How Automation Is Changing the Construction Industry

From improving onsite safety standards to changing relationships with data, automation is changing the construction industry in 2021.
By Angie Licata
May 6, 2021

As more companies introduce technology and begin to transform their processes, many have speculated that automation truly represents the future for construction businesses. Automation can help companies solve issues such as a shrinking workforce, rampant inefficiency and widening information gaps between onsite and remote workers.

How do workers and business leaders view automation?

Automation can completely transform productivity and collaboration for the entire sector. However, recent research indicated that construction workers and business leaders are concerned about the impact automation might have on employee satisfaction, worker displacement and emotional stress within the workplace. The concerns mentioned are legitimate, but the reality of the impact of automation in the construction industry is significantly more positive.

Job losses are usually expected as a result of automation because more can be done with a smaller workforce. However, considering that construction productivity has plateaued and labor is increasingly stretched, augmenting human labor with automated processes can improve employee experiences and attract younger talent to fill more attractive positions created by new technology. Here are three ways automation is already changing the construction industry for the better.

Three ways automation is propelling the construction sector into the future

1. Keeping workers safe at construction sites. Managing safety for onsite workers has always been a challenge for construction companies. Construction workers are injured far more often and severely compared to their counterparts in other industries. In response to this, business leaders have turned to technology to identify unsafe behavior and provide a safer workplace for employees on the ground. A 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report found that more than half of all contractors use some form of automation to manage safety onsite, and 74% plan to add even more technology to their current stack. From virtual reality training to remote site surveys using drones, digital solutions have allowed employers to automate processes in a way that significantly improves safety standards.

2. Increasing productivity through improved efficiency. While other industries are finding new ways to supercharge productivity growth, the construction industry has plateaued, averaging a measly 1% over the last two decades.

However, through automation and process optimization, construction businesses can potentially boost productivity by as much as 60%. Repeated and labor-intensive processes such as bricklaying can be performed by robots. Administrative tasks such as safety checklists can be digitized to reduce processing time. While these processes are taken over by technology, human workers can be assigned tasks such as supervision or maintenance, which generate more value for the company.

3. Revolutionizing data collection and analysis. Construction projects often engage various stakeholders, including suppliers, contractors, sub-contractors and site managers. The data generated by these groups can provide a deep understanding of the onsite happenings, keeping business leaders informed of the team’s progress and any unforeseen changes. Prior to the introduction of automated processes, the collection of this data was done using paper forms and ineffective communication chains. However, digital solutions and automated data collection have allowed managers to receive this data in real time and without missing components. With comprehensive data management systems, different stakeholders can also collaborate more effectively using real-time data sharing.

Tips for construction companies to automate effectively

Develop an automation-centric company culture. A recent survey revealed that 49% of business leaders consider culture to be the biggest challenge when they attempt to implement intelligent business strategies. Employees in the construction sector can be particularly resistant to organizational change. With so many processes and practices being kept the same for so long, it is natural for older workers to feel anxious about adopting new technology. This anxiety and resistance are often because workers don’t understand how accepting a new paradigm would be beneficial to them. Business leaders can develop a strong automation-centric culture by communicating the importance of modernizing and rewarding the efforts of the employees who go the extra mile to contribute to the cause.

Standardize workflows and processes for onsite and office staff. Data collection exists at every level of a construction project, but each division sometimes uses its own data management systems. This is especially true when working with external vendors who might be used to their own systems. Business leaders have to take stock of existing data platforms and communication systems within the organization before introducing new software that might be incompatible with old infrastructure. Combining the use of previously automated systems with new additions is also a good way to reduce resistance from employees who might not see the need to shift to a new platform. Integrated software solutions with standardized data processes and widespread access can go a long way to improving collaboration and cooperation among business divisions.

Start small and expand steadily over time. One common mistake businesses make when trying to automate their processes is to overestimate how quickly and seamlessly upgrades can be made to existing systems. During the planning stage, business leaders should begin with identifying individual tasks and processes that can be automated without too much effort. The lessons learned during this stage will help guide business leaders as automation projects grow in scale and ambition. Dividing automation projects into smaller chunks also helps decision-makers be more deliberate in their integration, ensuring that each new introduction adds to the existing technology stack.

At the end of the day, automation represents an opportunity for the construction sector to finally break free from the constraints of outdated communication systems and ineffective data collection methods. Through the automation and standardization of repetitive processes, businesses can improve onsite safety, make the most of a stretched workforce and monitor operations at all times.

by Angie Licata
Angie Licate has grown from a product leader to marketplace VP to one of the most influential and impactful team members at Ryvit in just four short years. Her knowledge of industry ERPs and tools in the marketplace has enabled her to build an expert reputation with some of the biggest names in the industry including SAP Concur, Viewpoint Vista, Procore and Sage. She’s personally handled hundreds of customer implementations and partner activations on the Ryvit iPaaS, and she’s acutely aware of market trends, technology advancements and business interests. Angie’s expertise goes deep into the world of product development, integration development and business management.

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