Picking the right first product for a startup is a challenge. Many factors have to be in alignment in order for the product to be successful. One commonly overlooked factor is market timing. Why is now the right time for this product to hit the market? What emerging technologies enable this product to be developed? What external market forces are providing tailwinds to drive adoption?
As we’ve shown our FieldPrinter prototype to more and more folks in the construction industry, it’s becoming clear that layout automation is an idea whose time has come. Early adopters in the construction industry say that our product is “inevitable” with a “tremendous” value prop. Why now?
The construction industry is in the early stages of a digital transformation. This transformation is mostly driven by computer-aided design of 3D buildings. BIM modeling is now the norm on commercial ground-up projects, and is gaining ground on smaller TI (tenant improvement) projects as well.
The benefits of BIM modeling on the industry are enormous. Instead of discovering problems during the building process, problems are surfaced earlier in the design process where they can be resolved at a much lower expense. Large megaprojects such as airports and stadiums have operating costs running in the thousands of dollars per minute. If work in the field comes to a halt because one guy’s pipe installation prevents another guy from installing his duct, even a day’s delay can cost the project millions of dollars. BIM modeling allows these conflicts to be found early, during the design phase. Clash detection features in BIM software even allow these conflicts to be automatically highlighted in the model.
The field has been slower to adopt technology, but that has also been changing in the past few years. While some trades still make use of measuring tape to set out points/lines in the field, robotic total stations have been gaining ground. Trimble and TopCon have done a great job at convincing GC’s that total station-assisted layout is faster and more accurate than pulling tape.
With virtually all ground-up commercial buildings being modeled in BIM, builders are hungry for a solution that allows them to transfer BIM information to the field, where they can detect clashes as soon as possible. With total stations becoming the norm on jobsites, contractors already trust that a total-station-powered solution is capable of producing highly-accurate layout. And from the robotics perspective, there is an unprecedented selection of sensors and motors and software tools we can leverage to bring a product to market quickly.
At the same time, a widespread shortage of skilled labor is driving up construction costs and increasing project completion times. More than 78% of construction companies report having a hard time filling open positions. In order to attract more workers, those companies must increase salaries. Increased construction costs, in turn, make it more difficult to develop parcels of land, exacerbating the housing shortage in many parts of the country. These factors make it economically imperative for builders to adopt automation.
The lean construction movement is also gaining momentum. The key tenet of lean is minimizing waste. Waste can surface in the field as mistakes that require rework, time spent waiting for other trades to finish layout, or even thousands of dollars worth of printed plan sets that are discarded on every design change.
With these changes already underway in the construction industry, robotics will be a key differentiator for companies looking to accelerate their digital transformation. The future of construction is automation, starting with a little robot nicknamed “Mark1” who can paint BIM information on your floor.
Dusty is now working with several of the top 20 general contractors in the US who are excited about the value we can bring to their projects. We’re currently piloting “Mark1” -- and his brother “Mark2” -- on select commercial jobsites in the Bay Area. If you have a project that would benefit from layout automation, reserve a spot in our pilot program now by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org!