By: Joe Peters on May 27th, 2020
How Tech Helps Streamline and Manage Construction Businesses
Ever since it struck at the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 has altered our lives. It has wrecked the economy, shoved millions of people out of a job, and locked us inside our homes.
Unfortunately, this novel coronavirus is not expected to leave soon. Whatever effect the virus is having currently will pale in comparison to its future effects. The virus’s economic impact alone is likely to last for years, which is why ConstructConnect has been so diligent with the “From the Trenches” series.
Even if the virus were to disappear tomorrow, it would take years to get the economy back to where it was. It will take a while for demand to return to previous levels, and for people to feel safe spending or investing their money.
The Coronavirus’s Effect on the Construction Industry
The construction sector has been affected by this global pandemic in several ways. For starters, many contractors had to shut down sites to protect their workers. On sites that have stayed open, contractors have had to take extra precautions, including social distancing, enforced hygiene measures, and staggered work schedules.
Despite their best efforts, contractors still working have had to suffer from employee absenteeism. Workers had to take some time off due to coming down with COVID-19 or to care for other family members who might have had the virus. Understandably, some workers decided to protect themselves by avoiding leaving the house altogether.
The supply chain of the construction industry has also been hit hard. The global travel ban has limited the movement of resources, making it difficult for construction sites to get the materials they need in time. Countries like China and Italy have limited their production efforts, reducing the global supply of essential materials, including steel and cement.
Using Technology to Face the Coronavirus
Fortunately, technology can mitigate several of these adverse effects.
Dealing With the Shortage in Labor
In an earlier article, ConstructConnect discussed how technology is reshaping the construction industry, and looked into some options that can help with the labor shortage.
Those technological options are now more valuable than ever:
- Drones can act as a suitable replacement for human beings for monitoring or inspecting purposes. Rather than having inspectors wade through a site, coming into close contact with several other workers, a drone can inspect the site. Additionally, drones can be used to monitor the workers, making sure that they are keeping a safe distance from one another.
- Robots are already able to supplement the efforts of workers in factories. They can also help workers on construction job sites by performing repetitive, mundane tasks, including bricklaying and rebar tying. Robots will help get the job done while reducing the number of workers required.
- Autonomous heavy equipment. Self-driving cars have been all the rage over the past few years, but few people talk about autonomous heavy equipment. These vehicles can navigate a construction site on their own and perform several jobs on-site without human intervention.
- ERP or enterprise resource planning system is a single platform that consolidates different functions, including accounting, job costing, human resources, and inventory management. One of the main benefits of this platform is that it acts as a centralized hub for a company’s vital data while reducing the need to perform redundant data entry operations.
- Automated workflow tools. Using software and technology increases worker efficiency, and we’ve already seen how software and applications can be a massive benefit to any construction business. As software becomes more advanced, it will enable the automation of routine processes and allow these different applications to communicate with one another.
For example, when an item needs approval, an automatic flag can be sent to the person in charge. Once said individual gives their approval, this can spur other programs and applications to carry out their role. In other words, technology can help construction companies reduce the number of workers required to run daily operations both on and off-site.
Dealing With Worker Safety
When it comes to worker safety, it is important to monitor their physical health for any signs of infection and to ensure that they are following the proper procedure, including maintaining a safe personal distance.
Here are a few solutions to help with that:
- Document imaging:
The construction sector is still burdened by heaps of paper documents floating around. However, dealing with plenty of paper documents moving from one set of hands to another increases the chance of spreading the virus. One way to keep workers safe is to digitize everything and to replace paper documents with digital ones that can’t harm anyone.
Wearables can perform two vital functions at the same time: First, they can monitor the health of the workers, sending an immediate alarm the instant anyone starts showing signs of an infection, such as fever. Second, wearables can remind workers to follow the safety guidelines and to keep their personal protective equipment on at all times.
- Hygiene technology:
Medical facilities have always incorporated different types of technology to maintain their hygiene. Maybe it’s time we took a leaf from their book. Each manager will have to decide which technological solution will suit their needs. There are robots that use UV disinfection methodologies to destroy microorganisms. Some gadgets can inform the wearer or the manager whether the worker has washed their hands recently.
- Video conferencing software:
Given the state we are in, programs and applications to help with conducting virtual meetings have never been more in demand. After all, people probably won’t be comfortable with real-life meetings for a long time to come.
Dealing With Material Shortage
The shortage of construction supplies doesn’t just mean that some projects will be delayed; it also means that these supplies will become more expensive until the supply returns to normal levels. Therefore, construction companies need to seek out alternative solutions.
- 3-D printing:
Thanks to their versatility, 3-D printers have proven their usefulness to the construction sector. Companies can use these printers to manufacture certain building components, and not long ago, a company in Dubai used 3-D printing to construct an entire office.
- Other new materials:
Technology has given us a wealth of building materials to choose from. Even though plenty of these options may not be ready for use in large scale projects, resourceful companies can still find a use for new materials. Examples include recycled concrete, an innovative and eco-friendly solution. Also, carbon fiber is a strong material that can withstand high forces.
Preparing for the Inevitable
The effects of this global pandemic are bound to stay for the foreseeable future. Therefore, construction companies need to adapt by adopting technology designed specifically for them as well as looking into other sectors for inspiration and ideas.
One obvious sector from which construction companies might want to borrow some technology is the health sector, specifically when it comes to keeping the workforce safe and healthy.
Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate techie. He’s contributed articles to a variety of business and tech sites, and he writes about construction and asset management at Gocodes. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, Joe devours the news on the latest gadgets and binge-watches his favorite TV shows. Follow him on @bmorepeters