Conquering Construction’s Hidden Costs



Most construction professionals know Hofstadter’s law, if not by name, then by experience. It states that a project always takes longer than expected, even when the law is taken into account. 

According to Hofstadter’s law, the time estimated to complete a project will always fall short of the actual time required. Sound familiar?

Of course it does: construction projects continually run over time and over budget. In fact, only 30% of contractors finish projects on time and within budget.2

Arguably, with so many variables and moving parts, delays in construction are inevitable. But if delays are inevitable, can’t they be factored in? Well, no (see Hofstadter’s law).

What we know with clarity is that delays are costly. Every extra day on site incurs the cost of extra wages, extended equipment hires, and the loss of future earnings from the finished building (e.g., rent on a shop).

Delays can be caused by a few big issues or hundreds of small ones. Sometimes it’s obvious what the impact is, but often they produce ‘hidden’ costs. Which is why it’s prudent to shine a light on every aspect of construction, to identify what can be made more reliable, to remove barriers to accelerated progress.

For this reason, in this article, we are specifically talking about building layout. It might appear to be a seemingly small on-site job, but with little visibility or control over it, there may be a relationship between layout inefficiencies and delays (and associated cost implications) across other parts of a project.


Forecasting in construction is nothing if not challenging. To be accurate, you need as much data and visibility as possible. And in an industry that isn’t fully digitized yet, much of that data and visibility will be missing.

Even with the information you can access, it’s still a complex art requiring multiple skills. You need to know the minutiae of a project (exact volumes, dimensions and safety requirements); you need to understand some macro-economics (factoring in inflation, possible interest rate changes); and human resource skills help too (how many sick days will be taken? Where will I find a skilled layout team?).

What do we mean by ‘visibility’? Broadly, it’s having the tools to monitor progress, understand resource requirements, and identify bottlenecks, so you can help push projects along.3 The ‘tools’ will usually be a form of cloud-based digital application that links data generated at various data points (such as on site, from HR, from suppliers, etc.).

Every blind spot is a potential delay, a hidden cost. The total cost of construction errors made each year in the US is an estimated (and staggering) $273 billion.4 On the other hand, every blind spot is also a potential opportunity to be more efficient. Digitalizing processes, for example introducing HP SitePrint, the autonomous construction layout robot, improves visibility by generating digitized data, and improves forecasting accuracy because the process becomes more predictable.


Today, total station layout is a mainstay of almost every modern building project. Sitting atop its tripod, the robotic total station records measurements from a long distance via remote control. Its microprocessor performs a number of necessary computations and calculations. Introduced almost 50 years ago, the total station is one of the 20th century’s most instantly recognizable construction tools.

It was an evolution of the basic theodolite that has been in use for thousands of years and helped build the pyramids. And now, HP SitePrint, the autonomous layout robot is the next evolution for the robotic total station. The efficiencies that come with robotic total station layout (can you imagine life without it?) are about to become more efficient. Plus, there are some new ones.

HP SitePrint delivers breakthrough layout efficiency, with as much as 10x productivity gains. Combining HP’s printing knowhow and robotics technology, it accelerates projects, avoiding errors or redos. You can count on the same precise, accurate implementation of complex construction layout, but without anyone having to get on their hands and knees—important when 1 in 5 construction workers in the US are currently older than 55.

This innovation in robotics is not confined to building layout. The global construction robotics market was valued at $50 million in 2021 and is expected to grow to $164 million by 20305, highlighting the value of these tools’ abilities to support efficient construction work.


To benefit from the efficiency of digital technology, it must be embraced by the workforce. This presents its own challenges.

James Eaton, Head of Digital Delivery at McLaren Construction Group notes digital transformation of this kind threatens to alienate on-site workers and decision-makers. Asked to integrate a new digital workflow tool and “people might say ‘oh no, no, we’re not doing that’”. How you communicate change matters. Talking in relatable language will help you get your case across. So, calling it ‘business improvement’ is more straightforward and, therefore, achievable. An autonomous robot needn’t be a source of anxiety, it simply improves upon the improvements ushered in by the robotic total station that everyone knows and loves.

HP SitePrint has a straightforward, single-minded benefit too, making its adoption simpler. As James Eaton explains, “The only way to get through the adoption piece is…make it very specific to the tasks that they’re doing”. In this case: building layout. It vastly increases what your layout team can achieve in a fraction of the time, while making their lives easier. This is what Eaton says is “taking away all the ambiguity”. 

With the benefits communicated, construction site leadership needs to make the transformation as seamless as possible. This means issuing the right training on how to use new digital tools and providing easy-to-follow guides for troubleshooting. 

The hidden costs of building layout—delays caused by labor shortages and inefficiency—can be eliminated with digitalization.

Turning weeks of layout into days, HP SitePrint is fast, predictable, and efficient. Its ease of use means you can cut costs and speed up by allowing expert professionals to dedicate their time to more value-adding tasks. And it’s competitive with—and can be cheaper than—conventional methods. HP provides a model where supplies, repairs, and support are wrapped up together as a service, based on usage.

Through building layout digitalization with HP SitePrint you can eliminate blind spots, inefficiencies, and hidden costs. Or as James Eaton puts it, “What we’re trying to do is drive efficiencies and deliver greater predictability, so we can manage business risk.”

Learn more about HP SitePrint

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstadter%27s_law



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