Construction industry trends
The construction industry is grappling with many issues that challenge projects and timelines. Supply chain problems, material costs, intensifying labor shortages, and lingering effects from the pandemic are all concerns that contractors and subcontractors must navigate.
As the industry adjusts to these ongoing issues, more contractors are looking for ways to improve efficiency and make up for lost time on projects. New technologies can provide crucial time and cost savings as contractors face increased pressure to stay competitive and win bids.
Construction challenges and outlook
On the heels of the pandemic that caused industry uncertainty and project delays in 2020 and into 2021, many steel fabricators and construction contractors are faced with ongoing additional challenges, including labor issues, rising costs and supply chain shortages. They are searching for ways to cut costs and keep work moving.
While a trio of federal bills signed in 2021 and 2022 — including the infrastructure law, CHIPS Act and Inflation Reduction Act — bodes well for the infrastructure construction sector, headwinds remain.
According to the annual construction workforce survey from Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, 93% of construction firms have open positions and are having particular trouble filling skilled labor positions. While this is not an unexpected challenge — the welder shortage has been well documented and projected for the past decade — the predictions are becoming reality and contractors face the question of how to complete jobs on time without the necessary workforce. In addition to labor challenges, construction cost increases continue to plague the industry. Double-digit cost increases are expected to continue in 2023.
With all these factors at play, exploring ways to improve productivity is more important than ever.
One example of this exploration is an American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) program called Need for Speed, which has a goal of increasing the speed of steel construction projects (for example, a building or a bridge) by 50% by 2025.
“We have seen an uptick in fabricators looking into innovative technology,” says Brian Raff, vice president of market development for AISC.”
Finding efficiencies is a priority
Along the lines of the Need for Speed program, many construction fabricators and contractors are looking for more efficient ways to do business and new technologies that save time and money. While efficiency has always been a priority, it’s especially critical now as the industry adjusts to its many challenges.
“The pandemic almost worked like an accelerator on existing trends,” says Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives for AGC. “A lot of contractors have been exploring technologies, like using robotics or using drones to do inspections. All of a sudden, what was an interesting curiosity before to see if it was worthwhile becomes a necessity.”
AISC member feedback echoes this, Raff says. More of their steel fabrication shop members are using robotic welding, for example.
Tips for improving productivity in construction
As contractors look for ways to improve efficiency and productivity on projects, new technology and a shift in processes or techniques can deliver results. Here are some changes that can help save time and money:
- New technology for the jobsite — In the search for more efficient technology, the ability for welders to make adjustments remotely can deliver significant time savings. Walking between the weld joint and the welding power source to change parameters and processes can add up to hours wasted every day. This is especially true on larger jobsites where the welder may be hundreds of yards or several stories away from the machine and needs to make frequent adjustments. ArcReach® technology from Miller Electric Mfg. LLC provides operators with complete control at the weld joint using a wire feeder or stick/TIG remote without a control cable, which allows them to reduce or eliminate this wasted time. XMT® 650 ArcReach Power Systems also enable welders to adjust polarity to switch between welding processes or welding and gouging at the joint on structural steel jobsites. ArcReach technology provides this point-of-use control without the need for a control cable — saving money and hassle in cable management, repair and replacement. Plus, Wireless Interface Control on Trailblazer® and Big Blue® welder/generators provides full front panel access from wherever operators are working on the jobsite, so they don’t have to go back to the welder/generator to turn it on or off, change welding processes or adjust parameters. These technologies may also eliminate the need for a helper on the ground to make changes at the power source, reducing the headcount needed to complete a job.
- A change to processes — Converting to wire welding processes is another change that contractors can make to improve productivity and efficiency. More companies are transitioning from stick to wire welding on construction jobsites, due in part to increased deposition rates and travel speeds. These gains can be realized while still meeting high weld quality requirements and improving jobsite safety.
- Streamlining steps — Utilizing the workers on the jobsite rather than hiring a third party can help contractors reduce costs and gain better control over the schedule. For example, many welding applications on construction jobsites require welding preheat. If the contractor is hiring a subcontractor to come and use resistance heating for this task, it can add significant time and cost to the process. Preheating contractors can charge up to $2,000 per joint, and setup time can be up to three hours per weld joint. NewArcReach Heating Systems from Miller eliminates the need to bring in more subcontractors by enabling welders to do the welding preheat.
Improving efficiency with technology
As the construction industry deals with supply chain challenges, labor shortages and cost increases, it’s more important than ever for contractors to use solutions that help make up lost time and keep them ahead of schedule. New technologies and more productive processes can help deliver results to improve efficiency and quality.