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By John Biggs
January 22, 2018
When the U.S. Government launched the first Global Positioning Satellites in the late 1970s for military use, it forever changed the human race’s spatial perception and ability to pinpoint their precise location on the planet. Made available for civilian use in the 1980s, it’s become an indispensable tool for many industries, including construction.
GPS has found a home in construction for everything from grading and surveying to monitoring vehicle usage to planning routes and allocating material and labor resources. The technology adds a degree of automation and precision to construction sites never before possible, greatly reducing the need for on-site human aided measuring and mapping. It also improves efficiency, enabling companies to track equipment usage and location and easily re-direct machinery to where it’s needed most, cutting down on fuel costs from inefficient routes.
GPS has considerable safety implications for the industry as well. Using GPS tracking on construction vehicles, workers’ driving habits can be closely monitored, including speed, acceleration and even braking, identifying reckless driving behavior and even allowing companies to see how much time workers spend behind the wheel to ensure they’re taking enough breaks. Workers found to be regularly driving outside of acceptable safety standards can be singled out for retraining before an accident occurs.
In the event a piece of equipment is stolen, law enforcement can zero in on a GPS-equipped vehicle’s exact location, making recovery of the equipment much more likely than in the past. Non-vehicular equipment can also be tracked by GPS, decreasing the likelihood of gear “walking away” from construction sites. Equipment location tracking as well as usage monitoring can result in lower insurance premiums. GPS systems not only log the routes construction vehicles take, they can even keep track of miles driven since its last maintenance or oil change, ensuring the fleet is properly maintained and operating optimally.
When it comes to moving equipment or machinery a great distance, especially in unfamiliar areas, GPS helps dispatchers plan the most efficient route to the destination, monitoring traffic jams and accident reports and relaying that information to the drivers to change routes, saving time as well as fuel consumption.
The technology is especially useful for large-scale construction projects, where measurements over a large swath of land can be made faster and more accurately than human surveyors. Using GPS, buried or overhead utilities can be easily located and mapped, saving time and effort on the ground, especially in early phases of a road or building project. In the case of large projects, imprecise placement of machinery and materials eats up time and consumes excessive fuel and labor resources. Using GPS coordinates, dispatchers are able to accurately direct the placement of materials and workers.
Projects requiring precision grading like highway or rail construction jobs can now be constantly measured and updated using GPS instead of requiring reoccurring measurements to be taken by survey crews and relayed to the workers. Surveying crews’ reduced reliance on outdated surveying equipment, facilitated by companies providing them with GPS-enabled devices, enables workers to gather the necessary data and take exact measurements electronically. Aided by GPS, a single foreman can monitor multiple grading jobs at once instead of needing multiple teams of surveyors on each site taking measurements manually.
GPS can also create a historical record of labor and equipment expenses from job to job, making budgeting and billing estimating faster and easier. With detailed data collected on fuel consumption, materials usage and allocated labor resources, companies can save time on billing and deliver faster, more accurate project estimates.
Rarely has such a new technology had such widespread implications on the construction industry, and new uses (like drone aircraft kitted out with GPS) are being explored all the time. It’s almost hard to imagine how the industry ever got by before the advent of GPS, and it’s likely the industry will embrace the technology even more as the safety and efficiency gains are fully realized.
If you liked this article, here are a few more you may enjoy:
‘Location Intelligence’ - Why Construction Needs GIS (and vice versa)
The Future of Construction Safety
How Construction Technology is Saving Time, Money, and Jobs
The 5 P’s of Construction Camera Location
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January 9, 2018