#TheQuestforProgress: Uponor Convention Looks to the Future

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#WeMeanProgress and #TheQuestforProgress were prominent hashtags and underlying themes at the this year’s Uponor Convention in Las Vegas. “I like the word ‘quest,’ because it represents a journey,” says Bill Gray, president, Uponor North America. “We are on a never-ending journey to bring solutions for everyday problems to our customers. Uponor is never going to stop striving to get better and better.”

Getting ready for the keynote.

The biennial show continues to get better, and impress. What began in March 2000 as a customer appreciation event for a couple of hundred radiant installers has grown into one of the industry’s largest networking, educational and advocacy events for professionals who install, design and specify PEX in the residential and commercial building markets. Uponor customers, including wholesale distributors, home builders, specifying engineers and plumbing and mechanical contractors, as well as Uponor personnel, independent sales agents and media from both the U.S. and Canada were in attendance.

Today, more than 1,200 participants learned, connected and were entertained. The framework of the show features a one-day, all-in educational experience to not only learn more about Uponor’s direction in North America and across the globe, but also features breakout sessions taught by some of the best in the industry.

A few of the educational break-outs I attended included Milwaukee Tools’ Increasing Productivity Through Innovation, where senior product manager, Alex Boll, showed off some of Milwaukee’s latest products and discussed advancements in batteries, motors and electronics, and how Milwaukee is revolutionizing the industry with innovative, trade-specific solutions.

In addition, it is always a good listen to sit in on anything Robert Bean—the comfort guru—teaches. Bean, president of Indoor Climate Consultants Inc., teaches courses related to the business and engineering of buildings, indoor climates and radiant-based HVAC systems. He shares everything he knows at www.healthyheating.com. The breakout, “Designing with Distinction: Strategies for high-performing radiant systems,” was a welcome addition to this year’s Uponor Convention line-up.

In addition to educational seminars, Uponor features a “mini” trade show with industry partners, with Taco, Milwaukee Tools, Navien, Grundfos, Rinnai, Greyter Water Systems, Trimble, among others.

But front and center of the trade show floor was Uponor’s Phyn Plus, which protects your home from leaks the moment it is connected. It then begins to learn how your family uses water as you go about your routine. Over time it gets smarter, unlocking new capabilities and offering you insights. And in the future, it will help you understand and better manage your water.

The convention was the site of the first official training session for an initial group of 100 professional plumbing installers who qualified to join the Uponor Pro Squad. More than 2,500 additional plumbers will participate in training in coming weeks via online and in-person sessions.

“This training was an exciting and important milestone in the launch of Phyn Plus,” said Dena Mayne, vice president, Marketing & Customer Experience, Uponor North America. “Not only did it mark the official commercialization of the device in North America, but the session also enabled us to help this network of professionals advance the plumbing industry into the digital era by using data and insights to change the way consumers think about the water in their homes.”

One of the newest participants in the Uponor Pro Squad network is plumbing and HVAC contractor Rich Trethewey, the plumbing and heating expert on the national home-improvement show “This Old House” and its two popular spinoffs, “Ask This Old House” and “Inside This Old House.” Trethewey, who attended the training session in Las Vegas, will feature the Phyn Plus device on a This Old House episode scheduled to air in the fall.

The Phyn Plus display at the Uponor Convention held at the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas.

While spending most of the immersing myself in keynotes and breakout sessions, one thing was abundantly clear, the future is coming, and in many cases, it is already here.

Duh, the future is coming, no kidding! In any event, things like driverless cars to artificial intelligence and robotics to augmented and virtual reality are here already or not too far off in the distant future.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said keynote speaker, Jack Uldrich, a leading global futurist, as he was quoting management consultant Peter Drucker. “The world can change quickly and we need to be aware of it,” continued Uldrich, addressing the convention crowd on the ever-evolving construction industry.

What will the future look like? “Predictably unpredictable,” says Uldrich. The key is embracing paradox, learn to unlearn, recognizing failure as a key to one’s success and understanding that an awareness of one’s experience is a key component to true wisdom. Experience doesn’t really mean a thing if you continue to work or view the workplace the same every day, suggests Uldrich. For example, “Reverse mentor someone with less experience than you to help you see the world differently.”

An attendee goes virtual during a demo at the trade show, donning VR glasses.

As leaders, says Uldrich, we need to be adaptable and be flexible to change, and it’s time to start thinking about the future. As professionals, we need to—what Uldrich calls—“jump the curve” to understand how the following trends are transforming the economy and altering our future:

• Artificial Intelligence: SmartVid.IO built out its technology which applies sophisticated algorithms to study video footage of construction sites, says Uldrich. For example, if a worker isn’t wearing a hard hat or a set of stairs doesn’t have a safety railing, the system alerts the site supervisor. “The technology is like having a job site inspector who never sleeps. Even if it prevents one accident, the technology more than pays for itself,” said Uldrich.

• Robotics: One innovative application comes from Built Robotics which uses its ability to excavate foundations. “Instead of using equipment operated by human drivers, why not employ a system that can work around the clock without sleeping or taking coffee breaks?” said Uldrich.

• Virtual Reality: “We need to leverage virtual reality to train the next generation of workers,” says Uldrich. Mortenson Construction is already employing Daqri Technologies’ “smart helmet” technology to allow construction workers to overlay digital information onto actual construction site locations. In a hands-free manner, the technology allows pipefitters, electricians, plumbers and other construction professionals to better understand how to most efficiently complete their jobs.

• Prefabrication: Industry leaders are using innovative technology to inspire collaboration and design, says convention breakout speaker, James Benham, CEO, JBKNOWLEDGE. For instance, “Prefab is the future of construction,” says Benham.

Tom Palange, J.C. Cannistraro, has said, more and more projects have creative applications for prefabricated components, and the company is well-positioned to adapt as a result of years of training, planning and process improvements. “We’ve fully embraced the modular movement and have made significant investments in equipment and facilities to maximize our capacity to produce modular bathrooms, piping systems, mechanical rooms, hospital headwalls, pump skids, and more … the possibilities are endless,” says Palange

According to Uldrich, these examples are the not only ones revolutionizing the construction industry. 5G technology, social media, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data will continue to converge and, in the process, transform the construction industry.

The message was clear at this event: in terms of tool innovation, construction disruption and high-performance radiant and water systems, it’s time to start looking to the future and think about “jumping the curve.”

For a recap of the convention, check out this link to the video:
https://vimeo.com/265202186/ba1ec09f5c

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