Drones, wearables and other tech solutions are helping contractors meet schedules and protect profits.
Given the current skilled worker shortage, companies need to make the most of the workers they have. Technology can help.
More than 66 percent of contractors surveyed cited improved labor productivity as the main reason for investing in technology according to the Q4 2018 Commercial Construction Index from USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Here’s a look at some of the tech that’s moving the needle.
Within the next three years, 39 percent of contractors expect to be using drones to help manage their job sites, according to the report.
Drones are being used for everything from surveying to volumetric analysis to materials tracking to visual inspections.
“One the of the big things that has changed with drones is the adoption,” said Helge Jacobsen, vice president of operational excellence at United Rentals. “Our orders these days are almost all multi-site, multi-flight, recurring orders. The quantities of rooftop inspections or any kind of visual inspections we’re doing are hundred-fold over last year.”
Drones are also going where no drone has gone before.
“One place where we pushed the envelope in 2018 is using drones for indoor and confined space inspections,” Jacobsen added.
With the drone sending back photos of a boiler interior, for instance, there’s no need to spend a week erecting scaffolding or send a person to crawl inside the tank.
“With a drone, you still have to shut down the boiler, but it doesn’t have to be human temperature. You bring in the drone and you can do that inspection in less than a day. The ROI is just so compelling.”
New wearable technologies can help employees work safer and smarter. Wearables include waist clips that monitor a worker’s location and alert supervisors of any fall, exoskeletons that enable workers to safely lift heavier loads, and vests with sensors that monitor biometric data such as heart rate and body temperature.
Smart helmets that use augmented and/or virtual reality can provide workers in the field with detailed plans of, say, an electrical or plumbing system. Having that information on the spot enables them to work more efficiently whether they’re building a new system or troubleshooting an existing one.
United Rentals has partnered with Triax Technologies to offer the Spot-r system to its customers.
“There are three reasons our customers are going with our wearables solution,” said Jacobsen.
One is the evacuation function, which sends an alarm to each worker’s device when it’s time to evacuate or return and allows supervisors to easily check headcount. The second is the Spot-r Clip’s ability to detect slips, trips and falls and alert a supervisor. The third is the ability to see at a glance through the system’s dashboard who’s on the jobsite and in what zone.
If you’re considering trying out wearable technology, you’re not alone. According to the report, only 6 percent of contractors use these tools today, but 23 percent expect to be employing some type of wearable within the next three years.
Project managers can’t afford to have workers waiting around while the materials or equipment required for a task are located. Attaching RFID tags to these resources can help contractors know where they are at all times and access them quickly.
When the construction project is large and the laydown area covers several acres, companies can use drones and RFID tags together to record the location of materials and equipment.
The Commercial Construction Index survey found that about 30 percent of contractors expect to use some type of tagging within the next three years.
Although the U.S. construction industry has been slower to adopt building information modeling (BIM) than the architectural and engineering sectors, many large contractors are using it with favorable results, as are some smaller contractors.
According to a SmartBrief report from Dodge Data & Analytics, more than half of BIM users surveyed reported a 5 percent reduction in final construction costs and a 5 percent acceleration in project completion time when they employed BIM. More than one-quarter saw a 25 percent improvement in labor productivity.
5D BIM, which adds cost and time into the equation, can help contractors better understand the financial and schedule impacts of any proposed changes.
In the Q4 2018 Commercial Construction Index survey, more than 80 percent of contractors identified offsite construction as a way to improve jobsite efficiency, labor productivity and scheduling. No wonder more than half of the contractors currently using prefabricated and modular approaches expect to use them more in the coming years.
Prefabrication also helps contractors improve worker safety, which boosts productivity and reduces project costs.
Although drones, BIM and other technologies won’t replace human workers, they can help companies maximize productivity with the workers they have.
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.