3D printing, drones and robots to tackle construction labor shortages

Nine of 10 construction firms suffer from shortage of skilled labor.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An illustration of a robot on a constcrution site..jpg
An illustration of a robot on a construction site.

Julia Garan/iStock 

Canadian construction companies claim digital technology is the key to dealing with an overwhelming shortage of skilled labor faced by nine out of 10 of these firms.

This is according to a survey of 275 construction companies released Tuesday by KPMG Canada and reported on by the Globe and Mail.

“We’re hearing across the industry that there are shortages of people,” told the news outlet Tom Rothfischer, the national industry leader for KPMG in Canada’s building, construction, and real estate practice.

“Technology is not something that they historically had a lot of time for in my experience and to see this recalibration was a real eye-opener for us, and it’s a welcome eye opener.”

The survey revealed Canada’s construction industry has been slow to adopt new digital technologies compared to other countries.

This is to their detriment as the use of digital tools such as robots and drones can help companies save time and money, reduce waste and improve worker safety.

But the Canadian construction industry is quickly catching on to these benefits. The survey reported that 46 percent of companies said they plan to spend more than 11 percent of their corporate operating budget on tech and digital transformation.

Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association (CAA), told the Globe and Mail that the high cost of implementing new technologies has thus far been an issue.

“Margins are slim in construction, especially for the small– and medium-sized contractors, making it increasingly difficult for them to adopt these types of innovations in their business operations,” Van Buren said in a press release reported by the Globe and Mail.

“This is why CCA continues to work with federal departments in an effort to modernize procurement processes that encourage innovation by supporting shared risk.”

3D printing, drones and robots

Jordan Thomson, senior manager of infrastructure advisory at KPMG in Canada, outlines the many technologies used in the industry such as 3D printing, drone-based surveying, and robot mobile dogs such as Boston Dynamics’ Spot. The last of these, he said, is extremely practical.

“They’re using it to free up a field engineer to do more value-add kind of activity,” explained Thomson. “It’s a very simple thing. It’s not expensive and reduces fatigue.”

However, the expert also emphasized that these machines would not take over human jobs en masse anytime soon.

“I don’t think it’s a question of replacing people. I think it’s a question of empowering people that we have and doing more with less,” told the Globe and Mail Thomson.

“There’s so much work out there that a project cannot be done because there’s just not enough people to do it.”