3 Reasons Why Building Materials Manufacturers Fail to Innovate

Shelter is a basic human necessity, but in many parts of the world so is high-speed internet. Building materials manufacturers, as fundamental as their industry is to civilization, must open themselves up to adaptation in the face of global innovation. Cement, steel, glass, wood – these and other ubiquitous resources all have roles to play in the 21st century, so long as they carry the torch of technological process like other private sector manufacturers do. So what’s preventing some businesses in building materials from embracing innovation?

1. Too scared to invest
As the saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.”

As authors Robert Bono and Stephen Pillsbury chronicle in a PricewaterhouseCoopers industrial manufacturing report, many companies still remember the losses they sustained from the drive to invest in new technology in the early-to-mid 2000s that ended abruptly with the economic collapse in 2008 – at least, the companies that survived do.

When innovation was at its peak then, investors paid top dollar. When the market crashed, their worthwhile ventures became financial burdens they suddenly couldn’t justify, let alone liquidate at sticker price. Since then, many of these same businesses, ironically enough, have converted to models of risk management at all costs which stifle productivity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity change in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse is less than half what it was between 2000 and 2007, the worst it’s been since the late 80s.

2. Narrow vision moving forward
What can building materials manufacturers do with things like augmented reality and the Internet of Things? Their industries are far too old-school to truly benefit from these cutting-edge digital innovations, right?

Depends on who you ask. The plumbing sector, for instance, could see massive reductions in resourcing and operational costs, as well as enhanced quality, by prototyping fixtures and piping with 3-D printers. How else would one test a new low-flow shower head he or she hopes will earn a stamp of approval from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program? For plumbing manufacturers and their distributors, both looking to sell entire plumbing systems rather than mere parts, AR could help them cost-effectively design custom specifications with their clientele and drive sales.

Plumbing aside, connected sensors and data management software serve all asset-intensive manufacturers by monitoring machine efficiency, forecasting failure and laying the groundwork for proactive and prescriptive scheduled maintenance programs that significantly increase equipment uptime. What manufacturer wouldn’t want that? A lack of imagination is no excuse.

Every manufacturing company deserves an operational boost from proactive maintenance technology.

3. Reluctance in the face of rapid progress
What prevents building materials manufacturers from adopting new technology may simply be a blindness to the risk of not innovating when others do. As the rate of innovation accelerates, the businesses that perform the best in the market will be the ones that choose the tech that helps their cause and onboard it cleanly only to replace with something better when it comes along. That said, it will always feel easier to maintain the status quo, even if “business as usual” will ultimately be your company’s downfall.

One caveat to that, however: No emerging technology, regardless of how hyped it may be, is a guarantee of success. So before throwing your whole company behind the latest, greatest solution, manufacturers should work with operational consultants to ensure they possess the efficiency to adopt, utilize, and adapt.