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Wearable tech makes mechanical contracting more productive, profitable

Nov. 13, 2017
The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), which links components or systems via network connectivity, has enabled the instant transfer of data across people, projects and borders.

In this new digital age, people and industries are transitioning from a “work harder” to a “work smarter” mindset. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), which links components or systems via network connectivity, has enabled the instant transfer of data across people, projects and borders. With widespread adoption of smart devices, Wi-Fi, and Cloud-based technologies, customers, owners and employees expect real-time, data-driven information with the swipe of a finger.

While most industries have embraced product and process innovations, construction has been slow to adopt these technologies — and is feeling the effects. For example, productivity in manufacturing has nearly doubled since 1995, while productivity in construction has actually declined. This is particularly problematic when you consider other challenges that the industry faces.

The changing labor force

According to the Associated General Contractors of America, three-quarters of construction firms expect to have difficulty finding skilled hourly workers this year. When the recession hit in 2008, over 2 million skilled workers who were unable to find jobs dropped out of the industry and never returned. Now, as U.S. construction spending increases to the highest level in more than a decade, the relationship between available jobs and skilled labor has reversed. Compounding the problem, many millennials entering the workforce, who are focused on a college degree and concerned about job security, tend to dismiss the trades as a viable career option. Coupled with fewer apprenticeships and vocational schools, both general and specialty contractors have been forced to hire from an increasingly limited pool of workers — before their skills have been tested and evaluated.

Rising project costs

With a skilled labor shortage, project owners have to pay more to get a project completed on time and contractors have to increase compensation and benefits to keep talent. In addition, as less qualified workers are hired for an increasing number of projects, safety concerns are mounting, and a lack of training can have devastating consequences.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.4 percent of worker fatalities in the private industry in 2015 — 937 of 4,379 — occurred in construction. Of those, 38.8 percent resulted from a fall. Plumbers and HVAC contractors face fall risks whenever they are working at heights, whether it’s during the construction phase or routine maintenance.

 Mechanical contractors need to shift from a reactive problem-solving mindset to a proactive one, dispatching service technicians before issues arise and arriving on-site with the right parts to fix the problem.

Simply put, a safer jobsite is a more successful jobsite. When workers are injured, money, time, morale and productivity is lost as investigations are conducted, claims are processed, and temporary replacement labor is secured. Liberty Mutual estimates that more than $15 billion is spent on fall-related disability claims in the U.S., with slips and trips without a fall costing another $2.35 billion. Furthermore, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training, the construction industry spends 4.4 percent of employer costs on workers’ compensation alone, nearly three times the average cost for employers in all industries.

Limited resources

In today’s construction environment where projects are more competitive and margins are thinner, contractors don’t have the resources — financial, time, human or otherwise — to spare. Mechanical contractors today must prioritize a lean, entrepreneurial mindset focused on doing more with less. Organizations can’t afford to waste valuable time tracking down people, parts, materials and information; trying to find out when workers enter and leave a building or service call; or trying to gain access to the most updated building plans.

In addition, contractors need to be on top of the details of the jobsite to provide better customer service. As customers demand less downtime and more accountability, mechanical contractors need to shift from a reactive problem-solving mindset to a proactive one, dispatching service technicians before issues arise and arriving on-site with the right parts to fix the problem.

The good news is that technology is available today to streamline operations, conserve resources, mitigate risks and keep projects — and the industry — moving forward. Here are some examples of technological innovations that are addressing pressing industry challenges:

·  Sensors provide key data. Smart buildings are connecting sensors on equipment and systems through the Internet of Things to provide valuable, actionable information to contractors. For example, during the construction phase, sensors are being used to monitor environmental factors, including temperature, water and air quality, as well as being used during operations to track the wear and tear of mechanical systems. The data collected can be used to diagnose problems and identify potential failures before they occur, maximizing operational performance and the life of the assets.

In addition, wearable sensor technology is being used to protect the construction industry’s most valuable resource — its workers — and to gather actionable insights to increase productivity. These wearable devices can alert contractors to safety incidents as they occur so help can be sent immediately. In addition, they can quickly and accurately capture worker time & attendance and location. Whether an employee is installing an HVAC system or making a service call, aggregate workforce statistics can optimize safety, security and manpower.

·  Project management software streamlines operations. A 2009 study in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management found that the median cost of rework due to poor document control is about $4.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Now, project management software is changing how projects operate, significantly reducing the administrative burden and ensuring a real-time single stream of information. Cloud-based platforms allow workers to view the latest information to determine what a certain part is, where it should go, and how it should function. Real-time communication, documentation and support between the field, office and customers significantly reduces the time spent diagnosing problems, communicating solutions and keeping buildings operating safely and securely.

The future is now

Over the next few years, IoT-enabled technologies — driven in large part by key industry trends — will help mechanical contractors more effectively address customer expectations, and improve project management and safety. By researching, testing and adopting emerging technologies now, mechanical contractors can work smarter, making the best use of their resources to achieve greater productivity, profitability and a critical competitive advantage.

Chad Hollingsworth is co-founder and CEO of Triax Technologies, a leading provider of wearable technology for construction site connectivity. He can be reached on LinkedIn or by email at [email protected].

About the Author

Chad Hollingsworth | Co-founder and CEO

Chad Hollingsworth is co-founder and CEO of Triax Technologies, a leading provider of wearable technology for construction site connectivity. He can be reached on LinkedIn or by email at [email protected].

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