The USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported in December that 89% of contractors are having at least a moderate level of difficulty finding skilled workers. “As a result, contractors say they are asking skilled labor to do more,” the press release notes.
As the labor shortage continues to make headlines, doors also open for new opportunities. High-tech advancements have allowed construction technology to boom, and many firms are working diligently to provide the industry with options to help bridge the labor shortage gap.
For example, robotics are easing the burden of the labor shortage, improving the quality of the builds and shortening the time to complete a project.
Robots, like those of Scaled Robotics, are being introduced to the job site to increase efficiency and reduce risk. These robots navigate autonomously to create detailed maps, process data and compare it to the BIM model to catch errors before they become costly mistakes.
SpotWalk integrates HoloBuilder’s technology with Boston Dynamic's Spot robot. This four-legged robot, controlled by a mobile app, walks the job site to capture 360° images to document progress over time.
Other robots have been designed to fulfill the role of laborers, like Material Unit Lift Enhancers (MULE) and a Semi-automated Mason (SAM). As the name implies, the MULE is a smart lift-assist device that can pick up items weighing up to 135 pounds. SAM is another robotic device that works with masons to lay bricks. “A mason can typically lay about 500 bricks per day, while SAM can lay between 200 and 400 bricks per hour, depending on the layout,” reports Constructor Magazine.
There is also Tybot, a robot that ties rebar for a bridge project in Pittsburgh. In all instances, robots reduced the need for skilled labor and produced significant savings in labor costs.
VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY
Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technology is transforming how construction projects are designed, constructed and shared, and thus, increasing productivity throughout the life span of the project. This increased productivity allows a reduced labor force to do more with greater efficiencies.
There are several tools on the market that allow users to navigate a model as if they were inside it, but now there is also software that enables team members to interact with each other.
Through IrisVR, teams can collaborate on a project in a virtual conference room—no matter where they are geographically located. This allows design and construction issues to be identified before they become costly and keeps projects on schedule and on budget.
With AR, workers use wearable gear, like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, to view layers of data and plans while on the job site. AR is also used to compare the project’s progress against its schedule, providing a greater level of project management and, ultimately, enhanced productivity.
SAFETY TECHNOLOGY TOOLS
According to OSHA, 21.1% of worker fatalities in 2018 were in construction, and 58.6% of those are due to the “fatal four” hazards: falls, electrocutions, being struck by an object and being crushed.
When a worker gets injured (or worse) on the job site, it has exponential effects—from increased insurance premiums and fines to loss of productivity and decreased morale. And while protecting the health and welfare of workers has always been a top industry priority, a secondary catalyst has emerged: the labor shortage. Progressive thinkers recognize the correlation between significantly improved worker safety and attracting people to well-paying career paths in construction.
Triax’s Spot-r clip uses RFID technology that triggers an automatic alert when a worker falls. Medics can identify precisely who they are looking for and close proximity to where the worker has been injured.
Another wearable tech advancement is SolePower SmartBoots. These OSHA-approved boots are equipped with low-power sensors (GPS, RFID and IMUs) that monitor situational awareness, real-time location and other environmental factors. Shumbu’s hardhat upgrade kit also uses GPS and can detect overheating conditions.
Also, in the coming years, watch for greater adoption of exoskeletons that reduce fatigue and stress on the body.
EQUIPMENT MANAGEMENT AND ASSET TRACKING
The industry has been notoriously slow to adopt technology. In a time when the construction space is facing an acute labor shortage—where more than 250,000 jobs need to be filled—companies cannot afford to be inefficient with the workforce they have.
Tracking assets across multiple locations has always been plagued with difficulty, which is why equipment management software is becoming a must-have tool. With asset tracking software, organizations know the precise location of every asset, its usage/idle time, availability and condition—all in real-time.
Using this strategy to manage an entire fleet can save a company on unnecessary rentals, purchases and/or internal moves. Like project management software, having everything bundled on one platform provides better visibility and efficiencies across the business.
At a time where skilled labor is at a critical low, today’s construction firms must take proactive steps to adopt technological innovations.
Donté Shannon, CAE, chief executive officer for the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP), agrees. His association is committed to a strategic initiative to use technology to train the next generation of workers. “To attract young workers, you start by changing the story of what it means to have a career in construction, which, today, includes cool technology that plays a role in construction every day.”