into a new phase of post-pandemic production, one thing remains a certainty: construction the world over will continue to be heavily influenced, and even changed, by technology.
One of the primary and ongoing talking points in recent times involves the rise of machines (i.e., robots)—defined by a persistent question: is such tech good for construction? While robotic technology accentuates a wealth of safety and productivity factors, the impact on jobs, extra costs, and specialized training have kept many contractors at bay.
For perspective, compared to 84 percent of automotive companies and 79 percent of manufacturing companies, only 55 percent of construction companies across the U.S., Europe, and China say they utilize robotics (ABB Robotics survey). Even still, the industry is acutely positioned for what many are calling a robot revolution. Within the next 5-20 years, most experts agree that tech-enabled machines will handle most of the demanding, dirty, and dangerous work on jobsites. Far from movie-style robots, this evolution will encompass iterations of the tech currently found on jobsites, like drones, autonomous excavators, or exoskeletons that greatly reduce strain on humans lifting heavy objects and materials. As for fully autonomous robots and advanced mobile tech, such machines will likely emerge on the back-end of that targeted time period—as bigger companies with bigger projects and related R&D groups enjoy the latitude to put those technologies to use and drive them towards mass adoption.
All the while, industry push-back will continue, but the pro-tech crowd will argue that such push-back never stopped the advancement of innovation before, and it’s not going to stop it this time—and that companies the world over need to embrace tech and lean in to the future accordingly.
Simulators are also rapidly emerging as a viable tech alternative to traditional construction or transport training methods. Through simulation-based training, companies are showcasing new technology while investing in the future of their employees, which not only attracts young tech-minded workers, but also provides a solid career path for current staff.A low-cost alternative for re-certification, simulation can be a powerful tool beyond entry-level training. It can also be an objective source for skill verification. By removing the human factor, operators can be assessed in a more general and objective context, which can help highlight potential deficiencies and help companies to understand exactly who it is they have on staff, or who they’re hiring.
In addition to advances in training, the evolution of preconstruction planning has also recently seen a significant bump as a result of tech. Using cloud technology as well as machine learning, AI, drones, and 3D modeling, the new generation of preconstruction tech improves efficiency and saves time by eliminating the need for manual cost estimating and reporting, reducing errors, improving accuracy, mitigating risk, and making curated data available for real-time decision making throughout a project’s life. Now more than ever, industry companies are chasing more work with the same amount of people, so the more efficient the planning systems, the better.
Similarly, cloud-based project-management software is allowing more companies the ability to maximize safety for personnel and ensure that all stakeholders, internal and external, maintain visibility into project progress without the need to physically visit the site.
As for the ever-present reluctance by many companies within both construction and transport to adopt and adapt to new technologies, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) is trying to assuage such concerns by launching the U.S. National Building Information Management Program (BIM), with the goal of achieving a higher level of efficiency through digitalization.The BIM program will leverage the standards that are existing and under further development, but also expand upon previous activities to accelerate adoption across a broader spectrum of building and infrastructure project stakeholders.
At NBIS, we remain focused on existing technology while keeping an eye on the horizon of emerging technology for the industries we serve. Technology will continue to enhance how we train our teams, monitor over the road activities, accelerate the project planning phases and influence jobsite security and safety.