5 Ways the Construction Industry Has Changed in 20 Years

Published August 7, 2015 by Whirlwind Team

For hundreds of years the construction industry was largely unchanged. Sure, motorized equipment and power tool made specific tasks quicker and more efficient, but the work they wasn't all that different. Plans were drawn by hand, notes were handwritten and physically filed and construction workers communicated using good ol' fashioned eye contact and voices. Then, the technological revolution began.

In the past two decades, the construction industry has seen more rapid-fire changes than in any period in history, including both the industrial revolution and the post-war era. From digital records and 3-D imaging systems to smart construction software and drone technology, the construction site functions a little differently than it did when our fathers and grandfathers strapped on their tool belts.

5 Construction Industry Innovations

Let's take a look at 5 construction innovations, most of which were nonexistent 20 years ago, and all of which would have made your grandfather do a double take. We can hear him now, "Weeell, I'll be...."

  1. Digital records and plans. While we all like to have our hands on a nice set of paper plans from time to time, digital records of everything from building plans and permit applications, to safety inspections and client communication have seriously lessened the amount of paper we have floating around the office - as well as the jobsite. Now, electronic gadgets (see #2) and digital records means you can see a plan page, a detail, or a change order right on your screen. These digital features include the ability to see plans in 3-D, which assists both the client and your construction crew to see both the big picture as well as how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

  2. Smart gadgets. Perhaps one of the most notable features on a constructions site these days is that everyone has a phone. Coming to work with a phone, and using it while on the job, would have been unheard of - even in the 90s. It was considered bad etiquette and personal calls were considered a no-no. However, as smart phones and other gadgets have become the social norm, workers have their personal devices strapped on their persons at all times. Sure, we bemoan the personal texts and Facebook checks, but what we love is instant access to communication with any of our workers, on any jobsite, at any time.

    Without their gadgets, there would be no way to transmit the instant changes in instructions, plan change orders and other tidbits that need to be disseminated from the office or the job trailer to the work site - and smart gadgets make instant communication possible. They also make it possible for workers and managers to take instant pictures of interior wall spaces before they are closed-in, or design features that aren't quite working out, so instant decisions can be made.

  3. Construction management software. Here is an industry that didn't even exist 20 years ago in any serious way, and now you'll be hard-pressed to find a medium- to large construction company that doesn't use it to run their company. Construction management software has been so successful that even smaller operations are finding it worthwhile to make the investment. This piece of technology facilitates plans and plan changes, communication between the building owner, project managers and anyone else involved in the project. It can assist with budgeting and billing processes, timeline management and real-time communication and collaboration tools. There are even features that can be used between developers, builders and municipalities, streamlining the permitting and inspection processes.

  4. Health and safety standards. This one has been a long time coming, and it's taken a long time to implement health and safety standards as a regular part of company culture. It used to be that only "wusses" wore masks or ear plugs, and even fall protection procedures were taken loosely, often resulting in crew members wearing harnesses - - - that weren't attached to anything. Now, however, the message has begun to sink in. Continued efforts by OSHA, as well as companies that recognize health and safety standards improve working conditions and worker efficiency, has led to a whole new attitude about safety regulations on the site. 

  5. Drones. Here's a new kid on the block and he took up residence quick. The potential for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on construction sites are being rapidly metabolized by construction sites around the country. These remotely operated devices - often using pre-programmed flight patterns using GPS technology - mean large-scale projects can be surveilled from remote locations to monitor a project's progress. They can be used to inspect areas of the building that are more dangerous to access and can pick up on minor and major plan deviations so they can be corrected.

How has the construction industry changed for you in the past 20 years?

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