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By John Biggs
January 16, 2018
Construction has always had a somewhat complicated relationship with technology. Over the last few decades there have been improvements in materials, machinery and even hand tools, but until recently the core of the job has remained largely untouched by the technological revolution that has permeated so many industries.
One piece of tech that has found a permanent place in the industry is mobile phones. Their sheer ubiquity make them a natural fit as a platform upon which to put apps and tools easily accessible for workers, and they’ve enabled the industry to “cut the cord” when it comes to communications. This has enabled decisions to get made faster and more efficiently, no longer relying on a wired on-site callbox or radio to speak to managers, and facilitates communication up and down the chain.
Today, using mobile technology, every worker on every job site can immediately access any information relevant to their responsibilities and receive real-time updates through the instant communication mobile devices provide. This includes receiving and planning change orders or any other communications sent out from the office to workers in the field. The built-in camera on just about every phone on the planet adds another layer of information dissemination, as workers can now photograph and send pictures of any questionable design aspects of jobs in progress, enabling decisions or changes to be made on the fly before work gets done that must later be undone in the event of an error.
Thanks to mobile communications technology, a cascade of rapid-fire questions and answers is now possible between workers, sub-contractors and vendors. This means real-time decisions can be made, and workers can be given new instructions no matter how far they are from the managers geographically. The ability to receive instant feedback on weighty decisions cuts down on the cost of projects as the quality of the information and the speed of its delivery has improved, and the chances of miscommunicated instructions has diminished. This makes it considerably less likely that workers will be waiting around for a decision to be made from above and more likely that the information imparted will be accurate.
Mobile phones have become such a staple of the industry that entire lines of phones are being made to endure the rigors of the job. Phones designed with rugged external cases, glare-free, scratch-resistant screens, and even water and dustproofing are tailor made to withstand the bangs, drops and dings a phone is subject to on a near-daily basis on a construction site. Some phones, like the CAT S60 made by Caterpillar, are specifically designed for use in construction. In addition to the standard suite of features you’d expect from a modern smartphone, the S60 comes equipped with on-board thermal imaging camera which measures temperatures from -20 degrees Celsius up to 120 degrees, from a distance of up to 30 meters. As cell phones become an even more indispensable industry tool, it’s likely more manufacturers will include such features in their devices.
Mobile devices have uses for the industry even beyond communication. Daily tasks that formerly required paper can now be done with a few swipes and taps. Clocking in for the workday, keeping track of hours worked, or even tracking worker location through GPS is now as easy as looking at a screen. In an industry where time is money, reducing even a few minutes a day per worker on these tasks adds up to big efficiency gains over the months and years.
Phones have significantly and permanently changed the way construction companies operate. Streamlined delivery of instant and accurate communication, the ability to send pictures of jobs in progress and view site plans and change orders accessible from anywhere have been true game changers. Even an industry like construction known for its sluggish pace of adopting new technologies has embraced mobile technology, giving it a prominent place in the modern toolbox.
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