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A Look at Construction Technology in 2018
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The Smartest Tool in the Shed
By John Biggs
January 22, 2018
It wasn’t long ago that monitoring construction sites required a live foreman on-site, clipboard in hand, to keep tabs on job progress, monitor for safety issues, prevent theft and ensure workers were doing what they were supposed to be doing. The choice was either a foreman had to spread themselves thin by bouncing from job to job, or having a foreman assigned to each individual project. As construction companies are more global than ever, that old practice has become unfeasible and cost-prohibitive. But a host of new technologies now enable project managers to monitor numerous sites at once, receive real-time updates on projects automatically, and effectively be in multiple places at once, even from behind a desk.
On-site monitoring and visits to job sites are still important so employees get a sense that their manager is invested in the project’s progress. Maintaining an active presence on jobs can’t be replaced completely by technology, but its usefulness and efficiency can be significantly enhanced by deploying the right technology.
Remote monitoring needs will vary from job to job, and it’s important to have a sense of which technologies make the most sense before making the capital investment, which can be considerable. First and foremost, any construction site that is to be monitored remotely must be internet enabled. Whether by satellite, a fixed wireless broadband system or a mobile hot spot. Once connectivity is established, the next steps can be taken, since most monitoring technology requires an active internet connection to function.
The humble surveillance camera has come a long way from the fixed-in-place, black and white, wired, live-feed only cameras of yesteryear. Today’s surveillance camera tech has evolved to be wireless, able to be remotely controlled, shoot HD and time-lapse video, and even record the comings and goings of a job site to be reviewed later if an issue arises. The cameras on multiple job sites can be remotely accessed by project managers by computer, tablet or smartphone, enabling them to make decisions on the fly about changes, or redirect workers and equipment as necessary, keeping a permanent eye on projects from afar.
Construction software, like field reporting apps, enable real-time alerts for site changes, worker locations (via wearable sensors), and even materials needs. The information can be relayed instantaneously to a manager’s mobile device via alerts, no matter where they’re physically located, streamlining the decision making process by displaying the relevant information in a unified platform. Such apps or software can even generate daily progress and weather reports, allowing managers to change course and reallocate labor and resources as needed.
GPS systems can be incorporated into heavy machinery to remotely track much more than their physical location. Today’s systems are capable of relaying information on everything from hours the equipment is used, the speed it’s traveling, and even required maintenance scheduling. All of this ensures proper use of construction equipment and allows managers to instantly view drop-offs in functionality to get ahead of minor equipment maintenance issues before they break down, which could cost precious time and divert critical resources to repairs. The systems also can deter theft, which is a serious concern. According to the National Crime Information Bureau, approximately $1 billion per year is lost due to theft of construction equipment. By automatically sending real-time alerts, time and effort is saved in maintaining fleets of heavy machinery.
With construction companies being forced to find new ways to do more with less, the ability for site managers to keep close watch on construction sites around the country (or the world) using software, hardware and mobile devices is yet another efficiency finding a permanent home in the industry. Manually keeping track of dozens or even hundreds of machines, workers and stockpiles of materials is just not practical with the number of construction projects far outpacing the available workers. By deploying such technologies, managers can equally devote their time to multiple simultaneous projects no matter where the job is being done, passing on data-based directives to on-site workers accurately and efficiently.
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