Current and Emergent Technologies Give Contractors a Competitive Edge
Contractors are increasingly adopting new technologies to give themselves an edge over the competition. According to a recent study from USG Corp. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 74% of contractors expect to adopt advanced technology within the next three years. The majority of them are doing so to increase labor productivity.
What kinds of technologies are these contractors adopting? Here are some of the most common current and emerging trends, whether construction firms are looking to embrace tried-and-true efficiency boosters or explore the cutting edge of construction technology.
Some of the most common current technologies include:
Building Information Modeling
Using the building information modeling (BIM) process can help contractors on larger construction projects more efficiently plan their projects and keep them organized. The BIM process uses 3D modeling to help gather information and make it easier to visualize a project. BIM can be used in the design, construction, and operation of a building. As the amount of data we can collect increases, technologies like BIM become more useful.
Project Management Software
One software tool contractors can embrace is project management software. It can help firms complete day-to-day tasks more efficiently to help improve project delivery. You can use it to manage documents and resources and enhance communication and collaboration between partners.
Project management software may be cloud-based or web-based, which enables contractors to access documents from anywhere with any internet-connected device. This means contracting teams can use it whether they're on-site or in the office.
Estimating software is another useful tool for contractors. As compared to spreadsheets and manual methods of estimating costs to inform bid prices, estimating software can help contractors save time and improve the accuracy and consistency of estimates. Furthermore, it helps smaller contracting operations keep track of less tangible “soft costs,” which can account for about 30% of the total budget for a typical construction project.
With more efficient estimation, business owners have an increased ability to focus on the project itself. In addition to performing calculations for estimations, estimating software also often allows access to cost databases and templates for documents such as proposals, cost reports and cover letters.
Customer Relationship Management Software
As with any business, happy customers are the key to success for contractors. CRM software helps general contractors keep track of all the information related to their interactions with customers to help improve relationships with them. They can store contact information, data from past projects, data from sales calls and much more in a CRM. Keeping this information organized in one place can help deliver on projects and better focus on meeting the client’s needs.
On larger construction projects, condition monitoring technologies—including fluid analysis and electronic data—minimize wasteful fuel consumption and downtime. Construction contractors with access to electronic means for monitoring issues like idling can save on total fuel usage, getting the most out of expensive equipment.
Contractors have begun using radio frequency identification, more commonly referred to as RFID, to keep track of equipment, tools, and inventory. Attaching an RFID tag to an item enables you to scan it to get information, such as a model number or when it was last inspected.
Some contractors are ahead of the pack and are trying out emerging technologies. Most of these are just starting to see use in the industry, but will likely become more common — and available for more applications — in the years to come.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Augmented reality overlays digital objects over the real world, while virtual reality creates an immersive digital experience. Both typically involve the use of high-tech goggles or glasses. You've probably heard of these technologies, but you're more likely to have witnessed them in the context of gaming than construction.
However, the technologies have many applications in the industry. Contractors can use these technologies to practice skills in the digital world before trying them in real life. They can also be useful for visualizing construction plans, allowing project stakeholders to interact with the design in an immersive way.
Drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles, were the most popular technology among contractors who said they use advanced technology in the USG Corp. and U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey. Contractors can use them to fly over job sites to create a map to assist in planning. They can also fly a drone over a location to help monitor the project's progress.
Automation and Robotics
Automation and robotics are transforming all sort of industries, including construction. Contractors can use robots, self-driving construction vehicles and other technologies to increase productivity. One example of such a robot is the Semi-Automated Mason, which deploys a conveyor belt and robotic arm to lay 3,000 bricks in eight hours, about six times more than the average human mason could do on their own.
Rather than replacing masons, this robot takes over some of the repetitive, mundane parts of bricklaying, leaving humans to do tasks that require more skill.
3D printers, which produce physical objects layer by layer, could be extremely useful for contractors. These devices enable construction firms to quickly and cost-effectively print parts used for a project, as well as tools and replacement components for equipment, from anywhere. Teams could potentially have a 3D printer on-site, reducing the downtime caused by broken items. 3D printers can also print unique designs, helping solve complex construction challenges.
Wearables, including smart sensors, boots, and clothing, could help contractors increase safety, efficiency and productivity. These device keep track of worker location and can automatically detect falls. People can also use it to report incidents or hazards themselves. Wearables have started to make their way into the industry and will likely continue to become more popular.
Contractors across the industry have started to adopt advanced technology because of the productivity, efficiency, safety and cost benefits it brings. If you want a competitive edge, consider how new technologies may be able to help you.
Holly Welles is a freelance writer who covers construction and real estate innovations for publishers across the web, including NCCER and Constructible. She also runs her own residential real estate blog, The Estate Update.