Moore’s Law in Construction: Chopping Out the Bloat
Simply put, Moore’s Law, the basis for which was proposed by Intel cofounder Gordon E. Moore in a 1965 paper, says that the number of transistors that can be economically put on a computer chip will double every two years. While it wasn’t until 1970 that the hypothesis was accorded the status of “law,” its performance has shown such incredible durability clear to the present that it forms the basis for financial projections by many of the leading industrial and governmental organizations worldwide, and the model for other technological projections as well.
So what about the construction industry?
Technology has always played a role in construction, though it wasn’t until the approach of the new millennium that it began to move from the engineering and business offices to the field. Then, in the aftermath of the Y2K scare, we’ve witnessed the equivalent of a dam burst of technological advances as all aspects of construction get gobbled up by the digital monster…but to what end?
At some time in the future it may be possible to equate computer and earthmoving performance, but for the present the two live in different time scales. When Moore voiced his vision, the semiconductor revolution was nearly two decades old, yet the bulk of computing at that late date was still performed by machines containing legions of vacuum tubes housed in huge climate-controlled, dust-free buildings, served and maintained by battalions of technicians in white lab coats who spoke a language unintelligible to the bulk of the people on the planet. The space race, with its requirement for lightweight, miniaturized systems, drove much of the growth in processing power during the 1960s, but it would not be until the late 1970s and the arrival of VisiCalc—the “magic app” spreadsheet—that the digital revolution moved from the Fortune 500 domain to Main Street and beyond in successive leaps.
How different is that from where we find ourselves today in the construction world? Not much, I suspect, except for where “bloat” comes into play. In the computer world, bloat is a consequence of computing power. Without generations of baggage to take into account, programmers were able to start with what amounted to a blank piece of paper. Instead, the baggage (bloat) that’s there today is of their own making. In construction, the situation is nearly reversed, with the baggage well established, forcing technology to incorporate it before paring it down.
For the past decade we’ve seen the basic tools of the digital revolution come into being against a backdrop of what seemed to many an almost limitless demand for construction services. But with the downturn, that’s gone. In its place we have what amounts to a dog-eat-dog environment where only the strongest will survive. And survival to a very great extent means identifying and getting rid of millennia of bloat.
When you stop to think about it, until the advent of machine control, earthmoving equipment had undergone a series of relatively minor changes since the time of the Caesars, mostly in the forms of size and horsepower. While the replacement of Dobbin by a mechanical drive system was certainly significant, it was not revolutionary in the same sense of today’s electronic wizardry that is now making its way throughout the entire construction industry…cradle to ribbon-cutting.
In my Editor’s Comments of March 2007—several months before the downfall—I pointed out what would it take to move forward:
Equipment interface—Time was when you had to go through a painful retrofit process to configure your equipment to accept an add-on system, but an increasing number of machines rolling off assembly lines come pre-plumbed, and this trend is bound to accelerate as time goes on. It has and even compact equipment is ready to take advantage of the latest technologies.
Simplification—Software’s the key here, and it’s really amazing to witness the tremendous strides providers have made each year.
Hand-holding—“OK,” you say, “the principal bottlenecks are out of the way, but why am I going to spend $20,000 or more when I don’t know how to use the darn thing, much less marry it to a job site?”
Of these, the first two have seen continuous improvement, but it’s this last area where there is still much to be done.
The system providers and their dealers are acutely aware of the concern and working to put trained technicians into the field to assist their customers get up and running, but is this really the solution? For starters, the crux of their business is selling systems. Training and optimization activities, while important to sales, are secondary pursuits—seeds, perhaps, for a whole new tier of independent service consultants, whose business it is to provide the interface between the equipment and system suppliers and the operators…similar in essence to the way computer consultants work with business customers the world over?
Author's Bio: John Trotti is the Group Editor for Forester Media.
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