How digital technology is changing the tradie's toolbox
Like most other sectors, the electrical and construction industries are experiencing digital transformation. Deployed strategically, digital technology can help increase productivity and efficiency and mitigate risk and waste.
We’re still using tools and still building a lot of things by hand so it can sometimes be a bit difficult to see the digital transformation at a worksite. Looking closely shows how a tradie’s toolbox has changed and how it is set to change further in the near future. From general technologies such as smartphones to industry-specific innovations such as inventory management system and digital site plans, today’s tradies are a lot more high-tech than their predecessors.
There has been an apparent reluctance to embrace new technologies in many parts of the electrical and construction industry, perhaps because of a fear that digitisation and automation will make a lot of jobs obsolete. However, digital technology is making everyone’s job easier, both on- and off-site, and in some cases it’s creating new jobs and even new industries.
Mobile phones have been around long enough to no longer be considered new and exciting, but they really have made a huge impact in the way we communicate, both on and off the job site. On a large project, it used to be that the only way to communicate was via two-way radio or sending someone from team to team, wasting time and leaving a lot of room for miscommunications and misunderstandings. These days, getting in touch is simpler and everyone is connected.
One of the biggest digital game changers has been the advent and increasing ubiquity of digital site plans. Technologies such as Autodesk’s BIM (Building Information Modelling) allow access to the most up-to-date set of site plans to everyone who needs it without hassle and confusion. Where we once would have needed to print and store each new version, now everyone can access plans through their computer, tablet or phone. This also allows for tighter version control with all previous versions of the plans saved for reference. Digital site plans are also beginning to make it easier to accurately predict product requirements before a job starts. The program can precisely calculate the wiring and piping from the most current site plans, eliminating countless man-hours and dramatically reducing waste from extra product ordered ‘just in case’.
Next-generation BIM programs are set to incorporate build schedules and costs so that project planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance are all brought together. One of the many advantages of this type of innovation is the ability for the site manager to accurately predict the impact of a proposed design change on the build schedule and budget so that different options can be objectively analysed and understood.
At Drillcut we’ve embraced digital technology in a variety of ways. Our product line-up now includes Milwaukee ONE-KEY, a digital platform for managing tools and equipment, and Milwaukee TICK, the first tracking device built for the job site. The platform lets a site manager monitor and control equipment, regardless of whether they are on the tools themselves. The site manager can monitor the output of tools and ensure they’re all correctly configured for the job at hand. For example, the speed and torque level of a drill can be controlled through the platform so that it is at the right level for the day’s tasks.
It’s estimated that around 5–10% of inventory is lost or stolen each year so digital technology that allows you to keep track of it could be well worth the investment. These products are a great example of digital technology enhancing our current processes and working environment. They represent a move towards the ‘internet of things’, making ordinary tools and appliances ‘intelligent’. Just like a personal fitness tracker can tell you how many steps you’ve taken or how well you slept, wireless sensors incorporated into tools and equipment can let us know that everything is running smoothly and alert us to issues before they become major setbacks.
Technologies such as 3D printing and digital laser cutting are also beginning to make waves in the industry. Most large-scale 3D printing is currently cost prohibitive, but costs are starting to come down and creative engineers and designers are always working on new innovations. Who knows, one day we might all be printing build components to order right on the job site. Looking to the future, we can only make an educated guess about how digital technology will change the tradie’s toolbox. As our buildings become smarter and future-ready, we have to be too.
Digital inventory management and site plan programs are in their infancy and only just beginning to become widely adopted across the industry. As these technologies become more common and are tweaked, updated and incorporate new innovations, it is likely that digital understanding and capability will become even more important than it is today.
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