The construction industry is undergoing a whirlwind of changes, surprises and challenges this year. With the new presidential administration comes new labor, immigration and material policies. With the evolving technology comes new building techniques and materials. And the aging workforce calls for a younger, more diverse pool of candidates. These are the three main observations made by industry leaders, which construction professionals should learn about in order to prepare for new opportunities and recover from potential setbacks.
- IoT promotes productivity, safety and better field communication
- Workforce shortage seeks more young people and minorities
- New construction materials and techniques facilitate greener structures
The Internet of Things is expected to improve site construction. According to Construction Dive online, contractors mainly use IoT technology to increase safety and productivity among employees.
Wearables for Labor Tracking
Labor fraud is an ongoing problem in construction with long hours, no breaks, and wages paid in cash. This especially happens to undocumented workers. Having employees track their hours through field service apps reduces labor fraud, both on the employee and employer’s end. Connected devices also simplify communication the job site. Managers can better monitor their contractors, while contractors can track accurately log their work orders.Example: DAQRI Smart Helmets feature a 4D system with virtual visor that displays work related tasks and instructions. This visual guide helps contractors prioritize their duties, which reduces training time. Smart helmets are great for data mining, maintaining records, taking photos and 3D mapping.
Wearables for Site Safety
Construction injuries and deaths make up 20% of job site injuries, which has been a problem for 50+ years. More than one million construction laborers get back injuries per year. Common wearable safety devices, such as shoes, helmets, wristbands, glasses, suits and vests, can monitor factors like heart rate and body positioning in order to reduce injuries or detect hazardous conditions.Example:Ekso Bionics created the first bionic suit specifically to reduce construction workers’ injuries and fatigue, which boosts productivity. The robotic exoskeleton design is lightweight and requires no battery or electricity. A mounted arm leveraging technology makes it easier to lift heavy objects from chest height to overhead. The suit also promotes good posture to reduce muscle strain.
Heavy Equipment Data Exchange SimplifiedAccording to ConstructionPros.com, connected machines are becoming more and more common. Companies like Komatsu and Caterpillar often provide telematics sensors with their machinery to capture usage data. Fleet managers may struggle when it comes to learning to use a different software system for every dealer they work with, but that is starting to change.
Example: In March 2017, Trimble and the Association of Equipment Management Professionals developed a new telematics data exchange standard (ISO-15143-3). Trimble uses VisionLink for asset and productivity management, which works with mobile devices. This standard allows contractors to manage their whole fleet on one platform, rather than a different software system per OEM. This way, contractors can easily track data relating to who uses their machines, what conditions cause failure and more to gain insight on machine health and performance.
Millennials and Women Wanted
In a 2017 Home Advisor survey, 93% of participating contractors stated that they feel labor shortage will prevent their businesses from growing in the next year. 61% of respondents felt that Millennials lack exposure to the skilled trades. For many years, baby boomers performed skilled labor, but are starting to retire. Unfortunately, Millennials face more pressure to get a 4+ year degree due to the unemployment gap between high school and college graduates. As a result, young people may be more prone to believe that construction careers are dirty, dead end or low paying. But there are initiatives out there to show today’s generation that there is fulfillment and high earning potential in the trades.
The labor shortage doesn’t stop at the age gap. Professional Builder Magazine states that women make up just 2.9% of U.S. trade workers. That is why Associated General Contractors is educating contractors in the U.S. to promote and respect female skilled workers.
Immigrants Face More Barriers
A John Burns Real Estate Consulting Report states that the construction field lost 570,000 Mexican born workers since 2007. Zillow reported that many housing experts worry about high labor costs due to loss of immigrant workers, especially with the new presidency. Many contractors also worry about the possibility that China will raise material prices. There isn’t any certainty, but many construction companies are aware that the new administration may greatly change taxes and labor policies.
“Green” homes and buildings are becoming the norm each year. In 2016, Former President Obama proposed almost $8 million for clean energy research. According to Interesting Engineering, the goal of green building is mainly to reduce carbon emissions. Recyclable and technologically enhanced materials are touted mostly for their energy-efficiency, but durability and ease of maintenance vary per material.Self-healing concrete: Concrete is one of the most commonly used construction materials, but also one of the most toxic. When moisture seeps through cracks, water leakage can cause corrosion, which ultimately makes structures collapse. A Netherlands based biologist developed the concept of “self-healing” concrete based on how human bones heal through mineralization. To help concrete repair itself, scientists chose Bacillus bacteria for its ability to grow spores that live decades without oxygen or food. The spores sense moisture and then grow limestone between any cracks that occur, with no human intervention needed. Since self-healing concrete repairs itself, it lasts longer and emits less CO2 than regular concrete.
Kebony: This sustainable timber has a non-toxic bio liquid polymerized inside it for added strength and stability. Best used on external applications, Kebony wood can be sanded, planed and still retain its strength. And unlike regular wood which can rot and get dirty easily, Kebony cleans nicely with just a brush and water. Although Kebony does shrink with humidity changes, it remains stable. The boards start off brown but may become silver over time depending on weather conditions and applications. The color change doesn’t indicate damage although surface coating can help maintain the brown.