Pandemic spurs contractors to boost efficiency through technology
With nearly every construction schedule thrown off track, site access limited and new operational restrictions applied, construction companies are increasingly seeking digital solutions to brick and mortar problems.
“We are seeing people embrace every technology they can to improve efficiency and that is the smart business thing to do,” said David Hatwell, President of Aegis Project Controls.
More general contractors are utilizing sophisticated project scheduling software and taking a more meticulous approach to pull planning.
At Aegis, “we plan clients’ work for the week in microscopic detail,” Hatwell said. “There are no more allowances for inefficiencies or productivity losses. It used to be when we had a problem, we threw enough manpower at it to resolve the problem. We don’t live in that world anymore. Every person who shows up at a work site has to be as productive as is humanly possible for the duration they are on site. That requires absolute precision and coordination.”
It also requires replacing the old routine of filing monthly progress reports with a new commitment to completing weekly reports, and adopting technologies that make those reports quick to complete, accurate and thorough, Hatwell said. “On some job sites at the end of the day, a contractor scans an RFID tag with their phone. The system then creates a customized daily report for them to fill out. The information then goes through a central database where people can track productivity, materials installed and number of laborers.”
KCI Technologies is helping a growing number of clients boost their project efficiency through virtual construction, said Adam Rickey, Vice President and Regional Practice Leader for MEP/FP/Energy. By using BIM to coordinate “everything down to the wiring, conduit, plumbing, piping and ductwork,” KCI can not only model all work for the trades but enable subcontractors to prefabricate many items. Through the virtual construction process, subs can detail the size, length and number of pipes and ductwork they will need and generate manufacturing and pipe spool drawings for items.
“We have been able to use the technology to break projects down to that level so some contractors with manufacturing facilities have been able to fabricate this jigsaw puzzle of equipment in their own facility then go onsite and hang it with minimal issues compared to normal construction,” Rickey said.
Other digital systems are generating other efficiency gains.
The combination of BIM plus Zoom (or Webex or another online meeting platform) is enabling KCI, its clients and project team members to efficiently and collaboratively work through design issues, changes and constructability questions, Rickey said. If a client wants to move a wall, add a washroom or make another change, the design team can sometimes do a quick sketch-up in BIM, share the visual during the meeting, get the client’s reaction and get input from engineers and other team members about resulting issues for building systems or construction.
KCI and others are also increasingly using drones, laser scanners and 360 cameras to document existing site conditions or completed work. In addition to being quick, the process enables staff to complete surveys whenever it’s convenient for workers on site and avoid creating any worker density issues. The resulting “3D point cloud and almost 360 degree photography can be stitched together and measured. We are getting accuracies of an eighth of an inch or better and we can then supply all that information to the architect, structural engineer and other design professionals,” Rickey said.
Current conditions and the need to boost efficiency could trigger lasting change in how the construction industry operates.
“Technology and construction were two words that were anomalous to each other,” Hatwell said. But the industry is showing heightened interest in new, digital tools and venture capitalists are approaching companies, like Aegis, to discuss possibilities, he said. “They say there is something like a trillion dollars of potential business [in construction technology] because COVID-19 is making us think differently about what technology we use.”