One thing is certain when it comes to the future of the construction industry – change is on the horizon. While the demand for construction is at an all-time high, the workforce is at an all-time low and steadily decreasing. As seasoned tradesman initiate their exit from the workforce, there is a growing concern that there is insufficient interest from the younger generations to supplement the workforce. When coupled with seasonal temperature changes, fear of workplace accidents, as well as pressure to pursue higher education, there is an industry-wide crisis that needs to be addressed. To address the industry workforce shortage, construction professionals are turning to robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. From a global perspective, both foreign and domestic companies have already begun automating their workforce. While the reviews are mixed, the following three observations have been made concerning how innovation has and will continue to affect the construction industry for years to come.
- Improved Cost Efficiency
A common argument against implementing automation into the industry is that it would take away functions that would otherwise be performed by the human workforce. However, the industry as a whole is already facing a workforce shortage. Robotic intervention is now more than ever necessary to supplement, not replace, the already scarce workforce.
Specifically, there are tasks that require unique skillsets and experiences that robots do not currently have the capability to perform. However, robotic workers can help improve efficiency when it comes to repetitive tasks that human workers perform less efficiently over a period of time due to fatigue factors. Robots do not deal with personal or environmental elements that affect quality of work. Human workers not only get tired and distracted, but are also affected by family or personal problems that ultimately negatively impact the quality of their work. Notwithstanding maintenance and mechanical failures, robots can produce consistent and quality results for an indefinite amount of time. As a result, robots and automated systems offer a desired level of consistency compared with those of humans. Moreover, by removing the time-consuming and physically challenging tasks associated with the job, construction professionals will be able to focus on higher skilled tasks that will ultimately improve the quality of work realized on a project. This cost saving measure alone has become an attractive motivator for construction professionals throughout the industry.
- Increased Production Efficiency
From start to finish, construction projects utilize a tremendous amount of resources, including time. From the initial planning through project development, a construction project can take several years until completion. While smartphones and mobile site applications have increased communication on projects, project visualization improvements have increased resource efficiency through reducing the need for re-work – thus eliminating wastes related to labor and materials. This theory is highlighted through the utilization of 3D printing and prefabricated custom development projects. Residential and commercial projects are being fabricated at off-site factory locations at an increasing rate. Climate controlled facilities and the presence of daily site-supervision help eliminate costs associated with job delays due to weather and miscommunication concerning a particular scope of work.
- Increased Safety
Society often has a negative connotation with innovations in technology and the human workforce. However, one aspect that goes overlooked is how technology can improve construction site safety. Construction remains one of the deadliest occupations. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) found a total of 5,190 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2016, a seven percent increase from 2015. 2016 was the third consecutive year that workplace fatalities increased, and the first time more than 5,000 fatalities have been recorded since 2008.
Several technological advances have been implemented with the goal to eliminate dangerous hazards that exist throughout a construction site. When taking into consideration the dangerous conditions that exist at construction sites, you cannot always predict an accident before it occurs. However, utilizing technological advances as described below have tremendously reduced the severity and frequency of construction related accidents.
The commercial use of unmanned drones has been utilized throughout construction projects. Specifically, in construction, drones are being used on jobsites for everything from site surveying, site inspections, but most importantly in quality control to make sites safer. Drones can quickly conduct site inspections and identify potential hazards each day. They can also be used to monitor workers throughout the day to ensure everyone is working safely and OSHA compliant. Drones are being used to take photos to not only document work progress, but to also assist construction professionals with making informed decisions concerning project management and improve client awareness.
Virtual reality simulators have tremendous cross-over application from video gaming to training the military and providing simulations for medical professionals to conduct surgeries. The same technology is now being used to train construction workers on everything from operating heavy machinery to learning new trades such as masonry and plumbing.
As construction projects increase in size, so do the number of workers present at a given site. Congested worksites are one of the leading issues related to jobsite accidents. To increase safety awareness, companies have designed vests and hard hats that integrate sensors, as well as GPS and real-time locating systems. Dual purpose hard hats have built-in LEDs that not only provide illumination when there is limited visibility, but also serve as a safety beacon. Real time locating services allow site supervisors to keep track of all workers in case of emergencies, and catastrophic site accidents. Furthermore, worksite vests are now offering safety benefits that go beyond fluorescent reflectors. Safety vests are now being designed to monitor vital signs and also include an airbag collar that would inflate should a worker fall from elevated work sites.
While you cannot stop the wheels of innovation, it is necessary to identify ways to successfully integrate the workers of today with the technological advancements that are coming tomorrow. Local legislative officials and construction employers must invest in vocational training and continuing education forums to further develop the necessary skills needed to keep up with new technology.
CMBG3 Law’s attorneys have years of combined experience handling construction defect cases in multiple jurisdictions relating to various sized projects, including commercial structures, massive residential subdivisions, condominiums, and single-family residences. Our attorneys have successfully defended issues involving hot/corrosive soils, proper pipe insulation, foundation cracks, subsoil grading, siding, windows, flashing, rough framing, waterproofing membranes, roofing, plumbing, and drywall. In addition, we have experience dealing with indemnification disputes, tenders of liability, local building codes, ASTM standards, AWWA standards, as well as other nuanced issues in construction litigation. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Anthony daFonseca (email him or 617-279-8241).