By Philip Casto
The construction industry is playing catch-up in shifting from the physical to digital, and not a moment too soon.
It’s one of the largest industries – valued at $10 trillion globally – but has struggled on various fronts that technology could help. Construction jobs are among the most dangerous. Projects are said to regularly lose as much as a third of their value in waste. Productivity growth of 1% over the last two decades trails the global economy’s growth rate of 2.8% for the same period.
Technology’s role in the sector is now changing and at a breakneck pace. Funding in U.S.-based construction technology startups expanded in 2018 by 55% to $1.1 billion from 2017 levels – by 324% if you include a few outsized deals that skewed the numbers.
The upshot? Companies increasingly are able to show up at the job site with the right tools and removing a lot of risk from their futures in the process. Consider some of the more interesting possibilities.
- Drones. Building Information Modeling (BIM) software is nothing new, but what is new is the way mini-drone functionality is being integrated into it. Instead of just getting a weekly model of the construction project at that point in time, the drones fly through hallways gathering visual datapoints for real time status updates of framing, walls, electric and utility installation. Monitoring efficiencies are invaluable, not just for overall progress but for staging purposes, too. (Whether one trade is lagging or too far ahead, for example.)
- Wearables. Everything’s getting “smarter” and by embedding that technology in everything from hard hats and safety vests to key fobs, it’s making for safer workers and worksites. Wearable technologies have grown to include biometrics and environmental sensors, GPS and location trackers, WiFi and voltage detectors. Not only does this sort of technology track workers’ movements against, say, fatigue, slips and falls, but sensors can also trip alarms if they have entered hazardous work areas. These aren’t yet widely used by the industry – one study found only 13% of firms are using wearables. Of those, however, 82% said they had a positive impact on safety.
- Virtual reality. Trial and error on the job is not the recommended way for workers to learn how to handle hazardous situations, and advances with virtual realty (VR) mean it’s much less of a risk. For example, rigging on a construction site – how it’s hoisted and moved – is a big safety issue. Rather than learning how to signal rigging cranes on the job, workers can put on the glasses and gloves and in VR, experience how to handle the variety of situations that are most dangerous.
It’s hard to see a lot of downside risk to this trend, although, like just about every sector out there, construction will have to be more vigilant than ever before against cyber crimes and the potential loss of sensitive data. But the potential for improved safety, efficiency and productivity balance that out.
Talk to HUB International today to learn more about these and other emerging trends in construction. HUB can help you leverage them to benefit your business as well as helping ensure you have the protection against the risks that come with these new technologies.