As the coronavirus pandemic disrupted business worldwide, project delays and shutdowns swept across the construction industry. Companies hastened to implement technological advancements and restructure jobsites in order to remain operational.
Ultimately, though, many of the changes made in order to survive will produce long-term positive effects on safety and productivity.
“As an industry, we needed a catalyst event,” said Cutler Knupp, Director of Strategy and Technology Investments for Dysruptek, Haskell’s innovation investment arm. “It’s unfortunate that it’s been COVID, but I definitely think that this is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back to really take seriously and have the right dedication, investment and commitment to driving a lot of these solutions.”
Knupp recently shared his views as a panelist during the Digital Built Environment Institute’s Insight webinar series, participating alongside Richard Harpham, VP of Software Products at Katerra, Charlie Dunn, Visual Planning & Construction Technology at DPR, and Daniel Doherty, Manager of Operational Support at PCL.
In response to the pandemic, the companies implemented emerging technologies to improve workplace safety and minimize worker contact.
Programs such as Unreal Engine and technology such as Digital Twin create simulations with real-time input to better understand workplace flow. To reduce worker contact before it occurs, frequency and prediction calculations offer insight into areas of the jobsite where the six-foot rule is likely to be violated. To reduce contact on the ground, worker-tracking software regulates distance in real time.
In the process of reconfiguring jobsite operations, companies have analyzed productivity and realized the opportunity to become more efficient. Pre-planning and addressing on-site congestion to maintain six feet has created accountability for day-to-day progress.
“I think what we have identified is by more planning, reduced congestion, more detailed work packages, we are providing that opportunity,” Dunn said.
Knupp also discussed Haskell’s recent investment in modular manufacturing and prefabrication as a safer way of executing work. Contractors can reduce risk and expedite delivery times by having building modules manufactured in a production facility then shipped to the jobsite for assembly.
And while North American construction companies are still learning the best ways to utilize prefabrication, it’s expected to become an established advancement.
“Longer term, I think there’s tremendous value in modular construction at the fact that you can standardize components, have a much more consistent working environment, and take a manufacturing process which is very efficient and apply it to construction, which is very inefficient today,” he said.
Contractors dedicated to safety and innovation will continue to adopt technology to overcome major hurdles created by the pandemic, and efforts to keep workers safe in the present will contribute to overall operations in the future.
“It’s still a very human-driven business,” Knupp said. “I don’t think that’s going to go away, so it’s a better reason to understand how to keep that work happening while production is possible and as safely as possible.”