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For thousands of years, dating back to the earliest lean-tos, caves and other forms of human shelter, people who could build structures were rewarded by those who lived or worked in them. As often as not, the wealthiest person in any human settlement was a builder. However, it is often said that we don’t learn much from success. For this reason publications such as The Economist never seem to tire of presenting statistics showing that the construction industry has been very slow to progress, change, innovate or improve efficiency.

Now Plumbing Engineer (PE) magazine recently joined the chorus, publishing an article that says:

Construction has a tremendous productivity problem. This is one of the largest industries in the world and is estimated to grow from $10.6 trillion to $12.7 trillion between 2017 and 2022 … However, less than 25% of firms in this industry have matched the productivity growth of the overall economy in which they operate. In 2015, McKinsey estimated that if this sector’s productivity were to catch up with the total economy, the sector would increase by $ 1.6 trillion.


While change is slow, however, it’s not for lack of lessons learned. Software supplier PlanGrid has published a report based on surveys of about 600 construction leaders, concluding that globally around $538 billion was spent on rework in 2018.

PE notes that other studies suggest construction professionals are spending 14-plus hours each week on suboptimal activities.  For example:

• 5.5 hours looking for project data/information

• 4.7 hours resolving conflicts 

• 3.9 hours dealing with unnecessary mistakes and delays

This means that “only three days per week are effectively being used towards productive tasks. Two factors alone (poor communication and poor access to project data) accounted for $ 31.3 billion of rework costs.”


It’s a gloomy perspective, but some new trends may help. Sophisticated 3D modeling files are being used and shared by architects, engineers, general contractors and subs to reduce process inefficiencies. BIM is even being used for construction scheduling to tighten up on wasted time and materials. More design-build and GPS-based enhanced reality tools for the job site help eliminate mistakes when implementing precise designs.

A pre-fabrication movement is growing. Component parts of buildings are increasingly being constructed in plants with impressive quality-control systems to reduce mistakes and injuries, and dramatically tighten schedule sequences by permitting some rooms to be started early.

If yours is an ambitious trade services firm, these trends represent opportunities for growth. Increase your expertise with design-build, 3D modeling, enhanced reality tools, and pre-fab approaches. Make yourself and your firm more valuable, as construction finally breaks free of centuries of inefficiency and unnecessary mistakes.

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