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THE NEW “NORMALITY” OF CONSTRUCTION

THE NEW “NORMALITY” OF CONSTRUCTION

by Guillaume Roy

There must be a trigger for major changes to happen.

Blog post

I have been working in the construction industry and implementing the latest technologies for nearly ten years now. In order to do this, I rely on a great team that I am tremendously proud of.

The construction industry and all of its complexity is a visceral passion of mine. I am interested in its tendencies, its evolution, its vulnerabilities, and its strengths. I especially focus on business models that can be propelled by technology and modern work methods. 

For the past four years, I have been traveling across the country and the United States to listen to entrepreneurs’ issues, understand their obstacles, analyze their needs, and implement solutions that really bring value to their companies.

Meeting these entrepreneurs and taking into consideration their feedback prompted me to put together my conference “Adapt or Disappear: How Will Technologies Transform the Construction Industry?” In this conference, I will provide an overview of the situation and explain why I anticipate a major technological and robotic revolution in the construction industry and elsewhere. I discuss economic trends, changes in business models, data (DATA), connected objects (IoT), artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and the robotization of our construction sites. I present how the industry will be impacted and, most importantly, I offer possible solutions in order to adapt to the changes. 

Obviously, I am sometimes mistaken and make predictions that are a little too “bold” or “futuristic” for some. Among other things and for the past several years, I have mentioned that 70% of businesses will not go through the digital revolution. Unfortunately, this statistic tends to be confirmed[French].

The current crisis is unprecedented; you know it as well as I do. There must be a trigger for major changes to happen.

If I told you today that you must be able to run your business from your cell phone, to centralize all of your company data, to be able to work from home, or to digitize and automate your operations, I’m suddenly no longer an alien. Attitudes have changed at a rapid pace in the past few weeks due to circumstances. 

I would like to share my vision of what was not “normal” in construction, yet will be soon. The message delivered through this text is reflected in my daily speech to my clients and in my conferences. It is nothing new, but I believe that this information will resonate differently now that everyone is confronted with this same reality.

Costs

I don’t think it’s news to you when I say that the recession has indeed started. There are dozens of factors that point to higher construction costs, including: 

  • The reorganization of work;
  • More expensive raw materials;
  • The exchange rate at a loss for us;
  • A decrease in orders;
  • And so on… 

The crisis will inevitably impose new requirements that you will have to comply with. Hence, you will need to know your costs in real-time to be able to adjust. This information will allow you to become agile and flexible as an entrepreneur. 

The current recessionary environment will lead to two major trends: 

  1. An urgency for digital transformation; 
  2. An increase in resource sharing.

Selecting the appropriate technological tools, creating a culture of innovation, and automating processes, are the three pillars of a digital transformation[French]. The first companies to take this digital turn will cut the ground from under competitors’ feet. It should be seen as an exponential curve of a graph; the industry firsts will be exponentially more efficient in the coming years. 

Volvo, Hilti, Hitachi, and other industry giants are already investing hundreds of millions and even billions in innovation to update their tools with the latest technologies. The goal behind it is to capture data in order to enable robotics, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and data sharing with other innovative technological tools such as Doxel.ai. In fact, all of the collected data will offer you countless possibilities, such as preventive maintenance or the automation of progress reports. These giants know that the industry must attain the digitization and complete traceability of construction sites. They are already setting the scene for the industry in order to be able to sell their products. Your systems must adapt to this new reality.

A web-based resource sharing platform such as BizBiz Share is bound to be prosperous, even after the crisis period. Their success will remain due to many reasons such as the following: the cost of storage for unused equipment and inactive tools, the raw material to be purchased without volume, irregular personnel, and the price for the transport of materials and products which will increase greatly. Thus, sharing will become an obvious business decision. Traceability will also have a major role to play in improving sharing services. 

Traceability

Traceability is necessary for optimizing operations. In order to do so, you must:

  • know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses;
  • be aware of production, handling or assembly cycle performance;
  • keep track of the location and maintenance of your equipment, tools or machinery; 
  • make sure that the equipment used meets the specifications on the plan.

By centralizing data, it is possible to analyze what has happened in the past in order to better predict the future. For example, when estimating, it will possible to say how much a project will cost in a specific context.

Traceability of equipment and personnel is not a whim. As opposed to what some might believe,  and although many entrepreneurs are not aware of this, there is a race for data capture through connectivity (IoT) that is currently underway. Companies that wish to participate will inevitably have to integrate robotics and artificial intelligence into their plants and work sites. The only way for a machine to perform is to learn from the real world. 

Equally important, the safety standards of the various levels of government, private developers, and lenders will be increasingly stringent on construction sites and in plants. You’ll have to be able to show that you’re not afraid to know if people have broken the rules. Only a digital registry will be acceptable from now on, as physical movement will be limited. 

Prefabrication 

The trend towards prefabrication, which we have already seen among the big players, will now be the norm. Construction sites will become solely assembly sites. This is a logical next step.

Nowadays, it is unthinkable to manufacture roof joists or windows on the job site as was done in the 1950s. We are now seeing the construction of prefabricated walls in both residential and commercial sites. Houses are also prefabricated. Soon, it will be inconceivable to build condo units directly on the construction site. You will see prefabricated units in the form of Lego blocks being assembled on site. You will have access to 3D printers to manufacture the materials according to the instructions obtained in real-time directly from the construction site.

Capturing reliable data is fundamental to understanding the importance of prefabrication. On one hand, from a purely technical point of view, connected sensors (IoT) perform much better in a controlled environment. On the other hand, the segmentation of tasks by work zone, the use of machinery and robotic assistance allow for the recording of much more data than is imaginable on-site. 

The centralization of high-value data will make it possible to learn artificial intelligence algorithms, robotize processes in a safe environment, and automate precise sequence processes. In short, your entire value chain will be impacted, especially when estimating work costs, projecting project completion margins, forecasting material supply, respecting costs, optimizing operations, facilitating logistics management, improving quality control, and reducing project management time.

Several of the country's major general contractors are currently making this transition. Our general contractors in Quebec must follow suit.

Work Method

Telework, for many trades, will be the new norm.

The current crisis is giving traditional business methods a severe blow. This is not a simple change in software, but a new way of doing business. This is what Blackware Technologies[French] is all about.

I anticipate that the new standards, in terms of financial reporting, site reports, and payments, required by the government and major lenders, will be digital. So much so that many companies will no longer be able to meet certain criteria or requirements to bid. The “schemes” previously made possible by the manipulation of paper reports and cash transactions will no longer be.

The digitization of professional deeds, such as contracts, rental certificates, or mortgages will become mandatory. Government standards and those of major lenders will oblige it to be so in order to have better control. As the circulation of cash is discouraged by the various levels of government[French], the same phenomenon will occur with paper files. You are familiar with the “smart contracts” available on various applications. Soon, the assets themselves could be managed on an application using Blockchain technology… And if there’s a good time for this to start, it’s now.

System interconnection

The interconnection of systems is inevitable. It is already taking place in several other industries.

This is what to expect as a new norm: 

  • software interconnection for data centralization;
  • equipment interconnection;
  • system interconnection between suppliers and customers for real-time pricing and delivery times;
  • interconnection between the suppliers’, distributors’, manufacturers’, installers’, architects’, general contractors’ and developers’ systems for project coordination.

This interconnection is beneficial for better visualization of projects, communication between stakeholders, automation of information transfer, and problem prediction.

Imagine if you were able to get real-time instructions in your system, find out about changes in installation dates due to a problem reported by a team of sub-contractors, get the exact products from the budget quotes you receive, find out the availability and prices of products in the distributors’ catalogs, learn that the specifications in the plan are being met, and much more. The entire construction cycle would be greatly improved. 

I will refrain from discussing BIM in this article. We will have the chance to do so in other articles dedicated to this subject. If you are not familiar with BIM, I invite you to read about it. You will find that the issue of interconnection is of paramount importance.

In Sum

The world we live in will no longer be the same. The major changes we are witnessing will not disappear as soon as the crisis is over. We will certainly see an accelerating urgency for the adoption of technological tools, a shift towards a culture of innovation, and a transformation of working methods. I think that is quite obvious.

I certainly do not hold the absolute truth; I’m clearly not reading from a crystal ball. In fact, my team and I are just as vulnerable as all of you. However, I do believe that the past dictates the future: the entire construction industry has been undergoing a transformation for a long time.

Many won’t make it through this difficult time. We are convinced that the only chance of survival lies in optimizing all facets of the transactional cycle of businesses, through digital transformation[French]. We are already seeing the creativity, resourcefulness, and determination of many entrepreneurs. Not surprisingly, it will thus be important to support industries such as construction, which generate so much revenue for North America’s GDP.

Guillaume Roy

GuillaumeRoy

Président

« Pour BWT, chaque matin débute par la motivation de changer la manière dont les affaires se font, dans le monde. »

Strength

Sa capacité à mener à terme sa vision de l’entreprise du futur.

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