Construction Needs Its Own S-Class
The construction industry continually gets slapped back for being too slow and stubborn, but new leadership in the area of field machinery is greasing the gears for change

By Tudor Van Hampton

Anyone who has taken a ride in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class knows that Germans take the automotive experience very seriously. They also take their beer seriously, but Germany's beer-making industry is full of inefficiencies that keep it suspended in another time. Other countries are much the same: Some industries are just more adaptive than others.

Worldwide, construction continually lags behind other industries in its ability to see and adapt to change. I think that leaps of progress are inhibited by burdensome industry regulations, corruption, the high cost of doing business, separation of trades, struggle to attract talent, often litigious relationships and many other inherent challenges. Yet the industry still has the ability on occasion to rise to the challenge, build enduring monuments of grandeur and even turn a profit, albeit a slim one. And every now and then, a tool or material comes along that changes the way workers move earth, mix concrete and fasten steel. That interaction between worker, machine, material and structure is still at the core of construction and always will be.

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Which brings me back to Mercedes. The S-Class arguably is one of the most trailblazing automobiles since its introduction more than 50 years ago. It may be built for a small, high-end demographic, but so many modern innovations that we now take for granted—ABS brakes, airbags, electronic stability controls—have gained their wide demand after appearing on S-Class production vehicles. Some people have gone so far to say that if you want to see the future of cars, just look at what's coming out on the new S-Class. Yet in nearly a decade of writing about equipment, I can't think of anything in construction that fits quite the same mold. Last century's earthmoving icons—the Caterpillar tractor, Case loader-backhoe, Bobcat skid-steer—come close, but I believe they still are years behind their true potential.

Over the years, some leaders have stuck out their necks to spur the industry toward positive change. A few succeeded, some barely made a dent, and others pushed back. All the while, McGraw-Hill has brought them together by being the S-Class of publishing companies. Stories going back a century capture the bird's-eye view of worker, machine, material and structure—the core of the industry. This editorial supplement brings together some of the next leaders in equipment. I'm sure there is an S-Class among them waiting to fire up.

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