Digital Builder Ep 48: Does Futuristic Construction Tech Improve Employee Experience?

Technology is an exciting topic for many construction professionals, and for good reason. Construction tech has, and continues to, revolutionize how we plan, design, and execute projects. Innovative tech solutions touch just about every stage of construction, so embracing these advancements is essential for staying ahead in the industry. 

To that end, our latest podcast episode delves into the most cutting-edge technologies in construction—including robotics and augmented reality—and offers advice on how industry pros can adapt.  

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You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube, and anywhere else you get your podcasts. 

On this podcast episode 

We met Andrew Cameron, Project Manager at Hensel Phelps, in the Autodesk Gallery and discussed the biggest technologies making waves in the construction sector. In this insightful conversation, we explore the impact of augmented reality, robotics, and other advanced tools on today's jobsites.   

Technologies to get excited about 

We start the discussion by learning about the technologies Andrew is most excited about today. In the crowded ecosystem of new tools and solutions, Andrew believes that augmented reality (AR) and preconstruction software are areas with potential for growth and innovation.  

"I have this optimism that augmented reality will make jobsites much easier," he remarks. "And it's not going to require specialized hardware to deploy. These days, you can use an iPhone 14 to implement AR." 

Andrew continues, "Another interesting one is that we're seeing more software solutions being steered earlier in the construction lifecycle, especially as we now have a lot of progressive contracts like design-build, IPD, and Lean Construction. We're starting to see software solutions address those unique workflows."   

Andrew's excitement for AR and preconstruction software showcases the remarkable potential these technologies have to reshape the construction industry, paving the way for more efficient processes.  

Robotics on site 

There's also the increasing use of robots on site. At Hensel Phelps, Andrew says that the team chooses to deploy robotics in larger projects to allow for more time, flexibility, and better resource management. 

"The reason we're targeting some of the larger projects is to give our project teams, the hardware team, and the robotic company more runway. Larger projects tend to be longer, with more staff and flexibility," he explains.  

Andrew also points out that robotics technology isn't meant to replace workers but to augment their abilities so they can do more with less and focus on tasks requiring higher skill levels.  

"Take, for example, drywall finishing where, let's say, 75% of the wall is pretty standard. But then you have those inside corners, outside corners, and soffits—these high-end detail areas. You can let the trade individual do those areas and finish them to a higher level of excellence." 

"With robotics, they're not bogged down with having to finish just a straight flat wall. You let the robot do the monotonous, mundane task and allow these individuals to really celebrate what they're good at and leave behind, in some cases, a better product because they're not as tired, strained, or overworked." 

As for determining ROI and navigating skepticism around these solutions, Andrew explains while there wasn't 100% commitment initially, they were able to gain confidence by partnering with trades and showing the potential benefits.  

For example, in one project using Dusty Robotics, they increased productivity by up to three times more linear footage than a traditional two-person crew could achieve. Although there was a higher upfront cost for robotics, the long-term benefits and increased productivity made it worthwhile. 

"So when you look at what you need to print your constraints, there is a higher upfront cost. But what you're able to do is then turn over and release things to the other trades with confidence and more accuracy," says Andrew. 

Managing data in jobsites today 

It's clear that the increasing volume of data generated by AR and reality capture are changing how we manage information and the jobsite.  

As Andrew puts it, "The jobsite today looks way different from what used to be the red line set in the trailer, where half-size or full-size sheets with the RFIs are either taped to the back or in the binder. Now, there is so much metadata tied to everything. That's why it's important to structure the data from the beginning by having a solid BIM implementation plan." 

He also emphasizes the need for structured information and standardized naming conventions to simplify analytics and reduce the time spent organizing data.  

"If we are paying all of these subject matter experts to enrich the federated model, why do we need to then pay someone to translate that out in the field?" 

He continues, "That shouldn't be a burden that we pass on. It should be a privilege. 'Hey, we've done all the legwork; here you go. Here's your path to success.'"  

Hensel Phelps, for example, is trying to find easier ways to deploy AR technologies in the field with the help of commercially available devices like iPad Pro and iPhone 14 to streamline processes. 

By enhancing the depth of inspection and using computer vision, they can quickly identify issues, avoid rework, and bring the most current information to the field. Andrew hopes that mobile devices will increasingly act as gateways for the trades, providing access to enriched data sets in 2023. 

New podcast episode every week 

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. 

If you're eager to discover more about AR, robotics, and on-site data management, don't miss the complete podcast episode of Digital Builder featuring Andrew's insights. 

Listen to the Digital Builder Podcast on: 

Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.