A day at ConExpo 2020: Space age construction machines, celebrating operators and awkward human interaction.

ConExpo 2020 insights from Construction Industry Strategist, Gary Agnew (images from the show floor)

In spite of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) challenges engulfing communities and economies all over the world, ConExpo went ahead and delivered another awe-inspiring show. Handshakes were replaced with fist and elbow-pumps and a new level of human awkwardness; like some weird kind of middle-aged breakdancing.

With everything going on numbers definitely felt down from 2017, but a few major equipment and technology companies I chatted to remarked that stand attendances and leads generated (critical measures of return on their massive ConExpo investments) were both very encouragingly up, demonstrating ConExpo still had plenty of pulling power…for some at least!

The shift from diesel power to electric was very evident across many parts of the show and while clearly, it’s early days, this wave of machine transformation is gathering momentum.

Three years ago, I remember the <ConExpo> focus being on getting machines ‘connected’ – whereas today the industry is ripping out old hardware boxes and 2D graphics, to be replaced by with tablets, apps and very engaging new user-experiences.

‘Next is Now’ is the commitment from Bobcat, one of the companies leading the technology charge, promising to reinvent the compact equipment market. Remote control is a great example, once a high cost retrofit solution only afforded by specialist firms and applications, whereas now Bobcat have made it a downloadable app, turning physical machine operations into a video-game experience that was intuitive and so easy to use.

 

Speaking of the operator, hats to go off to Caterpillar with its celebration of the people who make these digging machines dance. The final of their global operator challenge was held in a new ‘Operator Stadium’ stand and both were a massive hit at the show.

As everyone cheered and celebrated the operators, I couldn’t help feeling the irony of this ConExpo 2020, where humanity itself seemed as vulnerable as ever…while at the same time the new construction robots and autonomous machines were really starting to emerge.

Remote control apps, robotic surveyors and semi-autonomous machines are already – at ConExpo 2023 we’re sure to see the breakthrough into fully autonomous construction fleets.  We are increasingly in an interdependent technology world and construction is pushing to catch up.

It’s clear that we are seeing more technology, more connected systems and more intuitive design, but what are the key risks that underlie this massive transformation? The risk of being left behind is higher now than ever before; the risk of not integrating the technology successfully into business processes and operations continues to be a major hurdle; and finally, and maybe, the biggest risk of all happens after deployment -the risk of viruses, ransomware and cyber criminals preying our on connected construction world.

Whereas downtime from mechanical failures impacts one or a few machines, cybercrime has the potential to take down the entire fleet, the company and the network…and yet that was the conversation that was missing for me at ConExpo 2020. The size and ability for construction machines to cause damage, makes them a prime target for those wanting to cause harm. Let us learn from the cyber incidents and failures in other industries and shift to a more proactive stance.

If you’d like to continue the discussion about connected construction with our Irdeto IoT and Construction team: visit: https://www.irdeto.com/construction-equipment.

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