23 February 2021 4 min read

Technology Adoption:

What Can Construction Learn from the Manufacturing Industry?


What can the construction industry do on its practices with regard to technology adoption in order for it to emulate the successes of the manufacturing sector?

There can be little doubt, at the start of 2021, that in order for businesses and companies in the construction industry to not only survive but thrive, they have to keep up to speed with the latest technological developments and innovations. The term used for this process is called ‘technology adoption’ and in this article, we will look at why the manufacturing industry is quite successful at utilising this concept and what should construction companies learn from it.

What is Technology Adoption?

Technology adoption can best be described as the ability of an organisation, a department or, simply, an individual to successfully react to innovation and to utilise these changes in their everyday working practices. These changes could include the introduction of new tools or machines, learning the latest computer software, using innovative materials, streamlining communication, etc. However, there are a few basic obstacles the construction industry is particularly susceptible to.

It is fairly well-known that the construction industry is traditionally conservative in outlook and thus, has been using many of the same tried and tested workplace methods, materials, tools, and ways of communicating that have been around for years. Of course, this is not to say that there have been no welcome changes and developments in the industry but, compared to the manufacturing sector, it lags far behind with a severe lack of progress in efficiency, productivity, and sustainability. While the manufacturing industry has seen increases of almost 100% in these areas over the past few decades, the construction industry has unfortunately remained relatively stagnant.

Construction vs Manufacturing

Let’s have a closer look at how the manufacturing industry is thriving and what are the methodist construction could focus on even more in order to succeed with technology adoption:

  • Customise and personalise
    When attempting to introduce new technology into a workplace, it is important to realise that one size doesn’t fit all. Therefore, in order to ensure that technological change and innovation are adopted into standard work practices, an organisation has to provide on the one hand, targeted training and on the other hand, the ability to customise and personalise - not every employee or department will have the same capabilities, resources or objectives. Construction companies could focus on customising tools they use for a better fit and more effective support. How? For example, by understanding the difference between tailor-made solutions vs off the shelf software.

  • Built-in advantages and disadvantages
    A major advantage that manufacturing has over construction is that, normally, the workforce is permanent and based inside in a factory or controlled environment, where it is way easier to communicate, to learn new practices, to share knowledge and to have support.

    Construction workers, on the other hand, usually work outside on a building site. Not only is it hard to communicate with one another, but the workforce can also consist of many contractors from different companies with various priorities and goals.

    Manufacturing also lends itself more easily to technological innovation as there is usually a large element of automation and regulated assembly line procedures already in place. As a result, they are able to adapt more readily to changes. This aspect is significantly reduced in the construction industry because of ever-changing, and often unpredictable, building environments and conditions.

Can the Construction Industry Catch Up?

The question to be asked now is what can construction do to get better? How can it gain some semblance of parity? The answer is plain and simple: it needs to take a leaf out of the manufacturing industry’s book and consider such innovations as:

  • Modular and offsite construction
    This would involve increased labour off-site in controlled factory environments, with possible investment in new machine tools, training, and expanded floor or yard space for module sub-assembly.

  • Modular and offsite construction
    This would involve increased labour off-site in controlled factory environments, with possible investment in new machine tools, training, and expanded floor or yard space for module sub-assembly.

  • Developing new, multi-functional materials
    An ongoing process that can combine structural integrity with other functions such as optical, electrical, magnetic or thermal. This would benefit greatly from investment in research and development!

  • BIM technology, virtual meetings, and walkthroughs
    This technology is mostly up and running and in regular use and affords productive, real-time collaboration between AEC professionals. This can be used as a good example of successful technology adoption, with relatively minimal outlay on costs, it emphasises the major advantages of close collaboration between disciplines.

  • Digital communications
    There are two aspects to this for construction, the data that is input during the design phase and how this is then translated to be of use for the construction phase in the field. This could involve the use of Reality Modelling, photogrammetry, and making use of Cloud services. The investment would be needed for training, software and digital infrastructure.

  • Drone inspections
    The relatively low costs of purchasing drones and hiring experienced operators (or training new ones) should ensure that this technology is quickly adapted for construction. The rewards would be in being able to have an overview of construction sites, pinpointing problem areas, determining the overall structural integrity of the build, providing access to spaces that are difficult or impossible to get to physically and many more.

This is just a shortlist of the possibilities that are available and ready to be used. All of these can benefit from targeted investment, but this requires the will to do so on the part of those who hold the purse strings.

Cooperation, Collaboration, and Investment

It goes without saying that more productive cooperation and collaboration between and within the different industry disciplines, such as: architectural, civil, mechanical or electrical, is essential for the success of technology adoption. This would definitely ensure that the goals of all concerned parties are recognised and the benefits could be shared proportionally.

On top of that, it would also be beneficial in providing a holistic approach to each project. And by a holistic approach I mean the emphasis on streamlined communications, quicker turnaround on problem-solving and decision-making, and a sharing of knowledge. Now, I’m sure we’ve all been involved in projects, where everyone starts out with the best intentions but after two weeks we are all at each others’ throats! Not only could a holistic approach lead to a better understanding of the responsibilities and priorities of each contractor but more importantly, it could raise more tolerance for things that go wrong.

It is vital that the construction industry utilises these advances in available technology, and develops its own innovations, as it faces daunting challenges in the years ahead, such as the need to construct 13,000 buildings required per day, till 2050 to house the world’s population or overcoming the climate change issues associated with the production and use of concrete in construction, which accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions.

If the will to invest is there, combined with the adoption of a positive collaborative approach, then there is no reason why the technological advances (required to solve today’s construction problems) cannot be fully developed and implemented successfully!

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2024-05-18 11:01:48