As a younger cohort coming up with expectations about automation, data access and connectivity in their lives, the Top 20 had some pointed thoughts about the industry’s relatively slow adoption of new technology. But a consensus emerged among the group that change will only happen if people step up and make it so.
Aine O’Dwyer: I came from a large construction company, and one of the things we offered was site monitoring. With the end user of that service, it’s very archaic in the way it is done. You need people to go out to sites and take readings to collect data. I can pull out my cellphone and monitor my house; why can’t I do the same thing when it comes to a construction site? Whether it’s the internet of things, whether it’s making devices smart, we’re in an age of communication now where everything can talk to everything else, so let’s bring that more into construction. I think we’re certainly seeing there’s a lot more drones in everything, and we’re seeing the growth of VDC and BIM.
The big difference from the last 20 years is there was a lot of pushback when it came to technology because construction is so complex. How do you integrate technology into construction when it’s changing every day? You’re seeing a lot less of that now because things are getting easier, the software is getting better, it’s adapting to that change. Every other industry has done it. Construction is behind when it comes to technology but it’s finally catching up.
Iana Tassada: There’s a lot of things we are looking at. From a safety perspective, we’re looking at ways to monitor people’s posture and vitals. And a lot of safety-related incidents come from heat exhaustion or people overextending themselves, so new technology is coming up to monitor that. We see that as something we are going to start using more—things like safety vests that help with overhead work, help support your arms, avoid that fatigue. We’re going to see more robotics come up from the industry. The labor shortage is a big issue right now, but I think that bringing in more automation will require a tough balance on the site.
Joanne Verrips: At Webcor, we started a self-performing drywall group about two years ago. We’re owned by Obayashi, which is a large Japanese civil contractor. So we recently built a test lab for them in San Bruno [California] where we’ve actually purchased robots, and we are looking into using them for the taping and sanding operations for our drywall division.
Construction costs are astronomical—labor and material prices just keep going up. And so I think a lot of that work is going to go to prefab, because that’s how we’re going to get to the solution. We’re always trying to look forward to how we can build better, cheaper and faster. Because that’s what our clients are going to want at the end of the day.
Jessica Baker: The integration of technology into the day-to-day use of the people that are interacting with it is so important. One example we had was following some major flash flooding in the Austin area in 2015 where people just didn’t know [it was coming]. So the City of Austin is integrating its flood-warning system with apps like Waze, so the traffic app can direct users around the flooded areas in the future.
As much as we see technology advance, we still need strong relationships between partners. We had to have the local community, state and federal partners all working really closely together and collaborating to make the app successful. So I think we can have all the technology in the world, but at the end of the day we still need strong relationships in our industry to really succeed and bring forward these solutions.