It may be bordering on cliché, but the way technology is shaping the future of the construction and building services industries cannot be ignored.
Despite all of the forecasts about automated construction, it is important to remember that for all the sci-fi influenced premonitions of robots acting at our beck and call, it is the collaboration of new technologies with the human mind that should be the focus of attention.
What do we value today?
We can be prone to generalising construction workers’ value as being in their gross motor skills – strength, power; the ability to shift heavy objects from A to B – but even more important are their fine motor skills. The precise, intentional techniques that influence every seemingly minor action have not been automated because they are so built-upon the sensory responses of human beings.
Similarly, our problem solving capacity simply cannot be replicated by machines in the grand scheme of a large construction project. When unforeseen issues arise, it is our minds that should be relied upon.
These skills we value in construction workers today must be enhanced by technology, rather than replaced. They can lead to even greater opportunities within the industry on a human level, assuming we direct the industry down the correct path.
Where does the future lie?
With more investment in education and in empowering workers’ minds we can create a smarter, more efficient workforce.
One example in its infancy right now is the use of tablets on-site. The increasing use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) – a subject of particular interest to us here at Jaga – in optimising the efficiency of building design is equally beneficial throughout the actual construction phase. Workers can have detailed, interactive drawings and specifications in their hands, cutting down time spent going back and forth to the site office should uncertainties or queries arise. This results in fewer hours wasted unnecessarily and reduced errors, which translates to greater efficiency and cost reduction over the construction period.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to totally destroy the sci-fi dream for gadget and tech enthusiasts out there. Drone technology is another great example of a potentially perfect marriage between ourselves and our robotic counterparts. Programming these unmanned aerial vehicles as site monitors, flying overhead routinely and feeding details back to base, are an excellent means of streamlining a project manager’s responsibility. Could it happen?
And what of the opportunities? It is probably fair to say that on-site construction is a male dominated industry, perhaps largely due to a perceived reliance on the gross motor skills mentioned previously. But expanding the potential workforce, for example increasing the amount of women in the industry, is entirely feasible. By developing technologies to bear the heavy lifting, we can utilise the sophistication of the brain to carry out the finer details and fine tuning.
Better access to information makes a smarter, more efficient workforce; greater knowledge results in greater productivity. Sure, it may initially cost more to train workers in the skills needed to implement this more data-centric approach, but it would ultimately lead to significant savings and improved quality. Technology as a supplement to ourselves will ultimately result in better buildings.
That phrase again – empowering minds.