Contractors Bet on Tech

Mark L. Johnson / February 2020

As 2020 began, confidence levels among construction contractors was down, according to industry research. Revenue was up, but optimism about the market took a hit as contractors still couldn’t find enough qualified workers for their projects. The labor shortage is a source of angst for our industry, especially since immigration could provide a solution to the workforce shortage. But immigration reform is unlikely to come anytime soon, so, in the meantime, what could help improve productivity and protect workers on the job?

Drones, Sensors and Robots
According to Dodge Data & Analytics research, sponsored by USG and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and released in December, advanced technology can increase productivity, improve project schedules and enhance safety. More than 70 percent of contractors believe technology can achieve these goals.
    
And the race is on to bring tech to the job site. The survey said over 75 percent of general contractors use at least one of these technologies: drones, augmented/virtual reality, equipment tagging, reality capture, wearable sensors and robots. Sixty-three percent of GCs already use drones, 23 percent use augmented and/or virtual reality, and 22 percent use equipment tagging.
    
Among all contractors—both GCs and trade contractors—60 percent already use at least one technology from this list: drones; equipment tagging; augmented/virtual reality; reality capture, wearable sensors; RFID tagging; automated equipment and robotics. By 2022, 80 percent of contractors say they will have at least one of these technologies in place.
    
Clearly, the construction industry is changing rapidly. And tech represents a big opportunity for construction firms to work faster and safer.

Tech Today
Various technologies have found a home among construction contractors, according to the USG/U.S. Chamber survey. Here is the advanced tech and the percentage of firms using it today:

  1. Drones—41 percent use among all contractors
  2. Equipment Tagging—20 percent use
  3. Augmented and/or Virtual Reality—13 percent use
  4. Reality Capture—11 percent use
  5. RFID Tagging—11 percent use
  6. Wearable Tech—6 percent use

Tech in 2022
Here’s what contractors expect to use three years from now:

  1. Drones—45 percent plan to use by 2022
  2. Equipment Tagging—37 percent
  3. Wearable Tech—33 percent
  4. RFID Tagging—24 percent
  5. Augmented and/or Virtual Reality—21 percent
  6. Reality Capture—20 percent

While all technology will go up in use, wearable tech will jump from 6 percent in 2019 to 33 percent by 2022. It will move from last in line to third in popularity. RFID tagging will pass augmented/virtual reality to take the fourth spot, and reality capture, currently at third, will drop to the bottom of the list.

It’s About … Safety
Most contractors surveyed, 78 percent, say that advanced technologies will improve productivity. Seventy-five percent say tech will help meet or reduce project schedules.
    
Productivity-improving technologies include reality capture: 3D laser scanners, drones and iPhones with AI photo-tagging software that can document site conditions, catch design mistakes early and plan more realistic task sequences. Reality capture is tech for the GC.
    
Here’s tech for wall and ceiling contractors: Wearable scanners, RFID tagging and equipment tagging. These technologies can track worker location and movement to optimize their workflows. They can reduce workers’ time in motion by more efficiently positioning them and their tools, equipment and materials on site.
    
Wearable devices are expected to be big: 33 percent of contractors plan to use wearables by 2022; 60 percent feel their biggest benefit will be to improve worker safety. Wearables vibrate to warn of hazards. They can prevent struck-by and caught-between injuries—two of what OSHA considers to be construction’s most common causes of death on the job site.
    
Even robots and automation equipment, some day, may play a key role in making your job sites safer. Of contractors surveyed, 22 percent believe robots will be useful to address safety concerns; 18 percent say drones also add safety benefits.
    
Are you planning to bring advanced technologies to your firm? If I were you, I’d look into it.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.