Historically, the construction industry has been slow to adopt new technology, largely due to the vast amount of collaboration necessary to successfully complete a large project. Introducing a single new technology or idea requires engagement, training and implementation on many levels, including owners, architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, craft professionals and suppliers.
However, new challenges prove the need to innovate and require the introduction of disruptive technologies at a faster pace than before. A global pandemic, unprecedented supply chain disruption, cost increases and continued workforce shortages now add to the already unique challenges businesses face. These issues have forced many industries to rethink long-term strategies and reach for more innovative methods for delivering their services.
As technology continues to advance at a rapid rate, we are beginning to see the contributions we stand to gain in terms of worker safety, increased productivity and added value for clients, which make adopting new technology for our industry the obvious way forward.
Many construction companies have started to embrace systems for virtual 3D modeling and clash detection. Even newer tools now include job site robotics that can perform repetitive tasks and specialized trades, as well as move heavy materials, reducing worker fatigue and injuries. Three-dimensional printers were once costly and difficult to use. These printing systems have since rapidly evolved and can now be used to print complex, layered parts useful in construction at a competitive cost, bringing the potential to revolutionize production and mitigate supply chain issues.
New wearable technologies are being deployed on job sites to assist craft professionals and improve safety. Imagine exoskeletons that multiply the wearer’s strength and make lifted objects feel much lighter, or even weightless, reducing employee fatigue and injuries. Proximity sensors can now be attached to hard hats or safety vests to provide an audible, visible and physical alarm alerting employees if they approach a safety hazard such as the leading edge of the roof, trenches or construction equipment, thereby mitigating risk.
Several of these new technologies — such as 3D modeling, quality control programs, 360-degree cameras and equipment utilization programs — collect volumes of information on jobsite performance, quality and safety. The question then becomes, ‘What do we do with all this data?’ That’s where artificial intelligence platforms and data analysis programs can provide integral evaluation and insight, leading to increased productivity and improved client experiences.
At Nabholz, our response to the changing world around us has been to first and foremost embrace the concept of innovation and empower our employees to solve problems. We are currently exploring many of the technologies above as potential solutions. With some of these concepts in the research phase, other new products are now being tested by members of our team for potential full-scale implementation. We have dedicated teams to evaluate new tools and technology to determine how or if they improve safety, productivity, service, and add value to our clients.
While advancements in technology are amazing, it’s important to not equate innovation with technology alone. Our most valuable assets are the individuals who bring their experience and skills to the table each day. In fact, some of the most effective innovations we’ve adopted as a company are solutions developed by our craft professionals responding to on-the-job challenges.
To further engage and encourage ideas from our team members, we developed a formal, in-house Nabholz innovation program. Using an online platform, we present some of the biggest issues we face as a company to all employees for feedback. Through our team’s responses, we have now implemented enhanced safety training programs, mission critical equipment screening systems, new closeout processes, prefabrication of certain building components, VDC modeling of underground utilities, concrete demolition tools, equipment moving systems and many more ideas.
It is truly an exciting time to be in construction. Never before have we had so many options available that can transform how we work. If we are willing to embrace the concept of innovation and the technologies that come with it, we will pave the way forward for our industry’s continued growth.
Brad Hegeman is vice chair and chief strategy officer at Nabholz, the Conway-based construction firm with 14 offices in seven states.