When the average person hears the word ‘construction’, their mind probably goes to images of buildings or roads. Maybe they even think about all the materials, labor, and time that go into those structures and infrastructure. They probably don’t immediately think about all of the technology associated with the construction industry. However, those in the industry know we’ve seen some incredible advancements over recent years that could fundamentally change the industry – from AI and Building Information Modeling all the way down to robots and exoskeletons that help with the handling of materials. For example, we’ve seen the use of virtual reality to conduct tours of facilities during the design phase which helps to lower the need for changes during construction. Despite these huge technological advances, many are being underutilized in most construction sites. But we expect that as the workforce demographic shifts towards younger generations, we will begin to see technology integrated at a greater pace than it is today.
As the Baby Boomers have started to retire, Millennials have begun to make up a large chunk of the workforce and there’s been a slow migration to integrating some technology in the construction industry. I think as we see all of the Baby Boomers and the early Gen X-ers leave the workforce, the Generation Z and Generation Alpha that will take their places will push even harder toward the digital age. I’ve seen Generation Alpha’s affinity for technology first-hand with my three-year-old. I’m fascinated by how quickly she picks things up, whether she is sneaking selfies on my wife’s phone or navigating her tablet with little to no help from us. With how early my daughter and the members of her generation are being introduced to technology, the Alpha Generation is going to be even more tech-savvy than their predecessors. This generational shift will likely push our industry toward a movement of adapting and adopting technology, or being left behind.
As the issues that regularly plague the industry continue, from skilled labor availability to material procurement to the war for talent in replacing Baby Boomers, these young generations may be able to look to tech advancements for answers. While it might be advantageous to make construction look more enticing, we could start to leverage more technology to gain efficiencies and attract young workers to fill the gaps. This process has already begun with technologies being utilized across the industry including 3D printing, BIM (3D) modeling, 360 cameras, Virtual Reality, Robotics, etc. Additionally, drones are being used for documentation, inspections, and even topographic surveys. Autonomous heavy equipment has also become a part of the conversation with the technology for self-driving cars migrating into machinery such as excavators and bulldozers that are able to do mass grading and dig trenches by using 3D-mapping, similar to your Roomba at home.
Here at The Douglas Company, we have begun to adapt and adopt some new technologies as well. Currently, we are utilizing cloud based construction management software to assist our Operations team and schedule analytic software to help identify and mitigate issues when they are small. We’ve also started to utilize 360 helmet cameras and drones for photo documentation and remote inspections. With Artificial Intelligence in its infancy, it is hard to fathom where the construction industry will go. I believe robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing are going to be the drivers in our business in the not so distant future to mitigate labor and material shortages.
Only time will tell if I am right, stay tuned for more updates.
Vice President of Construction
The Douglas Company