Every three years AEM hosts CONEXPO-CON/AGG, North America's largest construction trade show - and this year, before the coronavirus lockdown, I had the opportunity to walk the 2.7 million square feet of exhibits, taking the pulse on technology in the construction industry.
Walking the expo floor, I was awed by the magnitude of this industry. I'd never stopped to consider the amount of behind the scenes work necessary to build and maintain the infrastructures we use daily. From ditch diggers, to hydraulics, to cranes and thousands of pieces of equipment in between - each piece of machinery is purpose built for large physical tasks.
One of the things that really stood out was hearing James Benham of JBKnowldge speak at the “Tech Experience” tent. He quoted one stat that I found truly shocking: Technology spend in construction is the lowest of any industry, with only 1% of top line revenue spent furthering technologies.
As I walked around the conference I kept finding myself thinking, “3 years from now this conference will be featuring a lot more software”.
More specifically here were my top observations and insights.
- Back Office and Compliance Assistant.
Software can help considerably with the documentation of construction projects. With all of the cost and liability on the line, ensuring that all processes and information are well documented and organized should be a purely digital task, reducing both time spend and the possibility of human error.
- Guided Controls.
We're all familiar with the vast amount of computer assistance utilized by modern cars. Soon, we'll be seeing similar innovations in the world of heavy equipment.
I saw a real world example of this at the expo in Trimble attachments that had been connected to a grader. These attachments allow graders to produce automated, precise leveling in grading jobs.
Through some conversations I learned that many of the operators of these machines have been doing so for many, many years, and have continued doing the job “by hand”.
However, many of these individuals are aging out of their work, and there aren't many in the newer generation with the ability to do this work with the same precision. Soon, the new generation will have the ability to merely configure the machinery's software and allow it to operate itself (with oversight) like Tesla’s Autopilot.
- Equipment Sensors.
Heavy equipment is expensive, and these machines take a beating on a daily basis. When they break down, there is no quick turnaround on repair, and unless your team happens to have a spare machine lying around, important and costly projects can end up at a standstill.
Some companies have already begun outfitting their machinery with a few sensors, but it will soon become standard to have them built into nearly every aspect of the machinery. These sensors will give operartors detailed analytics on all of the equipments functioning, providing early warnings for potential maintenance issues, saving projects time and money.
- Remote Equipment Management.
I saw some very interesting projects involving individuals controlling equipment remotely. I suspect this will quickly become more and more common. Just like drones in the military, it will become much more efficient to utilize a machine that doesn’t need to carry a human in it.
- Fully Automated Equipment.
I saw smaller machines like Rollers cruising around fully or mostly automated. Small tasks around a jobsite will soon be able to be handled by fully autonomous equipment, eliminating costs and the potential for human error.
- Planning Software.
Trimble was the only company I saw demoing software (and I was looking for it). Software can help coordinate the logistics of a job site significantly. This means less delays and less days that you need heavy equipment on site. Having the ability to run an infinite number of scenarios to arrive at the best plan is a priceless tool.
- An Improved User Experience.
The software I did see looked and felt very much like typical spreadsheets - the user experience was lackluster. Individuals in the construction industry didn't show much interest in these software appliations as they were so similar to the spreadsheets they work with already.
In order to make these types of softwares more effective and appealing, it will be important to focus on building products with user experience in mind.
Scanning the exhibitor booths made it clear that there is still a massive opportunity for software to help those in construction do their jobs with more accuracy, safety and speed than ever before.
An initial investment into new technologies can easily pay for themselves in a year, or even a single job. Innovations such as remote and automated equipment operation can cut a week long project in half, minimizing cost and manpower by even more.
Throughout the expo there were certainly signs that the construction industry is beginning to take note of the benefits of technology. By the time the next CONEXPO-CON/AGG rolls around in 2023, the amount of software and technology being exhibited will have likely increased 100 fold.
If you are in the construction/agriculture/equipment industry now is the time to get ahead of the pack. At Yeti, we've helped companies in dozens of industries with digital transformations.
If you have a software project in mind, or a problem you think software could fix, we'd love to chat. Contact us.
Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.