Five Construction Machinery Innovations That Impact ROI

While early versions of some inventions may have been questionable, current improvements made them reliable, safe investments. Five specific innovations that could represent a positive return on investment are hybridization, biofuels, automation, the "internet of things" and drones.
By Holly Welles
February 26, 2020

The construction industry is ripe for advancement. Even though technology is rapidly improving, many construction firms aren't capitalizing on these innovations. In 2016, 60% of construction companies weren't pursuing any new technology. By adopting new construction technologies, companies could get ahead of the competition.

While early versions of some inventions may have been questionable, current improvements have made them reliable, safe investments. Five specific innovations that could represent a positive return on investment are hybridization, biofuels, automation, the "internet of things" and drones.

1. Hybridization

Just as hybrid engines increase the fuel efficiency of cars, they can make construction equipment more efficient. The workload required of these machines may be too much for a fully electric motor, but hybridization offers a convenient halfway point between efficiency and power.

The machine's movement powers the electronic portion of a hybrid engine. Repetitive motions, such as loading or digging, create the friction that generates electricity for the electric motor's battery. The motor then works alongside the gas engine to increase power and reduce fuel consumption.

Manufacturers are releasing more and more hybrid versions of heavy machinery. Using these can save money by decreasing fuel costs.

2. Biofuels

Hybrid engines are not the only alternative power sources for construction equipment. Diesel, the fuel of choice for heavy machinery, is more fuel-efficient than gasoline, but it still releases a substantial amount of pollutants. Alternative fuels such as biodiesel reduce emissions and could qualify companies for government subsidies in some areas.

While some alternative fuels require specialized motors, biodiesel can power most diesel engines, making it an attractive choice for many construction companies. Firms wouldn't have to purchase new machinery or parts to use this fuel.

3. Automation

It should be no surprise that automation finds its way onto this list. The world is becoming more automated across all sectors, and construction is no different. Autonomous equipment is one of the most significant advances to occur in this industry.

Driverless vehicles are causing a stir in automotive circles, but they also have great potential for construction. With the help of advanced sensors, self-driving equipment could improve safety in the workplace. Similarly, robotic compactors can automatically adjust for exacting site conditions. Human workers who may make errors can refocus their energy elsewhere, letting autonomous machinery navigate a worksite’s changing conditions.

Human drivers can get distracted, which can lead to injury. Computers can't lose focus. It may be a few years before driverless bulldozers are ready for use, but the technology is improving every day. It won't be long before fully autonomous heavy machinery is a viable option.

4. Internet of Things

The internet of things doesn't just apply to home devices. Internet connectivity in equipment allows workers and contractors to track the performance of their machinery carefully. Internet of things-enabled machines offer several advantages over their traditional counterparts.

Sensors can measure fuel consumption and idle time, then send this data directly to workers, ensuring they're using equipment to their best ability. Trackers can send location data to managers in case something goes missing or gets stolen. Internet of things applications can also include remote power switches, so in the event of an emergency, a worker can cut the power to a malfunctioning machine.

Bringing construction equipment into the internet of things will improve safety and efficiency.

5. Drones

The construction industry is the fastest-growing adopter of commercial drones, and it's easy to see why. Drones are one of the most versatile pieces of modern technology. Construction companies can use them to survey land, track progress and increase security.

Before building begins, workers can use drones to provide a bird's-eye view of the area without having to travel, speeding up the surveying process. When workers start building, they can use these machines to inspect different parts of the workplace before moving there to know what hazards or challenges they'll face.

Observing an area beforehand can significantly reduce the risk of workplace injuries. Drones can also serve as an advanced security tool, warding off would-be vandals and thieves.

Adopting Technological Innovations in Construction

Some of these technological marvels are available and viable right now, while others will be so in a few years. Deciding how and when to leverage them is a matter of what best fits the projects at hand.

For some, like autonomous heavy machinery, businesses may want to keep an eye out for opportunities while thinking of future projects. For technologies they can employ now, different approaches will work better for different jobs and crews. Construction companies should always consider assignments on an individual level to determine what technology best fits the situation.

by Holly Welles
Holly Welles is a freelance writer covering the construction industry for Trimble, NCCER and other online publications. You can find more of her work on Twitter or on her personal blog, The Estate Update.

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