The intersection of innovation and construction sometimes seems like an awkward marriage. However, during the first week of June, I attended Engineering News-Record’s ENR FutureTech conference in San Francisco and walked away with inspiration, hope and excitement for all the places where the industry is making that marriage work.
The conference could be summed up in three words: Energized Beyond Belief. Excitement abounds for the digitization of the construction industry, the largest industry in the U.S.
FutureTech: The Recap
Software solutions,such as Qnect, take innovation of engineering solutions to a new level of detail, speed, quality and productivity. Those that implement these innovations today will have a competitive edge tomorrow. There truly is a first mover advantage for the topics that were presented and that people are buzzing about (and implementing!):
- Drones. According to Jose Luis Blanco, Partner at McKinsey & Co, they’re here to stay and are being used to collect job site data, clash detection, under-bridge inspection, etc. For the general public, drone benefits may seem like hype; however, for the job site, these benefits will continue to increase as innovation marches forward.
- Data everywhere. It’s not only data that people put into computers, but also what cameras pick up when they’re installed on cranes, hard-hats, drones, robots and really any other place you can imagine. All these cameras collect data for analysis, insurance, project management, even design changes impacting the industry with quick access to real data that’s often easier communicated through images than through words and RFI’s.
- Innovation and funding. Industry leaders are embracing innovation and funding is on the rise for construction related start ups according to Darren Bechtel, Managing Director of Brick and Mortar Ventures. For many in the audience, this is encouraging as we all benefit from the attention investors bring to the industry.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is a buzzword in many industries and construction is fearlessly jumping in. “With machine learning and machine decision making, this could get interesting,” says Mani Golparvar-Fard, Ph.D., COO and Co-founder Reconstruct Inc. Many in the audience agreed that AI seems to be a hyped buzzword today but it maybe the way of working for tomorrow.
- Digital engineering. Opportunities that digital engineering provide can truly disrupt the current workflow in a very positive way. We’re seeing evidence of new revenue streams opening up for people and new ways to use data to save time and money.
- Virtual “mixed reality” Construction. There were many demonstrations on how VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) are working their way onto the job site, improving schedules, quality, clash detection, safety and future maintenance.One such panel had great insights from Lincoln Wood, Regional Director, Technology, Turner Construction. What will your VR scene be from your desk, your home, your car in the next few years? What about for your customer or your client?
- Block Chain. Yep, if you can believe it, bitcoin is not just for speculators. This latest technology breakthrough is being knit into plans for a more secure, more shareable and more accessible data set for every project and for the next millenia. Great panel on this by Tom Wendling, Systems Engineer, Jacobs Engineering and others. Maybe a spec of hype, but don’t ignore it!
- Strong Industry. According to Steve Jones, Director from Dodge Data and Analysis, our industry is cyclical but doing very well. He reports that 2019 should be a strong year also, and he counsels that it won’t last forever. What are your thoughts?
Reading the Pulse of the Industry
I’m finishing this post after several days in the New York City area. During this time, I met with several large GCs and had some project site visits. Seeing some of this innovation already in action certainly confirmed that the week at FutureTech was not just a lot of industry tire-kickers or the intellectually curious but rather professionals focused on building their companies and taking advantage of the latest technology. Every technical advantage adds to the strength and productivity of the most important resource on every project - people.
[div class="quotebox"][quote]With machine learning and machine decision making, (the construction industry) could get interesting.[/quote][byline style="text-align:left;"]–Mani Golparvar-Fard, Ph.D., COO and Co-founder, Reconstruct Inc.[/byline][/div]
As I toured sites, taking in the sites and sounds, I began to imagine what the experience will be in 2 years or 5 years and I certainly visualized, drones and sensors choreographed to capture every little detail and people with technology at their hip (and maybe on their hard hat).
If you’re reading this, you know a little (or a lot) about the construction industry in the US. If you’ve been in the industry for very long, you know how difficult it is to make changes to an already great work process. That being said, the advances of today will quickly amplify the results of those companies adopting them, making it hard for others to catch up. We hope you agree and you give Qnect a chance to bring proven, safe, quality, productivity savings to YOUR next project.
Jef Sharp is Qnect’s co-founder and CEO.. You’ll frequently see him on the conference circuit and at industry gatherings.