Guest Editorial: Now’s the Time to “Buy” Into Advanced Technology

March 1, 2009
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Companies embracing increased productivity through technology will drive the world’s economic recovery.

That belief is what mandates top-ranked global technology companies to continue to support strong research and product development (R&D) efforts. The corporate thinking? Without a constant stream of new, innovative, around-the-corner technologies, the company brand and market share suffer alike. That holds true in good times and especially in a recessionary period.

The current economic recession provides an incredible window of opportunity for forward-thinking companies in the construction, survey, civil engineering, and agriculture markets.

In tough times, increasing productivity through the acceptance of technological breakthroughs can well be the difference between success and failure. Embracing revolutionary technology will be the difference between being competitive and trailing the competition. Taking advantage of new technologies and making conscientious and researched investments in equipment and instruments when prices are affordable on almost any budget will be the difference between simply “existing” when the economic recovers (and it will recover) and being at a strong competitive advantage on every single job.

The economic turnaround for the US and the global marketplace will be technology-fueled, driven by products that increase productivity and by the customers that buy them.

Need a reference point to make the connection? One word: History. The companies that emerged strong and viable from the Great Depression of the 1930s adopted emerging technologies after the economy shattered. Those extreme survivalist companies made investments in technology during a devastating economic depression to maximize productivity in every phase of their operation.

The same opportunities exist today.

For those revolutionary thinkers who pride themselves on thinking “outside the box,” this is the perfect time to turn to new technologies. It is the time for conventional thinkers who do not feel particularly comfortable taking risks to work, at the very least, to expand the size and perspective of their operations “box.”

The key to any successful business is the managing of time required to optimize results. Companies looking for every competitive edge constantly search for ways to save time on every phase of every job. Time is money. Save time, and you save money.

The scenario is quite simple: If you find a technology that makes your machines and people more productive, the company becomes more competitive. If you look at what technological breakthroughs can do, not only to help you make it through a market slide but to exceed-or even to double-the average industry productivity measurements, you will be in the driver’s seat when business turns around.

The idea that getting more work done means working overtime is ceasing to be relevant in a fast-paced construction world demanding maximum productivity through technology.

Too many construction instrument and product-technology manufacturers tend to cut back R&D resources when business slumps. Manufacturing companies relying on technological innovations to supply the world’s leading products and instruments take the exact opposite approach: Maintain or increase R&D expenditures to create products that overcome and outlive the negative effects of economic fluctuations.

Myriad global companies are not only diversifying their product offerings to include new market segments-expanding market footprints as competitors try to squeeze dollars used for brand identity, thereby reducing market presence-they also are actually increasing R&D expenditures.

Spending money when money is tight? Develop new technology when sales are down? Does that make sense? Absolutely, if the expenditures focus on conceptualizing and designing products and technologies that have not even been thought of by customers, products with which the end users will enhance productivity in the future.

The objective of any company should not merely be to survive in tough times. The seeking out, testing, and acceptance of new technology drives aggressive, progressive business models for companies that refuse to accept an economic downturn as a singular reason for not putting the company into position to succeed in the marketplace.

These model companies will not be crawling when the economic turnaround happens. These companies will be running full speed and growing their business exponentially because they took advantage of existing opportunities.

There are many fine companies, including Topcon Positioning Systems-a global, diversified company offering products, software, and instruments in agriculture, construction, survey, GIS, telematics, and mobile-control markets-that commit huge amount of resources, in good times and bad, to extensive R&D activities.

Remember: It is technology that will drive the economic recovery. If you can buy construction technology that will enable a single dozer to do the work of two 3D-machine-control dozers and give you the accuracy and speed of a grader, wouldn’t you jump at that opportunity?

That technology innovation, using the best hydraulic control software, inertial sensors, and the market’s best GNSS receivers, is at work today at job sites around the world.

This technology provides more than 100 blade corrections per second, five times the industry average.

That’s not science fiction. That’s science fact.

Some of the construction industry’s newest products are examples of the most innovative technologies for construction to be announced in the last few years as examples of what technology can do to make a good company better and a great company unbeatable.

Machinery and systems are being introduced that cut down the time it takes to grade a site. In 2008 John Deere introduced a new track dozer that weighs 32,000 pounds and has the speed of a grader and the flotation of a crawler dozer.

Right now, there’s a construction company owner sitting at a laptop in some American office building. At his fingertips is a bevy of construction site information-oil pressure, idle time, fuel usage, maintenance records…even an in-cab view of the job site-on machines in South Africa. Or China. Or South America. Pick a place on the map. Put a piece of machinery in that spot. Add specific software and GNSS positioning technology like Topcon Tierra’s remote asset management system.

Real-time information on machines and job sites from virtually any place on Earth.

Again, science fact.

Many companies totally overlook or outright ignore this all-important segment of company operations-asset management. Remote asset management is a crucial element in maximizing machine production on every job site.

In periods of economic instability, smart manufacturing companies focus on two critical areas for viability: short-term actions to hold down expenses wherever practical, and a long-term commitment to growth by pushing the development and introduction of technologies. Those actions are what sets progressive companies apart from those that are stagnating or moving backward.

Despite the present economic conditions, there are still new projects up for bid. The federal government is poised to undertake the most extensive public works project in this nation’s history. Billions will be spent on construction projects, and competition for the jobs will be fierce.

In the construction industry, will it be the survival of the fittest…or will those companies that take a calculated risk and invest in the best available technology not only survive but also thrive?

What is already in the market is just the beginning: This is the hardest concept to realize. Think of the wildest thing you can imagine that would increase job-site productivity while saving time and man-hours, that is easy to learn and easier to use, and that could possibly create additional efficiency in the use of heavy iron on myriad job sites around the world.

One thing is certain: Whatever you can dream up, you can be assured that the possibility of bringing that concept to market is already being discussed.

Stop and consider the incredible pace at which change in the construction world is moving. Two years ago, what construction company would have envisioned a dozer that would move dirt at up to 18 miles per hour? Or a dozer that can run twice as fast as a dozer equipped with machine-control technology and with the smoothness and accuracy of a grader? Or remote asset-management technology that can gather, assess, and deliver real-time customized data on individual pieces of construction equipment located anyplace in the world?

What’s next for the contractor? Autonomous vehicles? Well, yes, actually. There are tests being done right now on driverless agriculture equipment. An autonomous car (using advanced GNSS technology) recently crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Today, a vehicle crossing a bridge sans driver; tomorrow, clearing a massive job site using driverless graders and dozers equipped with sub-millimeter-precision GNSS satellite information and sensors to direct the course and warn of obstructions.

Engineers, scientists, and dreamers will continue to push to create a global construction environment that continually relies less on the absolute pushing and digging power of big iron and more on advancements in technology that save time and money.

Saving time. Saving money. That’s what drives construction innovation, and those two tenets are not likely to be declared obsolete anytime soon.