Could jobsite technology play a role in managing for or even solving for at least some aspects of labor capacity constraint? It figures that if tech tools can create better workflows--including apprentices, trainees, and less-skilled associates--then the answer will be "yes."
A shortage of skilled construction labor plays out in lots of a ways, ranging from extra "windshield time," to lumpy, unpredictable costs, to missed schedules and delayed deliveries, ranging to greater warranty liability, where a dollar-an-hour mistake can turn into tens of thousands of dollars of repair expense.
Jetsons-like robots, 3D printers, and drones may be part of construction technology's future, but there is technology out now that could play an important present-day role in job-site management that assumes more junior, less skilled, in-need-of-training-on-the-job construction associates, installers, technicians, etc.
Even more experienced laborers who may need a refresh or training and quality assurance on new code, a new assembly, or an unfamiliar new manufactured product or material installation could find value in construction technologies that take the physical environment, transform it to visual content, and feed it back to the worker on site in clear, instructive, real-time guidance.
Procore Technologies is a company--most of whose clients are big commercial construction players--that's using cloud services and Internet of Things technologies to improve start-to-completion velocities, and and the same time, train trades in skills or new applications. Josh Newland, manager of Enterprise Strategy at Procore, zeroes in on where technology can support lean construction practices that reduce waste and improve value creation activity.
"Removing waste from the process drives greater profits, reduces risk, improves safety, shortens schedules, and improves relationships. Some types of waste as defined by Lean including: 1) Excess Transportation, 2) Inventory, 3) Unnecessary Motion, 4) Waiting, 5) Overprocessing, 6) Overproduction, 7) Defects and 8) Under-utilized Talent....
In addition to tackling these wastes with typical lean processes such as the Last Planner System, 5S, Value Stream Mapping, etc.
Now, in some of the initial conversations we've had with production builders, and certainly among smaller subdivision and on-your-lot builders, the push-back to technology investment is sheerly a matter of not enough scale for return on such investments. One builder--who might be considered progressive in the use of single database, real-time and workflow tools on lean-construction, evenflow, etc. asserts that as long as builders discipline themselves around the number of floor-plans they offer, and repeat-ably assemble house sections from an archive or library of systems, they don't need to invest in expensive Building Information Management solutions.
But Procore's Josh Newland focuses on at least one potential game-changer in the start-to-"qa" cycle, especially given the galloping number of inspections homes need to pass during their construction. He writes:
SENSORS AND WEARABLES
You know that your crews are wasting time walking and searching for what they need when they could be getting work done, but do you know how much time they’re wasting? If you were tracking them with current technologies you'd be able to see exactly how much time they spend working and how much time they spend making trips. Besides how much time, you could also find out how far they walked, how many trips they took, what times they left and arrived, etc.
This would make any issues immediately apparent–showing you exactly where you need to optimize the workspace, and in the meantime, your timecards could be automatically created.
Beyond that, what if you knew everyone's heart rate at any given time? You'd know who is getting fatigued and could respond accordingly. What if you knew the temperature, airborne particulate counts, and other hazardous atmospheric conditions for every location on the jobsite with automated alerts to workers and supervisors?
Productivity and safety are certainly critical issues. But what about the role wearables can play in training, skills-development, quality assurance management?
Smart construction management leaders understand that dollar problems that can be addressed immediately become thousand-dollar problems if they're not.
We wrote last year as part of our Hive 100 coverage about DAQRI, a "smart" hardhat and safety glasses manufacturer, whose augmented reality visualization capability can connect workers to immediate instruction, insight, oversight, etc. as they complete tasks. A blog post on potential applications, including "guided work instructions" in lean manufacturing notes:
Mike, wearing DAQRI Smart Glasses, can now view these model-based instructions where he’s performing his assembly work. He is able to interact with the augmented work instructions, delivered directly to his viewpoint, from any perspective needed, reducing the number of prepared details required and increasing first time quality. Additionally, Mike can identify the right equipment and tools needed along the way to properly complete each step and task.
Here, too, another manufacturer XOEye makes the glasses, but offers them as a holistic, purpose-driven workflow solution that should make a lot of sense to jobsite superintendents and supervisors.
Here, albeit in tech speak, is how XOEye pitches the value of its solution, and here's a diagram of what that looks like:
Your on-site techs are equipped with smart, safety-certified eyewear devices that run our applications to communicate with experts, connect with decision-makers, document work performed, and increase overall efficiency. Communication is exchanged and information is delivered and accessed through XOEye Vision, our integrated cloud-hosted software platform.
Imagine the improvement in your ability to manage evenflow construction, and reduce your cycle times, scheduling errors, lost work-days, and other costly challenges with a tool like this. Imagine being able to discipline each trade so precisely that you can clock them down to the hour of completion of their tasks, capture the quality and completeness of their work, and map them toward payment and schedule their next appearance on your site in real time.
With tools like this, builders' relationship with trades can start to become what it needs to, a mutual investment in the other's success. When the business starts to work that way, recruiting a new breed of worker, and training them up with a combination of human expertise and technology, will start to get less frustrating than it is.