How Is Technology Building a Better Future for the Construction Industry?

by Emily Newton

Technology has been game-changing for industries such as manufacturing and logistics, but it’s also significantly impacting construction. Let’s explore how high-tech improvements will make a brighter, more sustainable future for everyone who depends on or works in the industry.

Saving Time

It’s incredibly common for construction projects to finish late and over budget. Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg studied what causes these issues with infrastructure projects to learn more about how to solve them. One surprising takeaway was that only approximately 8.5% of projects finish on time and within their budgets.

Flyvbjerg suggested that construction project leaders take the time to develop solid plans and set goals. When everyone understands what they must achieve and when, it’ll be easier to keep them motivated and focused on the future.

However, it undoubtedly helps when people can improve their processes to save time. One increasingly popular way to do that is to use robots. Consider a rebar-tying machine called TyBOT, which is helping with a Wisconsin bridge project. The machine did more than 1,100 ties in an hour. Another way of looking at it is that the TyBot finished 17,823 ties in just two shifts.

People who have used the TyBOT on other projects saw impressive outcomes, too. One company that typically uses two machines per site saved up to 300 work hours with this approach.

Project Management Tools Save Time Through Convenient Access

Of course, time-saving technologies beyond robots exist, too. For example, many sites use digital project management software. It helps them see who’s responsible for specific tasks and whether they’re on track to finish them on time. Some tools give clients access to ask questions or provide clarification, too. They can eliminate the communication slowdowns that could otherwise put projects behind schedule.

Since leading software products work in the cloud, authorized users can access them wherever they are. That allows someone to immediately snap a picture of a project’s progress and upload it to a platform for others to see. These products also let people store digital plans and other documents. Individuals can find what they need without frustration or delays when everything’s in one place.

Tightening Security

Estimates suggest construction site thefts can cost up to $1 billion annually, making them massive issues. The stolen goods can range from pieces of valuable equipment to difficult-to-source materials.

Fortunately, technology has brought many security-related improvements to sites worldwide. For starters, remote-monitoring tools allow people to see what’s happening at all hours, even if they’re watching from home.

Some construction companies also have drones that use artificial intelligence to spot abnormal activities. Most of those capture detailed images in short periods, making them more thorough than humans. The aerial perspective also allows the high-tech machines to spot things people might miss from the ground.

Improved security also occurs when people install Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on construction equipment. Those allow them to track individual asset locations, verify usage hours and more. Some of these products also enable people to remotely immobilize construction equipment, preventing thieves from getting very far. Other tech features let equipment owners set geographical or time-related boundaries, stopping unauthorized usage.

The tighter security has benefits for on-site crews, too. Some equipment vendors have features that only allow people to operate machinery once they swipe their ID cards or do something similar to prove who they are. That stops people with inadequate training from operating equipment that could put themselves and others at risk.

Improving Training

A 2023 study found an average of 390,500 unfilled construction jobs in the United States during 2022. That was the highest number across the 21-year period for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has data.

There’s no single or fast way to solve the labor shortage, but the problem emphasizes the need to get people interested in the industry, then train them to excel in it as quickly as possible. As of January 2023, 1 in 20 jobs remained unfilled, showing that this issue persists.

Technology offers numerous opportunities to train people efficiently and effectively. Some of the most widespread options are online modules. Students can log in and work through the content at any time of the day or night. That’s particularly handy if on-site training programs in their areas are few and far between.

Online modules can also introduce people to concepts that show the construction industry is getting more high-tech by the day. Consider hydroceramic bricks. These building materials can lower interior temperatures by five to six degrees by holding, then releasing, water.

The rise of online, cloud-based training accommodates that many construction workers don’t have dedicated offices for training. Instead, they can engage with the training on tablets or smartphones. That ease of access supports people who want to focus on education during the times — or in the places — that work best for them.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Make Training More Interactive

Scientists have long known that people learn in different ways. That means reading a textbook or even going through text-based modules online may not enable them to retain the information well. That’s why many training coordinators and other interested parties have moved toward using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for workforce education.

A program at Australia’s Victoria University includes a VR construction simulator for safety training. It allows participants to climb ladders or walk along scaffolding without facing genuine risks. The construction industry has many inherent risks. But if people learn how to handle those situations in safe, controlled environments first, they’ll be better prepared to handle them during their work.

This initiative is alongside another effort at the university, which may modernize surveying. Instead of requiring on-site visits, this approach gives access to 360-degree building scans and photographs. People can then access the data remotely and in real time, which could allow them to detect problems earlier.

Arizona State University is also advocating to improve construction training. AR allows people to see digital additions to real-world environments. That may mean they can see digital renditions of builds that are too large or costly to show people as physical objects.

Augmented reality simulations can also make specific points more impactful to students. When people merely see diagrams in books or on chalkboards, it’s often hard to transfer the knowledge to actual situations. However, getting the information via highly immersive content can help people understand the information in context.

Imagine if construction workers could see digital safety checklists displayed in front of them before starting tasks. That easily accessible information could remind them of what they’ve learned and prevent accidents.

Construction Technology Stimulates Progress

These are some of the most fascinating ways construction technology has helped the industry prepare for the future and minimize many common issues. As more construction leaders experiment with bringing new technologies to their sites, you can expect to see more exciting examples — including those that apply to multiple industries.