A day at a Continental Contractors worksite may shock you. There are so many tools, devices, and gadgets being used that you may not even know existed. But we are always on the lookout for the tools and processes that help us improve. 

Since humans began using logs to make bridges in 9,000 BC, the construction industry has been a vital part of our survival. We are a long way today from the mud and clay of our first buildings, but for generations, the industry as a whole has been notoriously resistant to adopting new technologies. The initial cost of implementing new processes can cause sticker shock if the return on investment is not easily identified, and the time needed to get teams up to speed can temporarily slow production while workers learn new ways of completing tasks with technology-driven tools. Those who continue to be resistant to change are beginning to see a productivity gap that will only widen with time. While hammers are still swinging and paint is still drying, the tide does appear to be turning, creating opportunities for new technology to improve safety, efficiency, and quality on job sites around the world.

Even before the global pandemic of 2020 forced contractors to take a hard look at day-to-day practices, the industry was beginning to welcome new technology. Eco-friendly materials, the use of drones, 3-D model imaging, and the strength and performance of materials like carbon fiber were already making waves. On Continental job sites, the adoption of the smartphone by every foreman means that daily reports are completed and submitted in real-time while walking the site.

“The use of smartphones with cameras in the field has completely changed the way we run projects,” says Dan Welch, Sr. Vice President at Continental. “We are able to respond to questions and resolve issues in a fraction of the time, and our quality control has improved dramatically.” Photos are uploaded and viewed by the team in seconds, and responses to RFIs nearly immediate. With the momentum that was already in place prior to 2020, imagining what the future of construction will look like is both exciting and daunting, but here are a few interesting technologies that we’re keeping an eye on moving into 2021.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality allows users to visualize what will be built, and how the various layers of a building will fit together. It can also provide remote team members additional insight into existing conditions, improve building inspections, and allow for virtual markups and make the punch process more efficient. Imajion, for example, takes video conferencing to the next level by allowing a single participant onsite to share their view of a job site. Wearing a HoloLens or using the IMAJION mobile app, a field rep shares his/her view and voice with remote conference participants. Onsite and remote users can mark up the space using augmented reality with annotated media automatically uploaded to the users’ project management system for use in observations, punch list items, submittals, and RFIs. Similarly, SiteVision uses data from Building Information Modeling (BIM), already widely used by architects, and enables contractors to communicate and collaborate with project teams and sub-contractors through an easy-to-understand visualization of all the details in the data model.

Wearable Technology

Construction workers account for nearly half of all fatal work injuries in the United States, and they also sustain tens of thousands of non-fatal injuries every year. While OSHA regulations have drastically decreased the number of injuries occurring since the ’90s, the use of wearable tech for safety purposes promises to reduce the risk even more. SmartBoots by Solepower are aiming to revolutionize both safety and workflow onsite. The use of sensors in boots may be used to detect proximity to hazardous zones and the risk of fatigue, alerting a field worker and supervisor. They can be used to identify workers when they enter a job site and automatically assign tasks to them over mobile devices. Blackline Safety’s wearable sensors provide notifications to workers and supervisors upon detection of falls, no physical motion, high gas alerts, and contact tracing.

Wireless Security Camera

Construction sites are full of expensive items that attract thieves and cost millions annually to contractors. The loss of building materials and pricy tools not only drives up construction costs but delays progress. While security cameras have been utilized on job sites for years, they previously required the availability of electricity to power them, and an internet connection to capture and send images and video. Continental project manager Stephen Safran has used various products on site, but is looking forward to better surveillance technology. “Short of using trail cameras, wireless security is difficult without internet access. A device that provides its own internet and power source is a game-changer.”

AXIS Communications is one of the companies determined to solve that problem, and claims its cameras can be installed wirelessly, and provide a built-in internet connection. AXIS Cross Line Detection technology acts as a virtual tripwire around the job site, instantly detecting intruders and sending automatic alerts to your device or to local authorities. This feature is useful for monitoring an entire site, or specific areas and entry points. The ease of placement, and frequent relocation as needed, makes the use of security cameras much more attainable for contractors and job sites of any size.

Construction is a unique industry, relying on both the vision of designers and architects, the skill of tradesmen and women, and the organization and communication of the managers who bring them all together. We are learning from our partner firms every day. With the countless ways technology is permeating each of these areas, the future of construction may look very different in just a few years than it does even today. The key will be in finding which technologies create efficiencies in one area without slowing the others down, creating a profitable return on investments, and understanding the need for new types of construction technology professionals to deploy and maintain these high-tech systems.

Continental is always looking for new ways to provide construction services efficiently, safely, and with an eye toward outstanding quality. Our team is embracing told and systems we did not even think would be possible 10, or even five years ago. Technology continues to evolve, and so do we.