Let’s Get Back to the Future

B2W Software’s Richard Humphrey takes a look at the future of technology for the heavy civil construction industry.

It seems like every day we’re hearing about a new advance in technology. But it’s not surprising why. In the 21st century, technology is a key differentiator, and to get—and stay—ahead, companies in all industries must continue innovating or taking advantage of the technologies that can make their businesses better, safer, and more efficient than the competition.

The situation is no different for heavy civil construction–next-generation technology has changed the landscape of what’s possible on the construction job site. Construction companies should welcome these new developments and the ways they can help improve business operations and productivity.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the latest tech trends in the heavy civil construction industry to help your organization become fully prepared for what’s to come.

Drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles—popularly known as drones—can help companies reach new heights, literally. Drones capture information from vantage points humans and construction vehicles are unable to access during everyday operations. From high in the air, drones can grab high-resolution photographs or videos revealing the current state of the heavy civil construction job site, which can be used to assess the project’s progress, monitor safety and security, and perform aerial surveys.

The prevalence of and use cases for drones in the heavy civil construction industry are only expected to rise in the years to come. According to a 2015 survey by ConstructionPro Network, 88 percent of respondents said that they were aware of drone technology, with 29 percent reporting hands-on use of them.

LIDAR

Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) digital imaging technology works by illuminating the surrounding topography with laser pulses to detect how far the nearest object is in any given direction. This process produces “point clouds,” which are massive data sets that can be digitally “inflated” into a three-dimensional landscape.

A growing number of construction companies are using LIDAR mappings as a key part of their technological toolbox. LIDAR scanners can build a 3D model that reveals the existing conditions of buildings or infrastructure. These models can then be checked against your existing blueprints and site plans to verify that your assumptions are correct and minimize your risk of encountering any unexpected bumps in the road.

In-Cab Cameras

Ironically, technology also creates risks for heavy civil construction companies by contributing to distracted driving, which often happens when vehicle operators check their smartphones. Distracted driving causes countless accidents and can cost companies potentially thousands of dollars in fleet repairs or replacements.

As a remedy, many construction companies are turning to in-cab video monitoring to record drivers’ performance while on site. Besides documenting workers’ actions and behavior, many cameras can detect erratic motions such as swerving, speeding, and sudden braking. These recordings can be analyzed to identify problematic drivers. They can also be used for an insurance claim if necessary.

Wearable Devices

Wearable technology, such as Google Glass and the Microsoft HoloLens, have the potential to radically transform the way that your employees do their jobs while in the field. For example, construction workers outfitted with smart glasses might be notified via visual feedback when they enter a dangerous or off-limits sector of the job site.

Beyond enforcing safety policies, wearable devices can also be used to maximize employees’ efficiency. Workers can receive hands-on training by viewing visual overlays and information panels that show how to complete a certain task. Meanwhile, managers can use smart glasses to view blueprints and models (perhaps created with LIDAR scanning), take photographs or record video, and quickly view updates about project and worker status.

Mobile Devices

Of course, any discussion of emerging construction technologies wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the most popular trend on the job site: tablets and smartphones. Although inventions like LIDAR, smart glasses, and drones all require extra costs and technical expertise, bringing mobile devices into your workflow takes advantage of what’s already in your employees’ pockets.

While the technologies discussed above are fairly advanced, mobile devices are a strong “jack-of-all-trades” option that can replicate much of what these specialized solutions have to offer. For example, mobile applications accessed on tablets or smartphones can capture photos and video, and can also provide training and status updates to workers while in the field.

The Need for a Platform Approach

With the emergence of so many new technological trends these days, it can feel overwhelming to sift through what’s out there and try to determine the best technology for your company. And while these developments are truly revolutionary in their potential to improve efficiency and lower costs, integrating just one of these new ideas into your existing workflow—let alone all of them—might seem like an intimidating task.

Therefore, many heavy civil construction companies have adopted a platform approach when it comes to managing their software and data. Rather than treating each process as an isolated silo, construction software platforms bring together the applications, technologies, processes, and data that you rely on from day to day in a single sleek, streamlined entity.

Although technology may be a key differentiator between industry leaders and their competitors, data is the commodity created by technology that enables this competitive advantage to occur. A unified construction software platform makes it much simpler to start putting your data to work. After you set up the appropriate pipelines, capturing and analyzing data becomes a much easier task, providing you with smart, actionable insights nearly automatically.

There’s always room to add new technologies to advance your business, but implementing a platform approach can help you get a lead over the competition and grow efficiencies and productivity within your heavy civil construction operations. This way, the next technology you adopt will serve to complement the advancements you’ve already made.

Richard Humphrey is vice president of marketing at B2W Software. The company’s ONE Platform connects people, workflows, and data, and it includes advanced, unified applications to manage estimating, scheduling, field tracking, equipment maintenance, data capture, and business intelligence. He can be reached at rhumphrey@b2wsoftware.com
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