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Slow to Change? No More

Some say our industry is slow to adopt new technologies, and in good fun we’ve had a laugh over this.


Way back when online ordering first arrived, distributors tried to push the technology to their customers. Funny. Most wall and ceiling contractors still showed up at the order counter with their material lists written on cut pieces of Sheetrock or 2x4s, says Bill Umbach, executive director of the Drywall & Interior Systems Contractors Association of New Jersey, who comes from the distribution side of the industry.


Yeah, some drywall contractors did things the old-fashioned in the past. What about today?

Marching Forward with Technology

I’ve been researching a white paper on construction technology for the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry. Despite the low-tech orientation of many, I’ve found that technology is marching forward in wall and ceiling construction.


We have a skilled worker shortage, so we need technology to help boost job site productivity. Venture capitalists are funding lots of new construction technology products, the research shows. And some AWCI member contractors are already using robotic automation, 3D printers and steel stud roll-forming machines in their operations.


How about you? Here are some things to think about:


1. Building Information Modeling is being used by the MEP trades to do real-time project management.


2. Data analytics is a game-changer for many companies, and some AWCI member contractors are using it to improve their workflows.


So, why has the industry been slow to adopt technology in the past?


“It has been hard to learn new tricks when you’re busy trying to keep on path with your established schedules,” says Robert Grupe, AWCI’s director of technical services.  


In other words, the work load of many wall and ceiling contractors exceeds the capacity of their workforce. Construction schedules and process controls don’t allow room to train the staff to work at the face of the wall differently, or to learn to use tools like BIM software, GPS trackers or digital documentation apps. They don’t have time. Projects are all due—yesterday.


Architects don’t have time to learn new technologies either, Grupe says. They finish one project when the next is getting started. It’s easier to rubber-stamp new designs based on old technology rather than review new design and collaboration technologies and upgrade to them.


“The good news is,” Grupe says, “in times of downturn architects and contractors may take the leap forward to learn a new technology, or a new process sequence, because they have time.”


Grupe has witnessed this firsthand. An architect by training and someone who spent years on USG’s engineering and research development teams, Grupe says architects were slow to adopt CAD drawing technology when it first came out. The switch from drawing by hand to computers didn’t come until a downturn in the economy gave architects time to learn the CAD software, he says.


We face an uncertain economic future, and maybe you have extra time on your hands right now.

Form a Technology Committee

But how does one adopt new technology?


“Do it in steps, and make sure the drive for technology comes from the top,” says Stephen Eckstrom, president of California Drywall Company in California.


Eckstrom has been pushing his company for seven years to advance with technology, and he says the majority of the company is on board.


“But if I wasn’t pushing, and it was just a project manager or a project exec leading the effort, I don’t know how far the technology would go,” Eckstrom says. “The owner has to evangelize and push new technologies throughout the company.”


You can invest money in innovative tools and technology, but without buy-in from your team—from the field to management—you could be wasting that investment.


Soon, the Foundation’s paper, “Technology Impact on the Means and Methods of Wall and Ceiling Construction,” will become available to AWCI members. Among its recommendations, the paper suggests that a contractor member form a technology committee. I say, form that committee today.


The sense I get is the industry is not going to wait on technological advancement anymore. So, let’s get on board with that. Start your investigation of construction technology today.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via

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