Industry 4.0 and Cranes: Navigating Change when it's no Longer Optional
lobal disruption, technological advances, regulatory changes, and new insurance requirements are reshaping the construction industry – for a good reason. Over the past twenty years, the construction industry has improved by 1% yearly (manufacturing, by contrast, has improved at a rate four times as fast). Astonishingly, trends in the most developed countries are even worse. For example, Germany and Japan have seen no growth in construction productivity, while the U.S. has seen productivity drop by 50% since the late 1960s. While the reasons for this stagnation are complex; there can be no doubt that the industry is ripe for innovation and transformation.
The term Industry 4.0, or Fourth Industrial Revolution, is shorthand for the coming evolution in the industrial sector and is based on the idea that machines should be able to communicate with each other and provide insights, capabilities, and efficiencies. These are not just ideas, Industry 4.0 systems and technologies are already reinventing how we live and work. Amazon, for instance, employs advanced data tracking systems across its entire supply chain to optimize efficiency in real time. In the industrial sector, Volvo has recently deployed a predictive analytics platform to monitor its fleet of trucks, resulting in a 70% reduction in diagnostic time. While these are just two examples among thousands; the bottom line is this:
The technology associated with Industry 4.0 has transformed business operations, logistics, and manufacturing. And it is now transforming construction.
Change is Coming
While Vita Industrial has been leading innovation in load stabilization for cranes, the past five years have also seen a boom in innovative technologies aimed at providing real-time data, mitigating risk, and creating efficiencies across the entire construction industry. Caterpillar is incorporating predictive analytics and 5G technology on heavy equipment. Siemens has launched a control and automation service for crane operators, and several smaller startups are launching digital job site management platforms. These products are not incremental improvements; they seek to challenge the status quo of how work gets done.
This disruption extends beyond the job site and is transforming the insurance industry and, surprisingly, government regulators.
Data is Changing Everything
Today, every new tool and vehicle is stocked with sensors and cameras – all of which can generate an incredible amount of data. That data lies at the heart of these next-generation tools. It is the fuel that enables an app to tell you where your fleet vehicles are, makes predictive maintenance possible, and allows insurance carriers to visualize and mitigate risk in new ways.
The advanced analytic tools utilized by insurance companies enable them to have a “birds’ eye view” of a job site and evaluate safety and risk in real-time. These models also drive insurance carriers to rapidly evaluate modern technology, issue recommendations, and define best practices. As the industry matures, it is a safe bet that insurance companies will offer generous policy discounts and riders to companies that demonstrate the safe adoption of tech that mitigates risk while penalizing ones that refuse to modernize.
Regulators are Under Pressure
Modern technology is also putting pressure on regulators to figure out how to adapt. For example, in the U.S. OSHA has recently come under fire for failing to improve its regulatory review process. As a current member of the House Committee on Education and Labor Congresswoman Alma Adams pointed out in a subcommittee hearing on May 25, 2022, OSHA currently takes eight years to review a single safety regulation. This is wholly unacceptable when seen against the rapid change presently overtaking the industry. With Congress recently passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, regulators have renewed and intensive pressure to speed up their approval process and better protect workers. Given the current political pressure, it is likely there will soon be updated regulations that require operators to incorporate Industry 4.0 tech, which improves safety.
The Bottom Line for Lifting Operators
Operators who continue to believe that “how I do it has always worked” risk being left behind by a changing industry. As worksites become more connected, insurance companies mandate new technologies, and governments update regulations, crane operators will be pressured to modernize. It is imperative that business leaders, contractors, and operators start evaluating new technologies and have a plan to stay a step ahead of the changes that are about to redefine the industry.