For some in the construction industry, automation has become synonymous with job-killing robots. But construction automation isn’t only about cool tech like BIM models being used to direct brick-laying robots, site-surveying drones, and autonomous data-gathering bulldozers.
For the record, the market for construction robots is growing and was about $60 million last year. With more than 10 million construction employees in the U.S., automation can also refer to takeoff and estimating software, BIM, and that tablet in your hand.
What’s Driving Automation?
Think about it: there are roughly 113 million workers who don’t sit at a desk daily. This includes a substantial number of plumbers, electricians, and masons. Not to mention, estimators and project managers who have previously relied heavily on desktop programs, pens, and pencils to do their jobs. All of these workers need software and apps for the tablets and phones they use in the field to view and share data on the spot.
More than just a demand for technology, there are the overarching issues of productivity and the critical skilled labor shortage. Even minimal automation holds the promise of radically improving productivity for the construction industry. The much-cited 2017 McKinsey & Co. report declared construction as being the second-least digitized sector. In fact, if construction productivity were to catch up with the total economy, it could boost the sector’s value by an estimated $1.6 trillion.
As for the labor shortage, 80 percent of construction businesses in the U.S. have trouble finding qualified, skilled labor, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. One way to grapple with this issue is—you guessed it—automation. Attracting and retaining younger workers with training and technology is a great way to ease the skilled labor shortage.
Getting Started with Automation
Experts say automating how construction projects get designed, planned, and built could result in cost savings as high as 20% annually for the construction industry. No doubt, greater predictability in construction timelines would result in significant cost savings.
What does this mean for small, specialty contractors? Adding drones for inventory management may not be needed or necessary. But taking the automation leap could be as simple as reducing the amount of paperwork by digitizing and automating your administrative processes. Ask yourself tough questions like “how much of my day is spent manually entering data?” Then, you can begin to build a case for adding more automation to your construction business.
For example, giving up paper time cards for automated time tracking software and apps could deliver huge benefits. When your crews can enter their time from the field, the office, or their home, it’s a lot simpler for your accounting staff to review, edit, approve, and upload time timecards directly into the accounting software.
When your timecards are part of an integrated accounting software, you now have the potential to track productivity and costs more effectively. With an integrated set of accounting tools, you can track financial data for each project you manage. An all-in-one package allows you to track job costs, labor, and quantities to specific project activities. You can then isolate framing vs. finishing or materials costs vs. equipment costs.
Make the Transition
In your excitement to embrace automation, remember a couple of caveats. Even small changes can have significant ripples for your business. Make sure to hire outside experts if necessary and invest in training for your staff. Don’t expect miracles if you don’t spend the time and effort to build a culture around new construction technology and processes.
Not sure how to get started? On Center Software can help. Check out our free webinar on how to make the transition to paperless systems: “Transitioning from Ink to Digital: Setting Up Paperless Systems for Success.” You’ll get an up-close look at contractors who took the leap.