Ali discusses her 15 years in the advanced machinery/advanced equipment space before moving into construction. She shares how she saw an opportunity to take a very "people-focused" look at advanced technology in construction while bearing in mind this key question: "How can we make technology people-centered and task-oriented?"
Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer at Oracle Construction and Engineering, leads the interview.
TA: I’m the senior manager of construction technology at Milwaukee Tool. I’m in charge of championing how the construction industry is transforming and how we can leverage emerging technologies to help address today’s challenges as well as explore tomorrow’s market.
I’m focused on Milwaukee Tool’s strategy around emerging technology as well as the industry strategy overall. While Milwaukee Tool is my first role in construction, I’ve been in the advanced machinery/advanced equipment space for almost 15 years now.
I started with smart machinery and smart avionic systems applying machine learning and neural networks to helicopters and avionics for the aerospace industry. Afterwards, I went into autonomous machinery and smart manufacturing for the automotive industry.
While I worked in robotics and automation, I wondered: “How do you make machines, and how do you make them smarter?”
What drew me to my current role in construction was the opportunity to take a very “people-focused” look at advanced technology. When I came to Milwaukee Tool, I developed products for all facets of the industry; things like: screwdrivers, adjustable wrenches, power tools, vacuums, and drills.
I progressed from individual product development into platform development to explore: “How do you look at job site lighting versus one specific light?” and “How do you look at job site cleanup versus one specific vacuum?”
What I learned from research development work was not just the power of technology, but how we can also apply it in a useful way. How can we make technology people-centered and task-oriented?
That’s what led to my current role. I’m focused on emerging technologies that are changing construction as well as spanning technical industries across the entire world. How do we investigate what’s going on and educate the industry before determining the best way to pursue new solutions?
TA: Now is an exciting time for the industry. Construction gets a bad rap for being a laggard in productivity and innovation. But the industry has made significant movement and a substantial effort towards understanding how we can be more productive, efficient, and safer while developing an infrastructure around new technologies and new innovations.
This is evident by how crowded the construction technology space has become with startups and bigger players entering our space. There are so many useful opportunities to help specialty and general contractors conduct projects more safely, productively, and efficiently.
TA: One of the biggest challenges is to focus on the users’ needs and what problems you’re trying to solve.
You don’t just look at how to build a better drill-- you explore why someone is putting holes in a certain material to begin with. From there, perhaps you design a better way to create holes, or eliminate the need for holes altogether.
When you look at innovation, especially in construction, context is essential. 90% of construction firms have less than 20 people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Understanding that it’s not a one size fits all solution is the key to unlocking innovation at all levels of construction technology.
TA: Part of the challenge with fostering a culture of innovation is that everyone assumes you hire experts and have a big task force. But it’s often about focusing on those baby steps—those first initial changes—because small changes offer big results.
My professional experiences at Milwaukee and elsewhere have taught me the importance of understanding your problems and challenges. What’s equally important is understanding how to elevate and create your own champions from within.
A big part of fostering that culture of innovation is to take the plunge to do trial applications, first round testing or prototyping, and measure what those tests are—or aren’t—helping you with. Professionals must remain versatile and resilient while working with new technologies. It’s critical to have a vision, but the ability to iterate and remain agile are incredibly important.
Stay tuned for Part II, in which Ali will share her insights on upcoming E&C technology trends.
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