After months of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the construction industry is beginning to return to regular operations.
Returning to work quickly and efficiently after this period of inactivity is vital if contractors want to ensure they will not fall behind competitors in the industry. Here Peter Brooks, Regional Sales Manager at SITECH, the UK & Ireland’s distributor of Trimble® machine control and site surveying technology for Heavy Construction and Civils, explores the role of technology in how construction companies can bounce back from this time of uncertainty.
Lockdown and social distancing measures meant the closure of construction sites and many companies chose to furlough their staff to secure the future of their companies. As the nation lifts some restrictions and some companies begin to return to work, many construction companies are pondering how they can complete work efficiently while keeping workers safe.
Finding a way to complete the same work with fewer people on the job site can be difficult, particularly in construction. However, with technology, it is possible for employees to contribute to a project remotely. For example, soon after restrictions were introduced, surveyors contacted us to talk about how they could continue working on their projects without introducing more people to the site. The surveyor is responsible for providing the setting out and data for all men and machines working across a variety of sites simultaneously, so we suggested that machine control technology could allow them to continue safely work on multiple projects, all from their home office.
Instead of discussing designs and paper plans with operators in person at the start of the project, machine control technology allows surveyors to send data from anywhere straight to the machines and operators on the site, as well as any engineers working remotely who can pick up the designs on their data loggers. Surveyors and operators can read the data, check the design and log new as built data to ensure everyone on and off site works from the same plan. Companies can also fit GSM radios to the machines to allow regular two way data to happen between surveyor and operator.
Technology can do more than allow remote site operations, and construction businesses can plan strategically to increase their chances of success now and for the long term. In the past, many construction companies have been slow to adopt new technology.
However, as the benefits of these technologies become clearer, more businesses understand how using technology means they can continue to innovate. For example, technology could help them offer a better service to customers and a safer working environment for staff.
Completing work to the client’s budget and deadline and keeping unnecessary business costs low is often the main priority for construction businesses. However, without technology that measures the accuracy and efficiency of daily operations, many projects fail to meet deadlines. A lack of accuracy often leads to reworking and contractors must spend more on materials, fuel and labour to complete the work to the client’s specifications.
Over time, delayed projects and increased business costs could lower the probability of a business winning bids in the future, as potential clients will choose contractors that can deliver the project on time. Instead of returning to old habits, businesses can reflect and consider how technology could be the answer to continuing to win bids.
Comparing projects that do and do not use advanced technologies is the best way to see how businesses can save money and time. When first exploring the role of advanced machine control back in 2006 for example, Trimble® and heavy construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar conducted a study where operators completed two identical projects in the same area. The only difference is that one used the required conventional equipment and the other used the same machinery and Trimble machine control systems.
The study measured the time for each operation required in the project as well as factors such as the number of passes, fuel consumption and accuracy of tasks. Machine technology systems allow operators continuous access to information to improve accuracy. The technology will show operators what crossfall they need to dig and how far down and input that directly into the equipment, reducing the time required to complete each action.
Increased accuracy also means that companies can save costs as they require less material from external sources. For example, in this study the group using accurate machine control used one less truckload of asphalt than the conventional team.
The results of the study showed that the team using the advanced technology completed the work in one and a half days, in comparison to three and a half from the other team. The technology team also reduced fuel consumption by 43 percent and increased productivity by 101 percent by almost halving passes and doubling the accuracy of meeting tolerances.
Trimble® and Caterpillar’s study, as well as subsequent studies, have consistently shown why construction technology, such as surveying equipment, machine control technology and more can help contractors to remain competitive.
Ian Barnes, the Head of Business at SITECH UK and Ireland, commented that “Returning to work safely and efficiently after times of inactivity requires contractors to look at current operations and decide how they can ensure success”. He adds, “Simultaneously considering how the same technology can help businesses guarantee both short-term and long-term success could be the answer to businesses not being left behind as the industry innovates”.