The augmented craftsman

With time-saving services, augmented reality, environmental qualification apps and interactive training websites, today’s tradesmen and women seem to have fully embraced the potential of digital technology. That much is true, but what do they hope to achieve and what will the benefits actually be?

Working towards construction trades 4.0

Construction trades and the digital world… warring siblings or close enemies? Everything seems to point in that direction. While one celebrates handmade craftsmanship, dexterous precision and the authority of tradition, the other is continually refining its virtual networks, mobility and immediacy. But although everything seems to conspire to making them polar opposites, traditional trades and digital techniques actually share something important, because the term ‘digital’ has its roots in the word ‘digit’ or finger... which is perhaps why these ‘newlyweds’ are now advancing hand-in-hand.

The smartphone: an office in your pocket

In this age of the Internet and smart apps, craftsmen are redefining their careers and practices by taking full advantage of new technologies to become more agile and more flexible. For VSEs and small SMEs, the digital world offers infinite possibilities for making working lives more seamless by providing support for everyday tasks. Smartphones and other digital devices are now making it much easier for trade customer to run and market their businesses. Apps that plan projects and generate costings quickly give today’s 4.0 craftsmen a digital arsenal that could be used to produce estimates, place orders, send bills and even monitor project progress, from initial planning through to budgeting.

Digital tools save time and money

Fully aware of this huge potential, startups and major brands are designing and producing innovative connected tools for this new generation of construction craftsmen. The German company Zolpan has developed its own paint and wallpaper calculator (in Franch) for more accurate product quantity estimation. French DIY superstore chain POINT.P offers trade customers an energy upgrade simulator that suggests high-performance solutions for eco-friendly renovation projects. It also details the governmental tax initiatives available to reduce the cost to their customers of carrying out the work. A very useful way of standing out distinctively from competitors!

And because planning your project, identifying the materials you need and balancing costs with benefits are often difficult and time-consuming tasks, POINT.P has also designed a project configurator around green and bio-sourced solutions - hemp, wood fiber, cotton wool, etc. - and calculates the amount of French prime CEE government subsidy available to customers for their energy upgrade projects. Startup Tolteck has designed a new kind of quotation and invoicing software package specifically for construction craftsmen.

Augmented distribution

The urgency of the current health crisis has disrupted the old models of materials distribution... and permanently changed the landscape for the trade customers who use those materials. Like communicating vessels, a change in one typically results in a transformation of the other. So construction materials distributors have accelerated their efforts to process online orders in record time and introduce click & collect in all their outlets. “These supplier apps are real time savers,” agrees Marco Cordeiro who runs general construction contractor Santana Bâtiment, which employs 16 people. “With a few clicks, we can check product availability, specifications (thickness, width, etc.), delivery times, and more... We’re also using more and more YouTube tutorials to train ourselves on product installation techniques.”

Learning and setting yourself distinctively apart from competitors

Learning and updating to set yourself distinctively apart from your competitors: more and more craftsmen are understanding the benefits that these can bring, as digital training resources become much more widely available. Ultra-detailed webinars (in French) are now available for new product and solution installation, and training sessions and workshops are available to show how environmental challenges can be leveraged to set yourself distinctively apart from competitors and secure official accreditations: POINT.P has launched its Objectif RGE app designed to help trade customers learn at their own pace in preparation for taking the RGE (Reconnu Garant de l’Environnement) exam. This audit-based accreditation enables customers to claim partial refunds on certain types of environmental upgrade. This is a fully digital service delivered by the Objectif RGE app, which runs on PC, smartphone and tablet, and is available free of charge to all Génération Artisans members.

But let's be clear: this construction trades revolution isn’t about replacing humans or turning us into the pawns of some disembodied Artificial Intelligence. “To be fully accepted, digital technology must remain a tool that benefits people and, most importantly, powers progress,” concludes Marco Cordeiro. “It’s up to us to strike the right balance between performance, efficiency and craftsmanship.”

Credits : MilanMarkovic78 / Shutterstock; igorstevanovic / Shutterstock

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