The influx of new technology has many industries shifting focus, putting more energy and brainpower in areas of automation and improved safety. The use of robotics is already widespread in many manufacturing companies, but it is slowing making its way to the construction business as well. In fact, according to a recent study by MEPI, nearly 3 million jobs in construction may be replaced by robots of some sort by the year 2057. That may be a surprising number, especially to construction contractors licensed and bonded to do business the conventional way, but it is a reality for the industry as digital transformation continues to shape the future.
— WTOP (@WTOP) March 19, 2018
Taking Direction from Technology Giants
Noah Ready-Campbell, a former Google engineer, made waves among construction contractors circles earlier this year with his company, Built Robotics. The startup which is still getting off the ground is working diligently with technology experts and construction leaders to create the robot capabilities specifically for heavy equipment often used on the job. The technology behind Built Robotics is meant to give bulldozers, excavators, and the like the ability to operate autonomously – that is, without a human driver.
Ready-Campbell shares that the whole purpose of bringing robotics into the construction space is to enable a safer, more efficient way of doing business. There has been media coverage and in-depth research about the shortage of skilled construction contractors in recent years, leading to backlogged projects and delays in the completion of work throughout the country. If technology-driven machines are able to efficiently perform the work of a traditional construction contractor, in a shorter period of time, businesses large and small have an opportunity to take on more projects and, ultimately, keep more revenue per job.
However, not every aspect of construction is ripe for disruption from automation and humanless work. A recent study highlights the fact that while operating engineers of heavy equipment may be drastically impacted by improved technology in the space, others will see less of a shift over the upcoming decade. Roofers and sheet metal workers, for instance, have a much lower potential of being replaced by robotics in construction. That’s because it is not feasible to have the same quality of work done in a safe, efficient manner without a human involved along the way.
Similarly, any tasks that require some finesse, artistry, or particular attention to detail cannot realistically be taken over by a robot. These realities are compounded by the fact that many customers of construction work are not yet comfortable with the idea of having technology at the helm of a project instead of a human – even if the cost-savings is real.
How Contractors can Prepare for the Future
Current construction contractors shouldn’t be alarmed that robots are on their heels. Even though there are already technology companies successfully implementing operations of heavy machinery without human interaction, a sweeping change in the industry has yet to take place. To ensure your construction contract business remains profitable in a world of digital change, there are specific steps to take. Running a construction contracting business efficiently starts with relationships with customers, no matter the size of the project. Instilling a sense of trust by way of being appropriately licensed and trained is beneficial, as is ensuring you have the right bond in place to protect customers from faulty work. Maintaining a tight grip on business operations to safeguard the business from fraud and the high costs that come with it is also a necessity.
Finally, staying up to date with safety guidelines and the latest techniques for getting the work completed helps keep your construction business one step ahead of technology-enabled competitors. Robotics in construction are certainly on the horizon, but there is and will always be a need for human interaction with customers on the job site.
Eric Weisbrot is the Chief Marketing Officer of JW Surety Bonds. With years of experience in the surety industry under several different roles within the company, he is also a contributing author to the surety bond blog.