by Jay Connolly
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at a MassRobotics conference on innovation in construction. Representing the fifth generation of family leadership at Connolly Brothers, I know that our construction management firm would not still be thriving after 140 years without strategically embracing innovation over that span. While I do not hold a crystal ball as to the next breakthrough in construction, I believe some recent innovative construction solutions hold lessons for those now engaged in developing the next tools of the trades.
One of the best recent examples of innovation in construction is precision welding in pre-fabrication, where the steady arm of a mechanized, programmed welding device holds an advantage over a human arm, at least when it comes to standardized tasks. We have also seen significant innovation in surveying and inspections, such as the meteoric rise of robotic total stations, which enable more efficient target aiming and lock while reducing user fatigue.
We adopted these tools earlier than most, and now all our subcontractors use them as well. For surveying and inspection at heights, we have also begun to see increasing usage of aerial drones, which can often capture images or perform simple tasks in high-elevation situations while reducing risk. In fact, Connolly Brothers will provide a pilot project test site for one such manufacturer, Human Dynamics, which aims to make work at heights safer, more efficient, and less resource-intensive.
The adoption of the technologies above may offer some important takeaways for those involved in delivering innovative construction solutions. First, each of these innovations was designed for non-controlled, non-standardized construction environments; each innovation was clearly well-tested in a variety of field situations. Next, these innovations overcame skepticism among practitioners by demonstrating their safety, efficiency, and ease of labor.
Few are likely to promote an innovation that makes their job obsolete, but many are interested in tools that make their work easier, faster, and less dangerous. Future innovations may find greater uptake if paired with easily accessible training opportunities. This allows experts to retain their status with the introduction of a new method or procedure.
Tasks that take place in difficult areas – be it at great heights or under water – are excellent candidates for construction innovation, as are high-fatigue or “backbreaking” tasks. For innovators, then, one of the best pieces of advice I could share is one of the most simple: Talk to people in the trades and find out what tasks they want to get rid of. This will give you valuable insight into whether your proposed solution will be met with applause or jeers.
In addition to keeping practitioners such as myself informed as to what may be coming next, this opportunity to connect and communicate is one reason that events like MassRobotics’ Robotics in Construction conference are so valuable. When those producing solutions and those delivering projects are in sync, our customers, employees, and entire field benefits.
Jay Connolly is president of Connolly Brothers, Inc., a construction management firm serving private commercial, industrial, and institutional clients.