What Does the Future Hold?
Members of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry were asked to opine on what the future holds for the wall and ceiling industry. More specifically, members were asked two questions—one about how the industry will change in the next 10 years and in the next 100 years.
All of the responses are included in AWCI’s commemorative centennial book, “Celebrating 100 Years of Industry Growth with the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry.” The book includes answers from AWCI member contractors, suppliers, distributors and chapters. Due to space considerations, here we present only the responses provided by AWCI member contractors.
How Will the Industry Change in the Next 10 Years?
FL Crane & Sons has experienced firsthand the rapid evolvement of the construction industry. The company was founded when mainstream drywall use was in its infancy in our region. While technology continues to advance, we have to ask the question, “How will the industry change in the next 10 years in response to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges?” This is nearly impossible to answer with any accuracy. No one would have thought in 1947 that our take-offs would be completed with the aid of computer software, and that sets of paper plans are almost nonexistent in our company. We picture a much different and much more capable industry within the next 10 years. The use of effective technology will likely be the most visible change in our industry. Tools such as the Robotic Total Station will continue to develop and will provide faster and more accurate layouts. We will be better equipped and capable of tracking analytics, such as production and estimate tracking. We will likely also see the use of pre-fabrication and automation on every job site in the future. Although these are not nearly all the changes we can expect, even just these few have already drastically changed the industry as we know it today.
We think the industry is going to have to face the reality that projects are going to be built slower and at a higher cost moving into the next 10 years. We are going to continue to have labor shortages, and that means the durations on projects will be extended. The natural increases in raw material costs will continue to drive prices up, as always. We simply cannot build projects as fast as we used to.
How will the industry change in the next 10 years? If the next 10 years change as much as the last 10 years, it will completely change the way we do our business—some might suggest it could be overwhelming for some. We have moved from being totally manual with everything to all technology based. Today we communicate by email, iPads and, yes, iPhone 7 Plus (of course). We have eliminated most of the verbal communication as a result. As an example, all bid work, proposals, change orders, contracts, billing and collections are being done by computers. This has required our business to implement the software and computers necessary to meet the ongoing change in technology advances. These changes are requiring us to rethink the type of personnel we need in our office as well as in field management. The skill set needed to operate our business in the next 10 years will change dramatically.
We will continue to see advancements in tools and technology. Our new tools will help increase productivity; they will be lighter than the tools we use today. Tools will become more comfortable to use. Wall and ceiling contractors will pay more for tools to help increase productivity of a smaller workforce and to help reduce injures form repetitious activities.
Let’s start with the bid documents and estimating. First, these documents will continue to be distributed electronically, but improved cloud technology will allow faster feedback and delivery options. Budgets and project schedules will continue to be completed in a more collaborative environment with design and contractors working hand-in-hand.
The next 10 years in the construction industry in New York will continue to embrace and implement technology, especially communication/collaboration platforms seeking greater productivity and efficiency while trying to comply with increased safety mandates in a robust economic climate. New product innovation and revolution in space planning will continue as manufacturers and architects and designers continue to gain competitive advantage and service their client’s needs and desires.
—South Valley Drywall
How Will the Industry Change in the Next 100 Years?
As if the next 10 years isn’t hard enough to predict, what about the next 100 years? The human involvement on a job will probably be very limited. The advancement in robotics by 2118 could have all the knowledge and labor we need to complete even the most daunting projects. Twenty-four-hour workdays could be the norm, and payment for work complete should be instant. A small group of talented individuals can be all that is necessary to complete any job presented to them. Our industry could no longer have a need for skilled laborers but will require only well-educated engineers and architects. The materials commonly used today will be obsolete. We envision walls that beat today’s Underwriter Laboratories and sound transmission coefficient standards that are lighter, thinner and stronger. The development of walls and ceilings could likely be completed using massive 3-D printers and newly designed materials. Although we can make these entertaining predictions, there is really no telling what the industry will look like in 100 years. Maybe we are expecting far too much of our successors, but we wish them the best of luck in their world.
How exciting to think about the world of construction in 2118! We have no doubt that a lot of the construction labor we have today will be replaced by robotics of some type. Automation and prefabrication will be commonplace compared to what we are doing today. Construction materials will be produced much faster due to automation in manufacturing and the use of rapidly renewable materials. All projects will be built in a virtual format, then prefabricated and mostly assembled offsite. Then the materials and prefab assemblies will be delivered by self-driving trucks to the job site where they will be unloaded, stocked and assembled by robots. Humans and robots will work together to physically build the project. 3-D printing will do most of the onsite work for us. On new projects, many items will be 3-D printed right on the job site while smaller, new projects will simply be 3-D printed. 3-D printing will be adapted to provide most things we need, including clothing and food. 3-D printers will be like the microwave of the prior century, where every house will have one because it is an essential part of everyday life.
It is very difficult to think about how our business will be operating in 100 years. We are a stucco and plastering company that was founded by my wife’s grandfather in 1936. Imagine that—a business that will be almost 200 years old by the time you read this! Ironically, the plaster and stucco process has not changed a great deal during the last 100 years. The materials have certainly been upgraded, but the application methods are still today very similar. We do not expect this to change a great deal. However, we do expect the change will come from the way we purchase our material. I expect that you will be buying direct from the manufacturer, and the distributor will have fallen by the wayside. We see this as a cost-cutting measure for the manufacturers and contractors, and we sense this will happen with new and improved shipping methods and inventory control. We also see prefabrication playing a role in the demise of the distributor; you will have figured out a way to purchase material direct, manufacture the prefabrication units and ship direct to project sites.
There will always be a need for the traditional hands-on labor force with the knowledge and experience of how walls and ceilings were constructed in the past. In the future, we see more robotics and drones performing the day-to-day work. The products that we use will be made with higher recycled contents or of rapidly renewable products. Schedules will become shorter as portions of buildings will be built with 3-D modeling technology. In some cases, what used to take up to a year to construct will be constructed in less than two months. We can see it now! Robotic ants retrofitting a building with a new façade made from a bio-acrylic stucco like material.
Gypsum products will not be the typical building component. Lightweight, clean-surface products will take its place as the “standard bearer.” No finishing will be required, eliminating dust hazards and shaving days off for building systems.
One hundred years from now, our current competition will be focusing on global and interplanetary projects. Ronsco will be content and profitable continuing to build New York as the market leader in innovative construction solutions for difficult complex projects that require technical expertise and intense management by providing loyal customers value-enhanced project delivered significantly faster than expected—a timeless mission statement and “blueprint” for success.
—South Valley Drywall