There is a growing interest in construction technology startups among investors, which means we are seeing more innovative and useful tech becoming available in the industry.
One example is robotics, which can help bridge the gap between construction demand and the industry’s labor shortage. However, the industry has a way to go to address that labor shortage simply through better management, which is much less expensive than investing in robotics. That improved management can include better planning, reductions in waste and use of leaner construction methods.
Robotics can help alleviate construction labor challenges by assisting in prefabrication and offsite construction methods, two innovations that have been shown to increase production and decrease the need for as many laborers on the job. A natural use of robots is automating production on a production line.
Then there is the science of co-bots – collaboration between human workers and robots. Robots can work together with people to increase safety, enhance data collection and augment the abilities of the workforce by giving people super strength, for instance through the use of exoskeletons. The result can be fewer costly accidents and injuries plus more productivity.
The key to robotic innovations is that they need to make things as easy and safe as possible. People don’t want to have extra confusion or additional delays in their job. But they will appreciate the ways automation can essentially extend the length of a work day to 24 hours, without requiring people to be onsite for all of those 24 hours.
Contractors know that adding innovations like robotics is a serious challenge in an industry where profit margins are thin. In most companies, there is already little available capital to invest in innovations. On the other hand, contractors face the strategic need to remain competitive. The real choice is whether the needed changes introduced into a company are done so gradually or radically.
Construction is a people-centric business. It is important to encourage others to embrace an innovative mindset. One way to do that is to keep avenues open for ideas that may solve the causes of inefficiencies. Trying new processes will see more success if more people are involved than just management. When other people in the company are encouraged to innovate and come up with ideas, management is often pleasantly surprised at the solutions that are suggested. It also results in a broader base buying change.
Even with buy-in, it’s important to remember not to try to do everything at once. It benefits the process if you concentrate on the most critical issues first.
When you get serious about implementing innovations, that enables higher profit margins. On the other hand, it also includes higher risk. Trying new technology on a project adds risk in an already risky industry. It’s best to set boundaries for using new tech, in other words, a framework for experimenting. When you are trying new things, no one wants to fail, and setting boundaries is a way to minimize the setbacks.
Tune in to episode 114 of Bridging the Gap Podcast and hear from Aarni Heiskanen about innovation in the construction industry.