NIST Report Aims to Improve Construction Productivity

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a new publication aimed at strengthening the U.S. construction industry's efficiency and productivity in the next 2 to 10 years.

More than 11 million people, or about 8 percent of the total U.S. workforce, were employed in construction in 2007 and the buildings they constructed were worth $1.16 trillion, according to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report. Experts measure construction productivity by how quickly and at what cost buildings and infrastructure can be constructed. It directly affects prices for homes, consumer goods and the national economy's robustness.

Construction leaders and researchers have observed that this sector is experiencing a decline in productivity at the industry level, which led NIST’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory to study construction productivity challenges and potential solutions, according to NIST economist and report co-author Robert E. Chapman.

The NIST blueprint for industry change, Metrics and Tools for Measuring Construction Productivity: Technical and Empirical Considerations (Special Publication 1101), identifies the metrics, tools and data that can help construction industry stakeholders make more cost-effective investments in productivity-enhancing technologies. Tools include Web-accessible databases containing task-level and project-level metrics based on actual construction projects.

The report also identifies the knowledge gaps that are seen as the biggest barriers to the measurement of construction productivity. For example, there currently are no industry-level productivity metrics for the construction industry. The gaps, the co-authors say, suggest opportunities for innovations in measurement science to create new metrics and tools.

"If we can measure construction productivity as we have done with safety, we can use productivity measures to drive competitiveness," Chapman explained.

The report lays the foundation for future research and for establishing key industry collaborations that will enable more meaningful measures of construction productivity. It is designed to assist construction researchers and professional societies, government statisticians and managers in the construction industry.

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