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Opinion: Technology cuts costs, boosts manpower

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As we enter 2020, we may be taking for granted the technological advancements that have been made in the last century. According to History.com, the middle class was just beginning to purchase automobiles after mass production lowered costs and dealers began offering credit purchases on automobiles in the 1920s. Home appliances including refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and even pop-up toasters also were becoming mainstream. With people spending less time on household chores and commutes, the general population began to spend more time going to cinemas to watch movies or listening to newly purchased radios. Sound familiar?

More recently, people are still looking for technological advancements to shorten the amount of time it takes for household chores – i.e., robotic vacuums. There also has been a shift for people with free time to watch the abundance of streaming television options on any mobile device or listen to music and podcasts from anywhere. While the 1920s focused on mobility and ease for the general consumer, the years leading into the 2020s have focused again on mobility and ease for the consumer at home and at the office.

The general theme of both centuries embracing technological advances is to decrease costs, increase efficiency and save time. Some industries lead in these advancements, but the construction industry has always had a reputation for lagging. There are many facets of construction that are not able to be replaced with technology now and may never be; however, labor and resource shortages, price fluctuations, waste production and safety concerns have led to the construction industry rapidly embracing technology in recent years.

By utilizing software, businesses can show transparency of time and resources. Software programs can help with scheduling hours and tracking hours in real time. Many consider the most recent prevailing wage changes to have made it more difficult (and important) to track wages on projects. Nonunion contractors can use the similar tracking software to provide transparency to the owner as well.

Software also offers analytics for costs and timelines before, during and after a project. Contractors who foresee risks and delays can often take on more projects during busy seasons with scheduling software, and they can reduce employee turnover while they’re not assigned to a project. The combination of software and cloud-based apps takes collaboration and real-time data to the next level.

GPS software also is becoming more commonplace in the construction industry. GPS can be used to make equipment more efficient on a job site by entering coordinates to follow. GPS tracking software can be used for monitoring delivery times of equipment. Similar technology can be used to tell managers who entered a construction site, at what time and how long the person was on the site.

Contractors have used drones increasingly more to cut down the amount of time used for calculations, offer more comprehensive views for 3D imaging and decrease the risk of someone trying to get a similar view in a hazardous situation.

Virtual and augmented reality are becoming more mainstream with the design industry during planning phases. The ability to show an owner a full-scale project with VR or AR can reduce costs and keep a project on schedule by making changes before a project begins construction. VR and AR also can be used for training purposes to increase safety and decrease costs. A worker can learn how to operate a piece of equipment, tool or process safely with VR programs.

The construction industry has made great strides in the right direction, but there are still barriers to a larger-scale adoption. High-speed internet access in rural areas impacts contractors from being able to work with real-time data for software programs, overseeing supplies, managing hours and tracking equipment. The high price of technologies, such as advanced drones, also can prevent smaller contractors from being able to make the investments, but prices will most likely decrease over time in the same way automobiles decreased in price in the 1920s.

As technology continues to advance, the opportunities to streamline work to be more efficient and cost effective also will continue to increase. Utilizing technology combats labor shortages while providing higher profit margins with reduced costs, time efficiencies and better collaboration.

Megan Short is executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association. She can be reached at megan@springfieldcontractors.org.

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