The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) recently held its annual IT conference in Chicago on July 30 and 31, and from it we learned about quite a few useful products and developments. Based on the excellent report coverage by construction technology expert Rob McKinney and Sean Spicer, digital marketing director for Notevault, here’s an overview of the topics covered, ranging from 3D printing and drones, to BIM, virtual reality and apps for smartphones and tablets.
The ROI big picture
As with the implementation of any technology, there should be a business case. Many of us see the potential of technology and jump right in, without making a determination of a cost/benefit analysis to see what the return on investment will be. Spicer relates how one company’s implementation of a $4,000 software platform saved $150,000 in printing and shipping drawings. Spicer also relates the huge savings BIM brings to complex projects, but more interesting, that wearable technologies and software have contributed to 50% reduction in workplace fatalities in the past few years. (Read Spicer's article here.)
Laser scanning becoming mainstream
Just a few short years ago, laser scanning belonged to a select few companies that had access to expertise in both the scanning technology and in the use of BIM models during the construction process. The equipment was highly specialized and dealing with the data required experience with multiple software applications. Hardware and software currently under development is helping to bring the technology to wider use, for example, using products that work with Android (Google’s Project Tango) or iPads (Structure Sensor) to generate point clouds. More importantly, several conference tech talks discussed the business case for laser scanning. Brian Laird, of Rick Engineering, described how his company employs laser scanning to obtain accurate as-builts, to transfer real-world conditions to a model for clash detection, and to improve the virtual spatial coordination process between the owner, the contractor and the A/E team. Rawle Sawh, reaffirming the value of laser scanning, described how Gilbane Construction Co. purchased four scanner units to help reduce the risk associated with pre-existing conditions, emphasizing cost savings from outsourcing the process due to software becoming extremely user friendly.
Collaboration at your fingertips
Rob McKinney moderated a panel session on affordable solutions, emphasizing collaboration and workflows. Part of the discussion focused on what McKinney calls “social media” workflows, listing a half-dozen products used to enhance jobsite collaboration and communication. Also covered was another six free apps McKinney has found useful for managing notes, documents and photos. Finally, the panel noted seven scheduling and task management applications and four timesheet applications that can help project staff.
Drone usage continues to expand
In the session on drones and construction, Blake Potts recapped how Rogers-O’Brien deployed a drone to help find a sixth-floor exterior wall leak. Today, the company has 10 quadcopters to collect footage and photos throughout the building process from pre-construction to closeout. (See How Rogers-O’Brien Construction deployed a drone fleet throughout its workflow – EquipmentWorld.com for an in-depth report on Rogers-O’Brien’s experience with drones.) Also covered in this session were legal, regulatory and insurance concerns.
The importance of standards
McKinney found the second day panel session on the Construction Open Standards Alliance (COSA) to be very valuable. Having standards for software design and data interchangeability allows different programs to talk to each other, reduces the need for multiple entry of data, and elliminates downstream data entry errors. Building on the agcXML initiative started in 2004, COSA has taken over the effort to engage construction application vendors in further development and deployment of open source integration standards. According to panelist John Goecke, nearly $15 billion a year is wasted on double and triple data entry alone!
The AGC-IT forum was very comprehensive in its program, and this article could not cover everything, including important topics such as cloud computing and cybersecurity. Look for technology in construction to continue to accelerate. There are many entrepreneurs working with smart construction people to develop useful applications.
For further reading:
Sean Spicer's AGC-IT Conference Coverage
Rob Mckinney's Conference Recaps:
- Conference Recap - Day 1 - Part 1
- Conference Recap - Day 1 - Part 2
- Conference Recap - Day 2 - Part 1
- Conference Recap - Day 2 - Part 2