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ConTech Philadelphia Roadshow
On July 13th, Triax joined more than one hundred other industry peers, committed to discussing the current and future state – and challenges— of the construction industry and the latest technological tools and best practices to drive the industry forward at the ConTech Roadshow. The first of four ConTech Roadshows (join us in Chicago on August 22nd!), the theme of the Philadelphia show was to discuss and dissect emerging technologies with practical applications for contractors looking to gain a competitive advantage. The day’s five sessions, led by industry thought leaders and tech enthusiasts James Benham, Josh Bone and Rob McKinney, covered tracking and analysis tools, mobile apps for construction, Building Information Modeling (BIM), drones and virtual construction.

Read below for Triax’s takeaways from the event:

Worker Privacy Concerns: Micro- versus macro-tracking
The day’s first session discussed worksite and workforce tracking and analysis tools for improved jobsite productivity and safety. The word “tracking” tends to evoke a negative reaction, but like most things, worker response – and long-term adoption – comes down to selecting the right tool and solution for your organizational goals. Successful tracking technologies are practical, low maintenance, and add demonstrable value to each user. A solution that operates on a worker’s personal cell phone, for example, is impractical and invasive; who owns the device and how do you ensure it is shut off at the end of the work day? The general contractors we’ve spoken to only care about the active site perimeter; they don’t care, for example, where someone goes on their lunch break, only that they are off-site and don’t need to be accounted for in case of an emergency.

There are degrees of tracking, a fact that Benham raised in the morning’s session. Micro-tracking – within 8 to 12 inches for example—provides an unnecessary degree of granularity, and indeed, the drawbacks of the technology needed to provide that level of detail outweighs the benefits of knowing where a worker is within 10 inches. It is much easier to alleviate worker concerns and ensure user buy-in when a solution can tell which floor and area of a site they are on, for example, but not whether or not—and how long—they’re in the bathroom. Macro-tracking, or knowing where a worker is within 20 to 30 feet, is plenty for the current construction worksite, and is possible with non-GPS solutions that maximize worker privacy off-site.

Our Own Worst Enemy?
One of Benham’s main points, echoed throughout the day, is that construction is a low margin industry of its own creation. Cutting-edge construction technologies – increasingly referred to as ConstrucTech – provide and automate the data needed to eliminate waste and improve project margins. Some of the most promising technologies include:

  • Wearable tracking technologies: Knowing who is on a jobsite, where they are located and for how long streamlines construction operations. By analyzing aggregate workforce statistics, general contractors can work to eliminate bottlenecks, update schedules and hold trades and subcontractors more accountable. For example, if the second floor of a 12-story apartment building took two weeks to complete, and the third floor took three weeks, site superintendents and project managers can drill into the data to determine root causes. Instead of evaluating the project and determining what worked and what didn’t after the fact, they can view and assess on the fly.
  • Mobile applications: Tech solutions need to be accessible anywhere, on any device, at any time. A 2009 study in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management found that the median cost of rework due to poor document control is about $4.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Now, cloud-based software and mobile applications are changing how projects operate, significantly reducing the administrative burden and ensuring a real-time single stream of information. Real-time communication, documentation and support cuts down on the time spent tracking down information and drives efficiency.
  • Tackling Preconstruction Planning – BIM and Virtual Construction: As Josh Bone, BIM specialist for the ConTechTrio, noted, the current tendency is to solve problems on the construction site as they arise or after the fact. BIM helps contractors discover problems during the pre-construction phase, saving time and money on unanticipated building issues and potential re-work. Virtual construction can be used during the design and planning phases to ensure that space is optimized for its purpose and use; having doctors walk through a virtual hospital room, for example, or operating room, ensures enough space between patients or surgical equipment and the operating table.

Lean construction is built on the premise of minimizing waste, or non-value add activities, and maximizing customer quality. Reliable, accurate data is the first step towards uncovering and eliminating waste. Devices for collecting data on the people, tools, machinery and materials on site, and how they’re interacting with each other, will optimize time spent on site and forge cost savings.

BuiltWorlds Boston Roadtrip

On July 13th at the Boston Innovation and Design Building, Triax’s Chief Operating Officer participated in a panel with Josh Kanner from Smartvid.io and Sarah Hodges from Autodesk. Moderated by Suffolk’s Ajoy Bhattacharya, the panel looked at innovative general contractors seeking to build things in new ways and innovative technology providers trying to look at industry challenges and “blind spots” in a different way. The hour-long panel revealed several themes that will only grow in prominence:

  • Openness is Key: The industry is undergoing a digital transformation, but in order to reach critical mass, solutions must be developed with the larger technology ecosystem in mind. Users don’t have the time to switch between eight different platforms, so make sure the solution is designed to integrate with third-party systems. The ability to push or pull data into your preferred system of record or analysis shouldn’t be undervalued. All companies on the panel stressed the need for technology providers to play nice together in order to bring the industry into the digital age.
  • Be Proactive: Trying to force safety upon a workforce or trying to catch workers doing something wrong does not create a sustainable, successful site culture in the long-term. Enhancing safety culture comes from focusing on collaboration, not consequences. Having accurate, real-time safety data and tools improves the chances that accidents can be caught before they happen. Cloud-based applications that allow site supervisors to see what is happening on site – even when they’re in the trailer – allows for improved response to potential incidents or injuries. Similarly, technologies that allow workers to communicate injuries or unsafe working conditions directly to safety personnel engages them in the proactive risk management process. What good are “Stop Work” cards if a worker has to leave the 7th floor of an office building to report the hazard? That time spent communicating issues is time not spent working that will need to be made up later.
  • Know What You’re Buying: It is human nature to resist change. Adopting new and emerging technologies can be risky, but investing in basic research and asking a few simple questions can go a long way towards mitigating those risks. Seeing the product in a live setting should be a no-brainer; if it’s not readily available, move on and look for other solutions in the marketplace. Furthermore, an organization-wide commitment to innovating and testing new technologies means that proper protocols can be created, reducing the potential for information to slip through the cracks. Have a standardized process for identifying, researching, testing and evaluating new or piloted technologies.

Interested in joining Triax at the next industry event or meet-up and seeing our spot-r jobsite connectivity solution in action? Visit our Events page to see where we’ll be showing up next!