Sometimes it is fun to look back at old photos of ourselves to see how much we’ve changed over the years. Sometimes we’ve changed a lot—added a few more grey hairs or wrinkles—but other times we don’t look that all that much different. And no matter how much or how little we change on the outside, we are still the same person on the inside. The same is true with the construction industry. While certain facts and figures may fluctuate, the industry itself is largely unchanged from year to year. I am writing about a lot of the same issues today as when I first started with Construction & Demolition Recycling (C&DR) magazine several years ago.
I recently picked up issue of C&DR July/August 2014, and I couldn’t help but be amused by what I read. It was as if I could have written the same column today, and it still would have been just as timely. Articles about robotic sorting and a remote-controlled demolition project also appeared in the issue—topics we are still covering.
In my column from that issue, I wrote how technology is changing the way demolition contractors and C&D recyclers are operating. “Robots, remote controls and GPS technology have revolutionized the way we perform many tasks, and manufacturers have found ways to make the jobs of demolition contractors and C&D recyclers more precise, safer and less labor intensive,” I state. I mentioned efficiency improvements and risk reduction associated with technology along with other benefits.
Here we are three years later, and the industry is talking about the same things. Having recently returned from ConExpo-Con/Agg in Las Vegas, I can tell you manufacturers are more focused than ever on improving on-board technology; connectivity with the field and the office; and remote monitoring and operations. Technology is advancing to the point where potential maintenance issues can be detected prior to them occurring, and a part can be ordered or a maintenance team can get out ahead of the problem, greatly minimizing downtime.
This year’s ConExpo-Con/Agg took technology to new levels, even dedicating an entire area of the convention to where the future is headed with its Tech Experience Exhibits and Tech Talks. One of the Tech Talk speakers, Blake Gasca, CEO of the Newport Beach, California-based technology firm MuHu, described the culmination of technology with machinery as “Silicon Valley meets Detroit.”
And ultimately, this shift may have added benefits when it comes to the labor force—another topic C&DR has written about with frequency over the years. The labor shortage in the construction industry is a result of several factors, including the retirement of scores of baby boomers. It also is a result of millennials not wanting jobs that involve having to wear hard hats and boots. But when you throw computers and technology into the mix, now you are talking their language.
If technology means less humans are needed on a job site and more humans are needed behind the scenes performing tasks remotely using some computer software, these young minds who gravitate toward desk jobs and like to play video games may have just found their calling in construction. I wonder how much of this will have come to fruition when I sit down to write my editor’s column in another three years.