Heavy industry, which includes any sector involved in the use of large equipment and machinery, is one of the least digitised industries in the world. It’s a sector worth $10 trillion globally and it’s ripe for transformation. This represents a huge opportunity for tech startups looking to disrupt the market, and fertile ground for early-stage investors such as angel investor Tom Chapman and venture capitalist Jonathan Milner.
Over the last few years, recognising the opportunity, hundreds of startups have jumped in and begun to develop new technologies to make efficiencies and increase productivity. But there’s still huge scope across the industry in areas such as shipbuilding, mining, oil, minerals, transport and construction.
The amount of money invested in construction startups for example is a sound indicator that the market is on the brink of a boom. In the first half of last year, venture capitalists invested more than $1.05 billion into construction technology. That investment volume was up 30 percent compared to the whole of 2017. Here are three ways in which tech startups are changing heavy industry.
1. The development of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is rapidly transforming most sectors, and heavy industry is no exception. It is having a particularly big impact on the transport sector, especially the movement of cargo by sea.
While self-driving cars and other vehicles may be the most anticipated and talked about developments in this area, AI is now being used to collect data from a variety of sources to optimise and adjust the shipping routes to simplify distribution networks.
According to Engadget, shipping companies in Japan are looking to build self-navigating cargo ships. By working together, they are planning to implement an AI-driven steering system that could lay out the shortest, safest and most fuel-efficient routes based on information about issues like weather and any obstacles that might be in a ship’s way. The idea is to remove any element of human error in order to increase reliability and efficiency.
The same can be said for road freight. Logistics startup Convoy is changing the future of road and sea freight with new technology. Through their online app, they are seeking to bring truck drivers and shippers closer to new customers to reduce waste and increase capacity.
And it’s not just startups which are embracing the change. The iconic engineering company Rolls-Royce has announced that it is developing remote-controlled ships to distribute their cars. It is working on virtual decks where land-based crews can control every aspect of a ship, complete with VR camera views and monitoring drones to spot issues that no human ever could.
2. The application of big data
Within the construction industry, the application of big data is seen as one of the most valuable resources on the planet. There are already some strong innovative startups in construction providing a number of technology-based solutions, from automating the material ordering and delivery process to creating visual tours in future structures and promoting the use of self-drive vehicles on site.
Traditional information systems are good at recording basic information about project schedules, designs, costs, invoices, and employee details. However, they are limited in their ability to work with unstructured data like free text and printed information.
Big data will help companies gain more insight and make better decisions in construction management. For example, big data from sensors embedded into a building make it easier to monitor levels of performance. They can also show active and idle time, allowing the company to make decisions in the short, medium and long term in order to keep the project on track.
Uptake Technologies, Flux Factory and SmartEquip are three startups beginning to make an impression in the industry in this area.
3. Reducing the reliance on human labour
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost every industry in the market has managed to double its productivity rate over the course of the last 25 years. However, heavy industry is falling behind and a lack of skilled workers within the sector remains one the key reasons why.
Within the construction industry, the overall demand is increasing but the sector as a whole is struggling to meet it, and a lack of skilled labour is believed to be the main cause.
However, tech startups believe automation is part of the solution, and it’s one of the hottest topics in every industry right now. Automation is becoming a regular feature within the mining industry for example, and it’s already being embraced by established mining entrepreneurs such as Mzi Khumalo of Metallon and Rio Tinto’s Steve Thompson.
Autonomous trucks are becoming an ever more frequent presence around mines, as are automated drills, with market leaders Cat and Komatsu introducing their automated haulage systems in the last two years.
In fact, a whole range of technologies are changing the way mines operate day-to-day, and they have clear benefits. According to Stephen McIntosh, head of growth and innovation at Rio Tinto, “[t]he benefits of these new technologies are substantial both from a safety and productivity perspective.”
The next step in mining automation will be a mine with no miners. Rio Tinto has unveiled their plans for a $2.2 billion intelligent mine which will operate with driverless trains, trucks and robotics. While this won’t necessarily replace human jobs, it will mean mining companies will be less reliant on human resource as much as they have been in the past. The introduction of robotics will allow miners to drill deeper in a safer, risk-free way without endangering human life.
Active Adrenalin, GOJII, miiFile are a few startups beginning to make an impression in the mining industry.
From healthcare to agriculture, technology startups are changing virtually every industry, none more so than heavy industry. This transformation might be new, but it’s rapidly changing and improving the way heavy industry companies operate.