The vision is there.

Wouldn’t it be great if all entities on a jobsite – including the general contractor, subs, designers, owners, equipment vendors and material suppliers – were working in sync with the data that shifts with each condition change, progress report, change order, telematics warning, and machine inspection? That the right people got the right information at the right time to make informed decisions?

This one-dashboard vision is much, much easier said than done. The journey of one equipment manager shows the roadblocks.

Seven years ago, Langdon Mitchell, equipment division general manager for heavy civil contractor Morgan Corp., needed to have someone physically go machine-by-machine to update the software in his fleet.

The next big hurdle: each OEM had its own proprietary telematics portal. Like most contractors, Morgan has a mixed fleet and getting a unified fleet view from all the disparate systems was clunky and time-consuming, Mitchell said.

The Spartanburg, South Carolina, company is now using a third-party product that amalgamates the information from each brand in the company fleet in addition to its rental equipment. “It’s become a single source of truth,” Mitchell said. “Beyond the raw telematics data, it’s allowing us to have tools to have actionable items.”

But more is needed, said Will Hipp, equipment data analyst with Morgan. “Our eventual goal is to have all the project managers on board so they can see the machines on other jobsites and identify any machines that have little utilization.”

That involves getting dynamic project schedules to match up with fleet needs so areas can be pinpointed where the company perhaps has too many or not enough machines. “That is one of the biggest tasks we have: making sure that machines are in the right place at the right time,” Mitchell said.

 

Stevenson

 

“There’s an immense amount of data that’s created throughout the course of a construction project. Jobsite connectivity is making sure that information is transferring to the right individuals at the right moment in time so that they can more effectively do their job.” -- Trimble's Patrick Stevenson

 

AEM is committed to taking an active role in examining and shaping a shared industry vision for the future of building, so as to offer equipment solutions and insights to help the construction industry succeed. In support of that goal, we have released The Future of Building, a whitepaper highlighting the most significant trends impacting construction in the years to come. Learn more.

Jobsite connectivity is complex.

This is one example of the information needs of one division of one company. Multiply those needs company wide, and then by all the entities with which that one company does business. Now add the industry at large and you get the idea of complexities involved.

“It sounds pretty simple, but when you take a look at the disparate systems GCs, subs, developers and agencies use, everybody has different formats and protocols so it’s extremely convoluted,” said Brian Juroff, senior vice president of sales – positioning solutions at Topcon Positioning Group. “While jobsite connectivity is easy to define, executing it is a completely different matter. Every contractor has a different soup mix of software for office, modeling, scanning, etc. It becomes a huge hurdle.”

“There’s an immense amount of data that’s created throughout the course of a construction project,” said Patrick Stevenson, vice president of product management and platform at Trimble. “Jobsite connectivity is making sure that information is transferring to the right individuals at the right moment in time so that they can more effectively do their job.”

What’s needed is a connective tissue that integrates fully with all pieces of information, creating a living, adaptive body of data.

“It’s providing a digital overview of what’s happening on the site so everyone can easily make decisions,” said Kenneth Veys, portfolio manager, uptime and connectivity at Volvo Construction Equipment.

Overall technology has given jobsite connectivity a leg up.

Overall technology infrastructure advances such as 5G networks, LiDAR scanning, GNSS and edge computing is laying the foundation for jobsite connectivity.

“I’ve been on jobsites in the past where at 2:30 in the afternoon you were going to lose connectivity based on satellite positioning,” said Lonnie Fritz, senior market professional at Caterpillar. “You could set your watch to it. GNSS alone has really driven improvement in accuracy and reliability.”

“Earlier, you had to be selective about what data you pushed into a smaller pipeline,” said Elwyn McLachlan, Trimble’s vice president of civil solutions. “Now we’re seeing that we can push large volumes of data with high reliability.”

The move away from proprietary systems is also helping, Juroff said. “The majority of contractors run a mixed fleet, and they need to be able to communicate from machine to machine and from contractor to contractor,” he said.

One of the biggest shifts is open architecture software so that data from different sources can be more easily integrated. “That’s allowing a lot of contractors to embrace the concept of automating their processes,” Juroff said.

While jobs in more remote areas still face connectivity issues, the amount of data that can now be transmitted has grown exponentially in the world at-large.

And there’s a wealth of data that’s waiting to be mined in a connected way, from machine telematics to design data to labor apps, said Jason Anetsberger, Komatsu ‘s director of customer solutions. Connected machines can now receive updated design data, report back their productivity and the shape of the terrain as they create it.

“It’s fine and dandy to be on a site and have the truth right in front of you, but it doesn’t help if you’ve got three other jobsites,” Anetsberger said. “By digitally connecting all the activities and personnel at the job site and office you’re able to run with less lag between events and decision making.”

Severino Trucking of Candia, New Hampshire went to a cloud-based model to reduce redundancy and disconnect, said Pat L’Heureux, project manager. “We have some crews that will take a project 80% of the way and then another group takes over. Everyone needs to have the same information.”

Going to the cloud has been a “huge time-saver,” reported L’Heureux. “I can now troubleshoot an issue in five minutes, where sometimes in the past it could take me three hours because of travel time.”

And it’s not just machines and production schedules that are part of the data mix. Trackers, specialized hardhats, and smart glasses are adding location, fall alerts, and biometrics information on construction workers, leading to increases in safety and labor management capabilities.

Contractor technology attitudes have shifted.

Contractor attitudes have also shifted, said Trimble’s McLachlan. “We’ve seen a big jump in adoption of connectivity solutions,” she said, “especially now that we can push a design update out to a machine remotely instead of having to drive out to the job site.”

“Every year, the needle is definitely moving on the contractor technology adoption levels,” Fritz said. “There’s an increase in their belief of what technology can do to improve their operations.”

The combination of grade control data with telematics reporting was a significant step forward, said James Leibold, product manager – connectivity at John Deere: “You’re not just having machines that report data, but you can remotely go into a machine and fix it.”

The ability to not physically have to download job model revisions is critical, said Lyle Ballou, GPS manager for DXI Construction in Churchville, Maryland. “We are managing 65 active jobs as we speak, and we have to manage the GPS info as different crews move in and out of different jobs weekly, sometimes daily.” 

DXI Construction juggles the workload for 51 different crews in three different states, which necessitates being able to instantly connect and “program” each crew for the work to be performed.

“The investment we have made has eliminated not being able to work, because we have to wait for stakeout, or wait for a program to be driven to a job and downloaded,” Ballou added.

Contractors of all sizes are stepping up to technology.

To have a connected job site in the future, however, contractors need to become familiar with what’s already available, no matter their size.

Although larger contractors may have more resources to devote to technology, smaller contractors may have more on the line, Stevenson said. “One job goes wrong, and they can go under, so there are some really progressive contractors who have gotten on board with technology,” he said.

“Just because a contractor only has five machines doesn’t mean they’re not fully tricked out on technology,” Fritz said. “I know some who do it very well.”

For those who need to play catch up, Stevenson suggested a good first step is putting a base and rover into place. From that entry point, contractors can go into 2D and then 3D solutions, which will give them the basis for a connected job site.

“There are many entry-level technologies that you can put on a machine that have significant returns in job site efficiencies,” Leibold said. “Then you can grow quickly up to grade-control machines where the machine is really taking over the job for you. I don’t know of a single contractor who has tried grade-control, using drones or LiDAR scanning, and hasn’t said it changed the whole game. It’s allowed the smaller guys to compete with the big guys.”

 

Fritz

 

“Every year, the needle is definitely moving on the contractor technology adoption levels. There’s an increase in their belief of what technology can do to improve their operations.” -- Caterpillar's Lonnie Fritz

 

What solution should you choose?

One barrier to job site connectivity is the sheer choice of tech options out there, said Jim Bretz, connectivity services support manager at Volvo Construction Equipment. “Customers don’t know what to choose,” he said. Fears about office and field data security are also valid.

“It’s so fragmented right now there with the number of solutions,” agreed Mitchell. “One company has a cool answer for one thing and another company has a cool answer for another thing. How do you now bring that information into the whole so you can make decisions?”

“The different solutions can be siloed, which makes it hard to have cross compatibility,” added L’Heureux. “If providers get too proprietary, it can hurt the end user.”

The ability to truly understand costs.

Although historical data supports future decisions, a more dynamic system is on the contractor wish-list.

“So much of what we do is managing in arrears,” Morgan’s Mitchell said. Instead of getting a progress report at the end of the day, he said, it would be better to get more real-time data during the day on any production shortfalls so immediate solutions could be tested.

For example, if an operation fell 10% short of production goals in the morning, crews could make adjustments, perhaps shortening a haul path to decrease cycle times, Mitchell said.

“We’d love to see all this information in one place and have the tools to slice and dice it,” Mitchell said. “We could really understand our cost and production side not just from an equipment side but also from a company side.”

This is an example of the analytical expertise contractors are seeking from jobsite connectivity.

“Analytics enables us to not only predict the impact on the schedule and job cost but also explore how we can change the outcome,” McLachlan said.

Construction has technology’s attention.

“I love the attention that the industry is now getting,” said Anetsberger. “People are seeing that it’s either ripe for digital disruption or that there must be an easier way.”

Mitchell agreed: “What is exciting in our industry right now is how technology is really, really ramping up.”

Contractors will be able to piggyback on what’s happening in the broader technology space. In addition to jobsite connectivity, these efforts will also lay the groundwork for autonomous machines.

But don’t think job site connectivity will solve all problems, Bretz warned. “It’s likely it will reveal more issues and create a whole new aspect of managing jobsites and machines because it opens up a lot of information that wasn’t immediately available,” he said.

“The connected jobsite concept is something I’m passionate about and I want to see grow,” said L’Heureux. “It will help with the disconnect we see daily between companies, engineers, even internally. It will create more of community if we can share this data.”

Want to Learn More?

Many would agree that a transformation of the construction industry has already commenced. Technology is changing the way buildings are designed, equipment operates and organizations function. Renewable energies are being leveraged more often and in more ways. A generational shift in the workforce is already underway.

AEM Vision Team and Futures Council members spent countless hours discussing how these influences, among many others, could transform the construction industry over the next 10 years. For more information on The Future of Building and other trends impacting the equipment manufacturing industry and the customers it serves, visit aem.org/insights.

For more AEM member perspectives, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.

 

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