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A new revolution

September 4, 2018

There is a revolution happening in construction. A so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” filled with robotics, software and advanced technology. How far will the revolution go? A study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, St. Paul, Minn., and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that construction workers could be displaced as a result.

“Whether through the use of robotics, virtual reality or other technological innovations, automation has been increasing productivity, reducing costs and improving quality,” says study co-author Jill Manzo. “With capital growing, the industry struggling with skilled labor shortages and our nation facing growing infrastructure needs, it is fair to conclude that the pace of automation is likely to accelerate in the decades to come.” ​

The study reports that about 49 percent of the blue-collar construction workforce (2.7 million workers) could be replaced/displaced. Knowing this, how are you going to respond to the revolution?

The robotic world

Clearly the men and women who work at job sites cannot completely go away. But the possibility remains that some workers’ roles might evolve to operating drones and equipment, not drills and saws. And they might be doing this from an office, not a job site. ManpowerGroup reports that the career evolution over the next 40 years will be something to watch. The company believes 65 percent of the jobs Generation Z will have do not even exist yet.

Consider these changes in the brick industry. In response to humans laying only about 500 bricks a day, robots have joined some crews. Construction Robotics introduced SAM in 2015, the Semi-Automated Mason, which can lay 3,000 bricks per day. Fastbrick Robotics launched Hadrian X, which lays 1,000 bricks per day. Robots will not replace all construction workers, but it is possible that humans will be needed to operate such robots instead of performing the trade themselves.

The human world

The construction industry is not known as a tech leader, but technology has made the manufacturing and building process faster, more efficient and affordable. We also cannot deny that there is a labor shortage in construction, so some companies have been forced to turn to technology to help. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and drones are just some of the examples that allow construction teams to efficiently monitor job sites, detect errors and market their efforts.

Some options for you as a contractor are cloud-based tools to monitor job site efficiencies, such as the “internet of things” (IoT) wearables. Essentially, workers clip IoT wearable devices on their tool belts, and the days of manual headcounts, visual safety checks and paper logs are over. In addition, if a slip or trip occurs, safety directors are immediately notified via the device. This allows for a faster response time, and it also prevents workers from not reporting incidents.

Drones have become a popular hobby, and they are increasingly visible at job sites. Brexton LLC, a general contractor in Columbus, Ohio, has been using drones at its job sites for about three years. For instance, you can see the progress of Levin Furniture, Avon, Ohio, in this video. (Flex-Ability Concepts’ Flex-C Arch was installed at this store.) Brexton believes drones are an easy way for clients to watch a project’s progress, as well as monitor a job site.

VR and AR tools are not just for the large firms anymore. Software like Modelo takes a CAD file and turns it into a sharable link. With it, every trade becomes more involved via a 3D project model with a 360 view of the work that needs to be done. This can be done on tablets, smartphone and laptops. These tools have already improved the bidding process, project planning, material ordering and subcontractor involvement.

The truth is contractors, electricians, plumbers and architects are irreplaceable. Sure, self-driving trucks might deliver materials to a job site and cranes might be automatically operated in the future, but a human’s abilities to install framing and troubleshoot job site intricacies cannot be duplicated by technology. Instead of being worried that robots are going to take over a job site, we can find ways to make technology work for us. Be active revolution participants to make your company more efficient, safer and more marketable. Cheers to the revolution!

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