The Economist recently pointed out that the construction industry has not seen much increase in efficiency over a long period of time (http://econ.st/2fXUJux). The article highlighted that most construction projects are delayed or go over budget. Even a leading technology firm like Apple saw a delay in construction of its new headquarters in Silicon Valley. The article focuses on many long term solutions, such as consolidation of suppliers, the role of government in standardizing building codes and encouraging efficient tools while tendering for their own requirements. In this article, we try to see what can be done over the short term. Are there practices or tools which can be used at a low investment right now to increase efficiency? Here is our take.

Off-site ‘Industrial’ Construction, Assembly on Site
There are many ways in which construction activity can be shifted away from sites into an efficient factory environment, thereby realizing productivity gains. For instance, precast construction technology. This technology is not only for large firms with in-house facilities, working on projects like Metro Rail. There are many companies providing precast concrete products off-the-shelf in India. Even small and medium builders and contractors can use such services to increase efficiency and productivity. Not only that, steel companies like Tata Steel provide readymade cut and bend TMT rebars on site, allowing builders and contractors to completely do away with manual cutting and bending of TMT rebars on site. Further, alternative products like portable toilets, offices and readymade workforce accommodation can do away with the need for on-site construction of ancillary structures completely.

There is immense scope for doing interior work elsewhere in a factory environment with just installation happening on site. A number of suppliers already provide customized uPVC windows, wooden and steel doors, furniture, wooden cabinets, shelves and cupboards in this manner.

Finally, efficient modular concept has been incorporated into various materials and solutions like workstations, switches and kitchens. Builders and contractors can choose such efficient materials and solutions to complete their work quickly and cost-effectively.

Use of Small Machines
There are small machines available for doing various works such as painting, drilling & demolition, cutting, grinding, screw fastening, painting, application of putty. Many of these machines are available on rent as well. Traditionally, skilled labour has been preferred to do this work manually. However, the cost of skilled labour is increasing relatively, making use of machines an attractive proposition. Such machines can help achieve the same work using exponentially less number of workers and in far less time.

Use of Latest Construction Technology
Some technologies like Aluminium Formwork are already offered by service providers and contractors in India. They allow much faster construction of multi-storey buildings, casting walls, floors, columns, beams, stairs, and balconies together. In large commercial, industrial or public buildings, steel can be effectively used to increase construction efficiency bring down construction time exponentially. For example, space frames or pre-engineered buildings.

Use of Software
Builders & contractors have been laggards in using software for enhancing efficiency. With increasing penetration of smartphones and tablets, it is cost-efficient to use software solutions like Project Management Software and Computer Aided Design Software at all construction sites, doing away with manual documentation.

There are many innovative mobile apps available for construction companies. Since construction managers spend most of their time on site, they do not always have access to PCs or laptops for checking emails or documents. Such apps enable construction managers to be in touch with the rest of the organization on a real time basis for activities like accessing documents like architectural drawings, project management, tracking daily activities, performing calculations etc. Read our article on this subject at http://horizonforum.in/5-mobile-apps-for-construction-managers.

Innovative Solutions from Startups
Startups right here in India are developing cost effective solutions for the construction sector. Most of these solutions come with low upfront investments. Activities like project management, inventory management, human resource management, document management, purchase alerts, time schedules etc. can be performed easily, thereby increasing productivity. Read our article on this subject at http://horizonforum.in/startup-activity-in-real-estate-construction-sector-in-india.

By using some of the above products, services and solutions, construction can be made more efficient, productive and faster. With help from macroeconomic factors such as change in government policy and consolidation of suppliers, the increase in productivity could enable construction sector to match other sectors in the economy. If it does, it will boost savings and GDP growth by a significant margin.