Emerging technology helps our industry improve productivity, accuracy, safety
With this issue, we welcome a new editor who is not new to Contractor magazine. Rindi White has been writing articles for Contractor longer than I’ve been writing this and has taken on the job with a solid base of understanding of our business. We look to continue the quality publication that the Contractor has become.
The editorial board of the Alaska Contractor meets after each issue has hit your desk to review the latest issue and, more importantly, to plot the contents of the next issue. Board members are listed with the masthead on Page 5. Editorial board members take their job seriously and offer many good suggestions of topics and member projects to cover. We refer to the Contractor magazine as a self-serving trade publication because that’s what it is — we write about our members and our industry. We want project photos for the “Taking Pride” section, and we can’t publish a photo of your project unless you send it to us.
In this and upcoming issues, Contractor magazine will be presenting a series of articles on some of the technology in use today — technology that wasn’t around a decade ago and some of the emerging tech that will be a part of the construction landscape in the years to come.
There are some of us dinosaurs who are slow on the tech uptake. I still have a spindle on my desk. Some people in our industry speak tech as a second language. Here at AGC, when we find someone fluent in tech, we grab them and get them involved in one of our committees. Our tech-savvy committees and staff are helping keep us as up to date as possible. Either lead, follow or get out of the way. When it comes to tech, I lead by getting out of the way.
Tech has been transforming the workplace, and construction has not been left behind. This May, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities will roll out electronic bidding (http://dot.alaska.gov/aashtoware/contractors.shtml). It’s being used in many states; it’s just new to us in Alaska. Contractors submitting a bid (either via Bid Express or mail) for a contract advertised after May 14, 2018, must be on the Alaska DOT&PF AASHTOWare vendor list. Don’t wait too long to get familiar with it. There will probably be a few glitches with implementation, but I’m sure that after a year of use, most people will wonder why we waited so long.
Evolving technology has ushered in other improvements as well. You no longer need a roll of plans and set of spec books in your truck. AGC Online Plans is designed to be used on mobile devices and gives quick access to plans and specification anywhere you have a signal. Keeping up with ever-changing OSHA requirements, data sheets and forms is aided by AGC’s Safety Database. Mobile devices and easy-to-use apps allow workers to access, document, edit and share just about any project information.
There’s software that will do anything we used to do on paper, but integrating all that software improves our efficiency even more. When estimating software talks to software for scheduling, timetracking, pay estimates, ordering and accounting, you waste less time and reduce errors.
CAD software has been around for a few decades, and Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is 3-D CAD on steroids. BIM has made great strides in helping fit building components
where they’re intended and avoid conflicts. The newest leap is virtual reality modeling, which allows you to inhabit and operate a facility before it is built. A VR environment can give the owner what is needed and improve safety and efficiency during construction.
On the jobsite, drones are not toys. They’re used to provide information inside and outside the project limits where one can’t readily access: material sources, dump sites and any little thing that can give a competitive advantage. During construction, drones can keep tabs on productivity, security and safety. Today’s drone technology can already gather information to help calculate quantities in stockpiles, and emerging technology is for real-time communication between drones and software in bidding, monitoring progress, pay estimates and as-builts.
GPS-controlled equipment has improved productivity and accuracy on the grade, and GPS tracking can help manage even small fleets. Graders and dozers are getting their work done with fewer passes and more accuracy than just an operator’s eye. A mine in Australia is using 69 large driverless ore trucks with GPS, remotely controlled by a single operator. On some construction sites, we may see autonomous trucks delivering just the right amount of materials when and where they are needed.
Also on the grade is new technology for continuous testing for compaction of base materials. Instead of random tests with large unknown areas that we hope are the same, continuous compaction testing hopes to eliminate soft spots in between, and continuous infrared testing of asphalt will accomplish the same with paving.
Keeping up with technology is difficult, and staying ahead of technology is impossible. Continuous technology upgrades are expensive. But not keeping up can cost you a competitive advantage and leave you behind. Most of this change is geared toward improving efficiency and quality, something every business needs to do. I heard someone recently say, “If you don’t like change, you’re really going to hate being obsolete.”