How a Shortage in Construction Workers is Opening Doors for New Construction TechnologyBy Mahrukh Karimi on Monday, March 12, 2018
With a shortage of workers, the construction industry turns to technology for solutions.
Shifts in the workforce, technology, and politics have created an exciting climate for the construction industry. While newness can be scary, these changes can also result in industry improvements. The shortage of workers and rising material costs poses problems, but the need for a solution has already begun to inspire innovation.
The Problems Facing the Construction Industry
Shortage of Construction Workers
If you are in construction, you are more than familiar with the shortage of skilled construction workers. After the great recession in 2008, many people left the construction industry. However, when the construction jobs started to come back, the workers didn’t. Over the past 12 months alone, there have been over 226,000 new jobs in construction. Unfortunately, those positions are not being filled. This has left construction companies understaffed and overwhelmed.
Rising Cost of Steel and Aluminum in Construction
As the president imposes tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, many American construction companies do not share the current enthusiasm felt by American steel and aluminum companies. Cheaper sources of steel and aluminum will rise in price, increasing the production cost for construction companies.
While this tariff for 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum will increase general construction costs, it shouldn’t have much of an effect on residential properties. However, it can greatly increase the cost of larger construction where steel is required to provide structure.
Solving These Issues with Innovative Construction Solutions
Internet of Things
Internet of things (or IoT) has been a buzzword since 2013, with ever-increasing resonance today. This term refers to the network of connected devices that aim to use data to make life easier and more productive. Besides at-home technology (Say hi, Alexa), IoT can be found in management software, apps, wearable technology, drones, BIM, and more. This technology enhances performance for construction companies, allowing workers to get more done and make up for industry shortages.
Software and Apps
The connected world can be a useful tool for a construction company, especially when managing a team of contractors. Softwares and apps can provide tools and information for construction workers to use in the field. Scheduling and dispatch software like Smart Service allows workdays to become more productive through seamless communication between the home office management software for construction and the mobile app for field workers. Other apps connect construction workers to their biometrics, AR, BIM, vehicle fleet locations, and more.
Wearable Technology in Construction
Wearable technology has become commonplace as accessories like the FitBit and smart watches have taken over. The potential of such objects in the construction industry has clear merit.
Construction Helmets and Glasses
Though Google Glass didn’t take off commercially, one can understand how similar devices can be beneficial in construction. Helmets and protective glasses like Daqri Smart Glasses can provide protection from debris while assisting construction workers with on-site augmented reality. Hands-free interaction with digital tools allows construction crews to perform more effectively. Google Glass has even taken an industrial turn as it caters to more mechanical operations. AGCO has reported a 25% reduction in production time on low volume, complex assemblies. Such tools, though used in agriculture, have game-changing applications in field service as well. Working with your hands has become a dynamic and revolutionary field.
With 625,000 occupational injuries due to work in manufacturing and construction in 2015 alone (and an accompanying 21 billion dollars spent on workers’ compensation), it is clear that the physical toll construction takes on a worker is intense. Bionic suits act as an exoskeleton on part of or the entire body. They have been used in medical research for paraplegic individuals and are now also being used in construction work. Use of these bionic suits in construction will lower the amount of pain incurred by construction workers by literally carrying part of the burden. A vest can support up to 36 lbs of extra weight; this makes a huge difference in productivity and health.
Biometric Checking Through Construction Gear
Construction is a dangerous field. Workers can become seriously injured when working in the heat or as the result of on-site accidents. With biometric checking, symptoms of heat exhaustion can be identified prior to severe injury (sometimes making the difference between life and death). These systems can also alert coworkers when someone is in potential danger. This can effectively make construction a much safer field, resulting in more active interest in construction as a career.
Technology has vastly improved the concept of a standard construction blueprint. Drones and building information modeling have transformed the preparation process for construction, resulting in better prepared construction crews and faster build times.
While some use these for hobby flying, drones have clear benefits when used in construction. Construction drones survey land, create models for building information modeling, and can act as a marketing tool when showing potential customers your work. While some companies use drone rental companies as needed, it can sometimes make sense for a construction company to purchase one. One can even use VR headsets to attain first-person aerial views of a construction site! It is important, however, to consider local the legal implications of construction drones as flying laws vary state to state.
BIM (building information modeling) is used in construction to create digital representations of actual building functionality. BIM can be extremely realistic and often incorporates real-world settings through drone and other BIM construction area-scanning technology. These models are used as very thorough plans. Designing functionality beforehand allows for quicker, safer, and better-developed construction.
With less construction workers on site, many construction companies are looking for faster ways to produce buildings. Revolutions in 3D printing and modular building have allowed construction projects to reach completion in less time while maintaining a high quality of work.
>We’ve all seen videos of 3D printers creating unique items, models, and toys. Well, the same technology has been scaled to building-sized proportion for the construction industry, using concrete to 3D print entire houses. A 3D printed house can save time and money for construction companies while lessening the burden on construction workers so that they can work on the details.
While modular buildings used to be thought of as cheap and low quality, they are now being sought as a faster alternative to on-site construction. Parts of buildings are manufactured in an off-site factory, then put together like puzzle pieces on the construction site. The quality of modular buildings has gone up as well, lessening construction time while maintaining the level of quality that many homeowners seek.
While there are shortages in construction workers and rising costs in production, the solution to these problems might prove to be revolutionary. Technology is taking construction by storm, making the industry safer, more lucrative, and more effective. Ultimately, as construction becomes a more appealing career to young individuals entering the workforce, these investments in technology will prove to have great return.