8 Factors that Move the Construction Productivity Needle
Technology, training and teamwork are the keys to speed and higher profits.
Construction has a well-known productivity problem. Where other industries have seen significant productivity improvements over the last decades, construction has all but stagnated. There are plenty of reasons — each project is unique and poses different challenges, for one. But there are also solutions.
These eight approaches are helping construction companies increase productivity and boost the bottom line in an era of shrinking profitability.
Project management software
It’s hard to achieve maximum efficiency when project team members waste time searching for pieces of information — updated plans, materials costs or inventory, schedules, hours worked, etc. Cloud-based project management software brings all the information into one place and also streamlines communication, not to mention speeding conflict resolution and change order approvals.
As construction becomes increasingly data-driven (think drone mapping, machine-to-machine communication, etc.) integrated project management software becomes more and more critical to productivity.
Under integrated project delivery (IPD) contracts, all of a project’s key stakeholders — owner, architect, designers, engineers, general contractors, major trades — collaborate from an early stage. This helps eliminate time-wasting problems and delays. Since IPD usually includes financial incentives for successful project completion, the entire team is focused on the common goal of getting the building completed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Construction work can be delayed by bad weather, subcontractors who don’t show up when they’re supposed to and issues with material deliveries. Including prefabricated components, made in a factory under optimal conditions, boosts productivity by reducing susceptibility to those kinds of delays. (It also boost productivity indirectly by increasing worker safety.)
Prefabrication can include HVAC or mechanical piping cut to the proper lengths and configurations before it gets to the job site. You can also have entire small rooms or room components delivered to a jobsite ready to hook into a building’s systems.
The Modular Building Institute says projects that use modular components can be completed 30 to 50 percent sooner than traditional building projects.
BIM and 5D BIM
For many years, the digital 3-D models produced with building information modeling have boosted productivity by helping builders identify potential conflicts among various building systems. With BIM, builders and subcontractors can get a real picture of the building and resolve problems ahead of time.
5D BIM lets you add schedule and cost factors into a building model and try out various if/then scenarios for construction. When you can look at several different ways of carrying out a task, you can find the most efficient one.
Today drones can be used to survey a large jobsite, locate materials, track job progress and even inspect work — all tasks that take hours or minutes with drones and exponentially longer without. Drones can also capture real-time jobsite images that, when fed into a BIM program, can provide the most accurate as-built representations possible in forms that are easily shared among stakeholders.
If your drone is spitting out more data than you want or know how to use, however, you could actually lose productivity by trying to analyze it. That’s where companies that offer drones as a service, such as United Rentals, can help.
No, robots aren’t going to steal construction jobs from humans (though they may shift those jobs). But they are helping humans do work faster and more efficiently. Robot arms and exoskeletons make light work of manual labor. And SAM, the semiautonomous bricklaying robot, can lay up to 3,000 bricks a day compared to 600 to 1,000 for a skilled mason. (Human mason still required.)
Skilled equipment operators are good at moving dirt and preparing land for construction. But they can’t work as accurately or quickly as autonomous equipment (not yet widely available but coming soon) or semi-autonomous excavators and bulldozers that use GPS and 3-D control technology to grade the site with remarkable precision.
According to a Gallup survey, companies that have the highest measures of employee engagement are 21 percent more productive and 22 percent more profitable than those with the lowest ones. One essential tool in building employee engagement is training and development that helps workers move along in their career path. It’s a win/win situation — your employees gain valuable skills, and those skills boost their performance.
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.