News + Ideas

Mann Report: How Robotics Process Automation is Alleviating the AEC Industry’s Supply Chain Issues

Sourced from Mann Report: The Proptech Issue (page 108 of 132)

September 2022

by Joe Léger and Nate Larmore, Vice Presidents, MGAC

One of the primary benefits of robotics and automation becoming more ubiquitous across industries is that it affords teams the time and ability to be more creative and focus on value-add, judgment-based tasks. This is especially true for the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industries, in which large amounts of time are spent inputting and analyzing project data and tracking and coordinating the supply chain. This time would be better spent on ideation and execution—as well as client relationship management.

In response to the widely publicized labor shortage, materials scarcity, and supply chain delays, robotic process automation (RPA), is becoming a more relied-upon solution in the design and construction of buildings. This innovative program is calibrated to advance how construction firms and the AEC sector approach development, production, and administration operations.

Why RPA?
According to a 2022 Robotic Process Automation Market report, RPA is expected to grow at a rate of 16.2 percent and set to reach $47.19 billion by 2029. This is because RPA is finding more enthusiastic adoption in the industry, especially since the pandemic. With implementations put forth to ease manual labor of construction plants and projects, RPA systems aid specifically in back-office operations, allowing contractors to save both time and money.

In this case, as with many others, it isn’t so much that new technology has been developed quickly, but rather that industry experts are finding innovative ways to support existing technology to solve new problems, specifically in the AEC industry. RPA implementation cuts down on manpower through automation, redirecting the focus to examine construction drawings and review materials and equipment. Administrative efforts, such as filing, collecting, and submitting contracts are neatly arranged with RPA, reducing the risk of misplaced paperwork. The use of RPA technology solves workflow problems for all sectors of labor – contractors, architects, engineers, etc., all stand to reap its benefits.

As more professionals are relieved from time-consuming tasks, employee productivity and engagement increase with an ability to focus on being creative and solving problems. When it comes to the supply chain, less time needs to be spent on keeping track of information and more on managing industry relationships and finding new solutions. Purchase orders can be automated and optimized to stay ahead of constraints (as much as possible), and information for invoices can be extracted, input, and processed to help streamline quotes from suppliers. In the realm of cost management for projects, RPA and data analytics help businesses achieve more accurate forecasting and risk management.

As contractors continue to welcome advancing technology, their adoption of RPA holds the potential to completely transform how the industry operates. With the issue of shorter project timeframes while maintaining strict budgets, RPA can automize laborious tasks such as extracting submittals, and use the time gained to focus on project timelines and budget. By capitalizing on RPA’s software tools, immense amounts of data from projects that were formerly left to employees can instead be organized and generated, leveraging data from previous projects to produce predictable and successful outcomes for future developments.

Challenges and Concerns of Use
With the central purpose of RPA being to decrease time and cost, while improving quality and productivity, appropriate training programs on the use of RPA software must be instituted for employees. This will not only support effectiveness, but also help avoid inaccuracies in construction projects. From a fiscal perspective, there are upkeep considerations for these tools, including regular maintenance and upgrades for performance efficiency. These considerations should not discourage construction companies from utilizing this program—it’s ultimately about properly allocating resources and being disciplined about process.

The industry-wide hesitation to implement RPA stems primarily from uncertainty of job security in the AEC industry. Since the key objective is to streamline repetitive, time-sinking work, there is some fear of people being replaced, but as with other industrialized construction processes, the technology doesn’t replace people but rather enables them to be more efficient and productive. Serving as another tool, industry professionals will learn to use RPA to their benefit, just as they do with BIM, drones, or any other time-saving advances. RPA’s sizeable footprint is continuing to push the boundaries of technological advancements in construction, as well as other industries, endorsing opportunity for widespread application.

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