Promote Innovation to Solve Problems on Construction Sites

Encourage employees to share their ideas for potential solutions to the challenges they encounter on projects.

Editors in attendance at the Volvo Ocean Race stopover event in Newport, RI, last month were given exclusive access to Volvo Construction Equipment’s emerging technologies team, both on a one-on-one level and via an innovation panel made up of team members and invited guests from academia. During the panel presentations, we were given details on how the company’s new Density Direct technology was developed, plus were treated to project overviews from masters degree candidates from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University, who were part of a partnership program with Volvo to explore emerging technologies that will potentially influence the future of construction equipment. In each case, graduate students were presented with a challenge based on a specific theme and asked to develop a “future-focused” solution.

The Stanford students were asked to address the area of Urban Mining, a term used to describe a sustainable approach to construction and deconstruction in city landscapes. In partnership with students at Sweden’s Blekinge Institute of Technology, the team designed a compact concrete planer designed to break up concrete in sizes suitable for recycling. The planer is remote controlled and has the potential to eventually be autonomous.

The team at Carnegie Mellon was asked to explore the idea of smart technology and integrating human intelligence into equipment to improve operator safety and create safer equipment. They developed a prototype system that tracks all people and equipment on a construction site, allowing equipment operators to better understand safety concerns and avoid accidents.

While these projects were completed as part of the students’ coursework, such innovation doesn’t have to be confined to the academic world. Many of the tools and techniques you currently use on your jobsites were developed in the field by other contractors and/or their employees to address a specific problem. Only later were they acquired and enhanced by manufacturers for large-scale production.

While you may not have the next million dollar idea in your midst, you likely have some pretty good problem solvers, and tinkerers, among your staff. Oftentimes, those who face a challenge are the ones with the best solutions. They may know of a specific tool or process already available, or can propose a tool or technique that can be developed in house to provide a reasonable fix.

But you won’t know the potential solutions or, for that matter, problems they address unless you ask. Check with employees on a regular basis about the specific challenges they face, and then request suggestions on how to resolve them. Be willing to put some time, money and tools behind the ideas that make sense. You may be surprised at how much you gain — financially and in employee satisfaction — in the process.

Speaking of financial gains, this month introduces Profit Matters, which will feature tips and examples to help you squeeze more profit out of your construction jobs. For more insights, visit the Profit Matters channel at