What does a pickup truck, a hydraulic excavator, and a cell phone have in common? One answer would be that they are all some type of equipment that we use either on a construction site or on an everyday basis. The other answer is that they are all pieces of technology that didn’t exist one hundred years ago.
Technology is shaping the construction industry in multiple ways and is constantly evolving. The marriage of jobsite safety and technology has produced an undeniable drop in workplace accidents, injuries and deaths. As technology evolves, this trend will undoubtedly continue. But jobsites are made up of many different companies with varying levels of sophistication and abilities. Emerging technologies can improve jobsite safety, while also describing ways to allocate responsibility for providing that technology and the limits of jobsite safety technology.
The use of wearable devices is only just becoming common on jobsites throughout the country. While identification badges with barcodes or RFID tags have existed for some time, these devices are now being used not only to control and track jobsite access, but also to locate individuals and count the number of individuals in areas. With sufficient back-end integration, a project or site manager can look at a tablet or phone and know not only who is on a jobsite on a given day, but also what skillsets exist on the site and how and where those skills can best be used.
TDIndustries (TD), one of the leading mechanical, construction and facilities management companies in the Houston area, uses technology to provide an easy-to-use platform for document management and viewing to increase field productivity and reduce work.
“TD is using quick response (QR) codes to keep plans current,” says Virtual Design Construction Manager Ty Cassel. “TD tags each set of drawings with a specific code, and updates subsequent revisions with a new code. Employees can scan the QR code and immediately tell if their set of plans is up to date. It serves as a great time saver and helps prevent communication error.”
Sensors are now being placed in wristbands, vests and hardhats to provide data on physical performance. This is not to make sure people are working hard, but rather to measure and track data related to fatigue, falls and impacts. Much like the Apple Watch or similar device on one’s wrist knows when the wearer stands, sits for too long or needs to take a deep breath, similar sensors can inform project and site managers of delayed reactions (fatigue), a sudden change in elevation or speed (falls), or a sudden impact with something. Not only can this provide alerts to managers to take swift action, but preemptive updates can be used to spell workers showing signs of fatigue before it turns into fall, an impact or something worse.
Drones and 3D modeling have allowed inspections to occur safer and faster than ever before. While those images of brave men inspecting the tops of skyscrapers under construction in the early 20th century may look breathtaking (or terrifying, depending on one’s opinion of heights), it is undeniably faster and safer to keep both feet on the ground and make inspections using a drone. Further, use of the drone enables simultaneous capture of video and photographs and simultaneous viewing by multiple people. Thus, if an engineer, project manager, architect and manufacturer all need to examine a particular installation, it is more easily accomplished watching on a monitor than everyone trekking to the 20th story of an active construction site.
Even with the technology to drastically increase productivity, drive collaboration and make everyone’s jobs easier, the construction industry still lacks the level of progress it’s capable of achieving. The challenge isn’t about technology or interoperability. It’s mindset. Until the industry is ready to embrace the transformation that is inevitable, see the massive potential for data to change the way construction works, collaborate and adopt new methods of operating, nothing will change.
Of course, knowing how and where to start is not always straightforward or even understood, but the challenge to the industry is to begin sharing data more freely. Adopt an open sharing platform, be more open with work and see how it improves communication across the project teams. Then, watch as project partners also start to collaborate more. The best projects are achieved by teams who communicate often and share information regularly. Contractors have access to amazing technology that can help collaborate more freely today than ever before. Take the first step and watch where it takes the company.
Moore, Chris. 2019. Construction Executive. Lambert, Jason. 2019. Construction Executive. A publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Used with permission. All rights reserved.