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By Duane Craig
May 29, 2016
The distance between the office and the construction site is starting to vanish thanks to tools that leverage mobile connectivity. As recently as 2014, merely having an iPad on the jobsite made you appear to be one of the technologically elite. But now, there’s a whole slew of items you need to add to your list to keep you ahead of the curve.
The days of deploying photographers and tracking their activities have given way to automation. This started with simple jobsite cameras and is now evolving to entire camera systems that allow people anywhere to take virtual tours coupled with floor plans. They select a floor plan area and then have the option to choose the date and time along with the view. Besides tackling the documentation needs of a project, these systems help team members compare notes and resolve issues without everyone having to visit the job.
Sometimes it’s the combination of old technology with new technology that yields new methods of improving collaboration and tracking project details. For example, attaching barcodes to materials has sped up moving and parsing them out to the various project activities. Now, QR codes are combined with building information models to provide drawings and documentation directly to people when and where they need it. QR codes attached to the door frames of rooms allow project members with smartphones or tablets to scan the codes and immediately receive all current information on the space, right down to work left to do and punch list items that need attention. Team members can use the same system to collaborate with everyone else who has responsibilities in the same room.
Radio frequency identification tags are an active way of managing physical items. Because the tags send out signals to readers, instead of having to be read, they add a whole new dimension to real time tracking. Besides using them to track materials and equipment, companies are now exploring their use for tracking human activity. Accounting for crews, checking to make sure the people working on an activity are qualified, and monitoring safety are some of the plans for this type of mobile tech.
A rising star that many people are pinning high hopes on is virtual reality. A worker or technician can put a device on their head, slap a smart phone onto the front of it and almost instantly view the environment in real time with the planned BIM model overlaid. When these devices have tracking abilities, wearers can move around the 3D model simply by walking, and can peer into spaces by turning their heads. And, perhaps just a few years away, 3D virtual elements will appear in real life.
One of the challenges of too much new technology is the overwhelming amount of data it’s creating. Photographs and video footage alone can quickly command hundreds of gigabytes of storage space. But storage is actually the least of the problems. These kinds of non-structured data need special handling to become searchable so people can find them when they need them.
Investing in a project management platform is the key to maintaining a holistic, bird's-eye view of the project. The properly selected PM platform gathers all the moving pieces of a project together for at-a-glance reconnaissance of how the job is proceeding. Add to this "see-all" software environment an efficiency-boosting innovation or two, and you've got next generation construction.
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