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It All Starts With Having an Innovative Culture
By Craig Chappell, Virtual Design and Construction Technology Specialist, TDIndustries
Most of the time, the answer is a resolute “No!”
Historically, the construction industry has been slow to innovate. As one of my favorite blogs points out, only one in three change-management initiatives actually succeed.
So, how does a construction company break free of the same routine? It all starts with having an innovative culture. Current TDIndustries partners are incredibly lucky to walk in an established environment. Our founder discovered a new idea in the 1970s called Servant Leadership, which quickly melded with an employee-owned structure to create a high standard for continuous, aggressive improvement.
To succeed and stand out, companies must invest in innovation. That also includes a willingness to change processes and a culture accepting of those changes. For construction, that means Lean methods. Lean requires buy-in from every stakeholder, and quickly identifies the clogs in a system, both in personnel and processes. It also offers honest feedback from partners who have data to back up their innovative ideas and fully holds every decision and Partner accountable.
Many companies are afraid to do this, fearing that their tidy profit centers will be upended. There’s a solution for them: have ambidextrous processes. With your proverbial right hand, continue your profitable methods, but use your left–a few innovative employees dedicated to improvement–to test alternatives.
We also rely on our frontline partners to tell us what works. We find that when we hire improvement-minded partners, they will find products that solve problems and advocate for that device. In the past year, partners have introduced us to specialized technologies to improve duct-sealant application, cloud-sharing documentation, confirming up-to-date plans, hearing protection, and wearable heat expulsion. Having 2,400 partners actively searching for new technology is much more effective than one committee trying to tackle every product imaginable.
Sometimes, enforcing change takes a tougher stand. When TD decided to move to computer-aided design (CAD) many years ago, not every partner was ready to move on from hand-drawn plans. After a few months, the manager went to every desk and removed all the pencils. The message was clear then, and can still be useful now.
CAD and now Building Information Modeling (BIM) have been prerequisites for most bids for almost a decade.
To succeed and stand out, companies must invest in innovation. That also includes a willingness to change processes and a culture accepting of those changes
We all know the internal advantage to BIM: reducing onsite exposure through clash detection, avoiding rework, creating better planning and scheduling, and serving as the basis for efficient prefabrication planning. All those advantages provide great returns on the bottom line.
Customers are catching on to that value, too. With so many companies providing these technologies, some high-value owners can essentially require top-end BIM applications during the bid process. Those contractors requiring large-value contracts may have to choose smaller projects to stay in business.
Virtual reality can be another great advantage, although most firms haven’t found a great way to monetize it. During the bidding phase, customers can form a better bond with their future building when they see the plan. Much like BIM, it’s also easier to explain potential clashes in a virtual environment than on paper. We hold semifrequent events to reinforce VR’s promising future in construction.
In TD’s service department, we have rolled out two initiatives: Visual Intelligence and data collection/analytics work. Visual Intelligence helps our customers better understand repairs and the condition of their facility. We document each repair with photo and video, and provide supporting PDF manuals. All content is tagged within the database and made available through web links to avoid security issues and tedious data exchange.
As cloud data collection becomes ubiquitous, TD is using tools to monitor it for better maintenance efficiency. utiliVisor allows us to monitor energy consumption for complex, targeted systems. We then can identify which systems are running inefficiently. That inefficiency can lead to quicker repairs and higher energy costs than the depreciation schedule allows, as well as a ruined budget. This same principle applies to several other TD programs in development.
We have seen a great return with these technologies, including increased trust between our customers and technicians. That transparency allows us to better serve their facility needs and grow our business relationship.
We don’t overlook safety in innovation, either. Working in the Southwest, triple-digit temperatures are always a concern. We have tested several wearable technologies to help combat overheating, including fan-cooled clothing, moisture-wicking fabric, and other weather-focused vestments. For darker interior construction, we are using a 360-degree LED headlight to prevent rework or collisions. We have even tested exoskeletal devices to reduce strain in our manufacturing shop and on the jobsite.
Innovative construction technologies don’t have to be world-changing. We’re always looking for those, but we see dozens of practical improvements every quarter. Without all employees working to continuously improve technologies, companies will have to play catch-up. It’s easier to do that today while the bottom line isn’t threatened.