By Nick Deeks, Managing Director, WT Partnership
It’s difficult to recall another time in the last 50 years where technology has moved at such a pace, influenced such a breadth of industries and become so embedded in mainstream society. Indeed, not since the industrial revolution have we as people felt such a burgeoning tide of change across the board.
The popularisation of the internet in the late ‘90s may have changed how established businesses operate, but for many industries, the fundamental craft was left unaltered and continued to remain largely the same in many regards. But failures as well as successful ventures are part of these changes. While many of these shortcomings are swept aside by history, they can often be as important as the aspects that wind up enduring the test of time. There is already some technology that rests just upon our horizon that is truly changing the construction sector as we know it. These advancements will optimise our current methods and create greater efficiencies for construction companies.
The construction tech industry represents the potential to add $25 billion year-on-year value to the Australian economy within the next decade. However, there is still a long way to go with implementing new technologies to really see the positive impacts on business. Countries around the world are realising the vital necessity that innovation in construction has for the future and are investing and experimenting with new technologies.
The future of construction is grim and significant progress will not be achieved if we do not revaluate our change-averse mindsets and modernise our present industry
For example, Daqri is a construction and maintenance augmented reality (AR) headset, which can overlay 3D digital content seamlessly onto the real world. This device is a key piece of innovation that will assist in the initial design and building phases of construction. This reduces excess back-and-forth and improves communication while increasing quality and efficiency across all stakeholders.
Smartvid.io, a revolutionary program that uses artificial intelligence to run safety reports to see trends, find problem areas and promote positive safety culture. It has the potential to unravel the paradox of ‘safety processes vs. innovation’. This technology is rapidly changing our ability to maintain job site safety and ensure compliance.
3D printing is set to transform the current construction sector by erasing significant costs through shorter project times and fewer wasted resources. We have already seen 3D printed homes through the Italian architect firm, CLD Artchitetti. Similarly, Arup is a firm that uses robots in 3D printing pedestrian bridges in Amsterdam and the crane-style printing of skyscrapers.
Drones on construction sites have become exceedingly prevalent for survey work. They can quickly fly over a landscape and identify and accurately map its features. They can also be used for inspections as part of due diligence processes.
All these innovations show that we have the technology to revolutionise our construction industry completely, but Australia is still far behind. We are stuck in a mindset of complacency and are too comfortable with existing construction methods.
Construction tech provides a huge opportunity for our economy and as our population is set to double in 50 years, requiring our cities to drastically and quickly change, we need to desperately start implementing these new technologies. So why aren’t we?
Progress is being halted by unions, regulation, and fear of change. It is no secret that jobs change as the world changes. Skills and, yes, sometimes entire industries can become redundant as technology evolves or public sentiment shifts. But these new machines require maintenance or new means of operating. These advancements never become completely self-sufficient, nor can the fear be a justification for hindering progress for one’s own gain. We need to be willing to take on risk and not let the potential fear of job insecurity repress revolutionary changes.
Similarly, the current phases of regulation are holding us back significantly. Drones are one of the technologies where the regulatory regime is preventing the industry from maximising its benefits, as the use of drones in Australia is highly restrictive. We need to learn how to balance the considerations of the present with the needs of the future. Risk aversion should be an on-site consideration, but not a conceptual one.
The common element between these constraints and the main thing holding us back is a fear of change. From the C-suite down to part-time contractors, it is an irrational dread that we need to shed in order to step into the light.
I am not completely doubtful that the Australian construction industry will continue to lag behind neighbouring countries. There are positive signs of change. Especially with the development of the “Hadrian X” prototype in Australia which can lay up to 1000 bricks in one hour. This is equivalent to the output of two human bricklayers in one day.
Change is on the horizon. Although, right now the future of construction is grim and significant progress will not be achieved if we do not re-evaluate our change-averse mindsets and modernise our present industry.