The entire construction industry is experiencing a fundamental shift led by technology. Mechanical contractors are no exception. As the older hands retire, the younger generation is taking over—a generation that’s more willing (if not expecting) to explore the use of modern technology in the traditionally conservative industry.
It’s not that older generations have anything against disruptive technology, but it takes a special kind of open-mindedness to let computers take over jobs that were traditionally performed manually, and with pride. For many, it’s hard to watch technology encroach on everything as we know it, making waves and causing change.
Now, in 2021, technology is taking over the industry in more ways than anyone could have expected. This is a low-down on the top hardware and software technologies being used by mechanical contractors everywhere to improve their work and optimize their businesses.
1. Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (also known as IoT) is transforming how mechanical contractors work in a very special way. IoT is the backbone of a lot of modern technology, consisting of numerous interconnected devices to power important features like data capture and remote functionality.
While devices like sensors and smart actuators have been a large part of the industry for some time now, the level of connectedness and data capture possible today is unprecedented.
Paired with Building Management Systems (BMS) and cloud systems, vast arrays of interconnected devices can talk to each other, gather feedback, and allow facility managers or mechanical technicians to passively monitor entire systems remotely. This data can be analyzed to preempt catastrophic failures by using preventative maintenance.
These devices can also be used for targeted performance issues, such as ensuring energy efficiency, predictive diagnostics, or simply to maximize the comfort of building occupants. These smart devices allow people to interact with the system directly, whether that’s in a factory or an office complex. The most advanced IoT networks even allow multiple systems (think: electrical, plumbing, and commercial HVAC) to be integrated and used for intelligent automation.
Even more exciting, these advanced systems are easier than ever to implement. Thanks to computer miniaturization, these smart devices are now designed to be self-configured for truly plug-and-play installation.
2. Mixed, Virtual, & Augmented Reality
Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) and Building Information Modeling Technology (BIM):
VDC/BIM Technologies have been in use for building modeling for years now. They’re pretty good at it too, but they are restrictive in terms of how well mechanical technicians can interact with them in real-time or out in the field.
Thanks to technology in mixed, virtual, and augmented reality, technicians and engineers can visualize 3D renderings of layouts and designs in a truly immersive experience.
One of the most effective uses of this technology is quality control in the installation of mechanical systems. Engineers and technicians can walk through virtual systems and spot potential clashes or challenges early on in the design phase, potentially averting costly rebuilds.
This technology also allows overlays of other systems so that other stakeholders can collaborate in the design and implementation process. In fields like commercial plumbing, this is especially important as clients go for more efficient and non-intrusive systems.
From a management point of view, MR and AR systems can vastly improve the flow of data between different workflows. Units such as design, prefabrication, construction, and maintenance will all have access to vital data.
Robotics technology is making a big entrance in the industry, especially in the biggest commercial contracting and engineering firms. You may have already heard about Exoskeleton Vests designed to make construction work easier and safer.
The vest supports natural movement using innovative technology to minimize repetitive stress injuries and other common health hazards. Already, technicians in Ford Factories are using these vests where prolonged lifting is required in assembly lines.
Robots are also being used in dangerous or high-precision roles in sheet metal prefabrication and various welding tasks. Inspection robots and remote-controlled devices are also being used in more applications than ever, such as drones for ductwork inspection.
Robotics technology is still far from becoming mainstream in construction. However, as skilled labor becomes more scarce and safety concerns continue to balloon, expect increased use of robotics and smart devices in mechanical construction.
4. Construction Project Bidding Software
One of the biggest challenges that mechanical contractors still face today is efficient and effective bidding. It often takes weeks of intensive work to plan, create estimates, find subcontractors, and push information and cash flow through the company’s pipeline. This is especially relevant for general contractors or contractors that specialize in construction.
For general contractors managing different subcontractors on a single project, tracking information flow becomes a big challenge. Different teams and departments need to collaborate from pre-construction to installation. In addition, the accuracy of project estimates poses a big challenge that threatens bid success rate, not to mention the eventual profit margins.
All these are reasons why almost every commercial contractor today uses some kind of bidding software. The software becomes a central platform where contractors, sub-contractors, and all the various teams involved can collaborate.
These systems make cost estimation much easier by allowing designers to upload system models or blueprints and have the estimation software calculate the project takeoff for them. The software also allows prime contractors to get hold of subcontractors, manage payments, equipment rentals, and order supplies.
Did you know that, according to Autodesk, 30.9% of contractors don’t bid on projects that involve BIM? Of those that do, 29% put in longer completion times due to the lack of workers. This is a real problem with an easy solution.
Bidding software tools are the standard for small and large mechanical contractors due to their efficiency and convenience. They help cut down the cost of project estimation from weeks to days, greatly increase accuracy, and leave behind an easy audit trail for compliance and transparency.
5. Optical Character Recognition
OCR (Optical Character Recognition) platforms are used to visually document the work that a contractor does through uploading images and converting handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. OCR platforms make copies of important documents and files to keep a paper trail that can be easily accessed digitally.
Contractors today rely on OCR built into software platforms to help drastically reduce the time spent documenting asset information and make the process more accurate. Plus, with a good platform, that information should integrate directly into your accounting software, eliminating wasteful double entry.
6. All-In-One Field Service Management
The first Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solutions were focused on back-office operations, such as accounting, inventory management, vendor management, and HR, among others. For the modern mechanical contractor, however, a more versatile and comprehensive commercial field service management software solution is needed.
FSM software integrates field services with office administration, making it an all-in-one solution for commercial contractors. The software can handle tasks like:
- Project management
- Customer management
- Field workflow management
For mechanical contractors and commercial contractors of all kinds, the right FSM software is the difference between being a well-oiled modern business or a web of uncoordinated field teams.
BuildOps is The Ultimate FSM Software for Mechanical Contractors
BuildOps has been purpose-built and specially designed for today’s commercial contractor, accounting for the unique and sophisticated needs of the industry. Our cloud-based mobile and web applications keep everyone on the same page, offering streamlined communication and visibility from field to office and back, across every visit, project, quote, invoice, and more.
As a modern commercial contractor, innovation isn’t a novel concept — it’s now the standard. Clients expect more, and the ever-tightening profit margins require running a tight ship. To learn more about how BuildOps can help you do exactly that, schedule your free demo here.