A misconception contends that contractors are slow to accept change and unwilling to adopt technology, and it may have been true at one time. In fact, Texas A and M University conducted a study that tends to confirm it. However, in Bob Dylan’s words, “the times they are a’changing.”
The myth may have a basis in the intent of construction professionals to rely on proven, traditional techniques. Facing extraordinary levels of responsibility, contractors must have absolute certainty every time. The industry probably is slow to change as some think, but contractors do not have the luxury of experimentation. For justifiable reasons, contractors are risk averse.
Making a wrong decision or putting confidence in unproven technology can have serious consequences. When someone in business makes a bad decision, it is a write off at worst. When a contractor makes one, people can get hurt.
With no room for error, contractors must make the best decision every time, even if taking caution or appearing as reluctant to try something new makes them seem slow to change.
Taking a New Approach
As a sign of the changing times, construction contractors are now using at least three software applications, Respondents to a Viewpoint Technology survey show a preference for Microsoft operating systems and Apple for mobile applications. The cost of mobile devices along with user resistance to learning how to use them were the most frequent reasons for resisting technology, but 88 percent of companies distributed Smartphones to employees and 55 percent assigned tablets.
The top uses of the devices were to read email, approve documents, create project visibility, collect employee time, manage service work orders and collect reports of work performed. The internet and the cloud are here to stay, and not using them is like going on a road trip without a map.
New advances in technology offer wearable gadgets that have the potential to reduce the risks that construction workers face on the job. Wearable technology presents a new challenge to the traditional way of doing things, but it poses no dangers and has no downsides. On the contrary, it directly contributes to reducing risk and increasing efficiency. Innovative ideas in wearable technology include vests, glasses, wristbands, helmets and exoskeleton suits with more gadgets to come. The purpose of wearables is to improve worker efficiency by connecting with other devices wirelessly, One that is likely to gain acceptance is a piece of apparel that has always been on a job site but is now contributing more than it ever did.
High visibility safety vests have long had a place of prominence on construction sites, but the GPS badges by Redpoint give them the ability to reduce risks on the job site. With its real-time location system, the RedPoint Smart Badge makes it possible for a worker to ask for help or to receive alerts about a entering a danger zone that can cause real problems.
Actuators on the vest can stop or at least slow down a piece of runaway heavy equipment to prevent dangerous consequences. When building information management becomes more widely accepted, these applications will expand along with it. For now, the vest has useful features that enhance employee safety. Work crews can receive notification of areas that are high risk from a manager who defines them on drawings on a laptop or tablet as geo-fenced zones that are off limits.
Sensors in the Asset Tags can relay information about the location of tools and equipment to managers who do not have to walk the job site to find them. As a way to more efficiently manage assets and reduce wasted time, they prevent frustration and save money. The same technology can track the location and movement of workers as well as materials. The indoor navigation feature can provide an employee with a badge or tag to connect to mobile devices through Bluetooth and enable navigation based on mobile indoor maps.
Wearable technology in glasses presents a level of convenience that lets workers read and understand work plans without having to put down their tools. Even more, they can explain how to operate a power tool, and workers can gain insights that help them become as productive as possible and safe as well. According to Forbes, the demand for the service that smart glasses offer may be on the increase as the skills gap widens. As skilled workers retire, a technology gadget that can tell employees what to do can provide a valuable service.
Moverio claims to set the standard in augmented reality (AR), and their techno gadget is available on the market. The augmentation of reality allows workers to obtain the information they need but do not know, and senior level employees can step them through any procedure. The process superimposes words and images on a worker’s view of reality.
XOEye smart glasses use a camera that connects to the cloud to enable experts to guide new learners through a process. The glasses can relay a replica of an on-site situation to a construction professional who can assess it and send precise instructions on how to handle any matter. The device also gives managers a view of the workforce to make sure that they are productive.
Canadian startup Thalmic Labs introduced Myo, an armband that targets the construction industry by interacting with smart glasses to make touchpads and remote controls unnecessary steps that slow processes. Working with Epson and Google Glass, the device can use gesture control to communicate with co-workers without removing gloves or straining to listen when heavy equipment makes hearing impossible.
California startup tech company DAQRI makes an Android-powered helmet that uses sensors to improve the on-site jobs of construction workers. According to US News, employment of general construction workers is likely to exceed 1.3 million by 2024, providing an additional 147,400 jobs. Where the helmet can make a significant difference is in its ability to present work instructions in the actual work environment.
The helmet uses AR to present a heads-up display where it offers the most help. It can show workers digital images of architectural plans along with work instructions on the job site. With sensors and cameras on the helmet, employees can see where the plans apply to the work environment, a task that usually requires a construction manager to visit the site and conduct one-on-one instruction for as long as it takes.
The helmet has a snazzy blue visor, sensors and cameras that can capture a 360-degree view. With software that can process and display on-site information, it is capable of recording conditions such as thermal readings, and it can store worker instructions as well. On the leading edge of technology, a pilot version of the DAQUI helmet brought the project out of the developmental phase in 2014. The company presented an updated version at the CONEXPO 2017 earlier in the year.
Future of Wearables
Trends that CCS Insight noted from 2013 to 2014 predict an increase in the use of wearable technology gadgets that may reach 135 million by 2018.
A wearable gadget that is sure to gain attention is an exoskeleton suit that embodies some of Iron Man’s capabilities.
A suit that can hold tools has a spring-loaded mechanical arm that can support a heavy weight by balancing against a counterweight. Construction workers’ exposure to back problems from improper lifting can occur less frequently with an exoskeleton that enforces correct back posture and reduces the load on the back, lost time, medical expense and permanent injury.
A lightweight exoskeleton suit that can fit on top of work clothes can create a chair by stiffening and providing an alternative to long periods of crouching. Avoiding fatigue improves worker safety as well as productivity. Mechanized exoskeleton gloves can give employees who have a weak grip a way to work efficiently.
BIM (Business Information Modelling)
AR holds the potential for contractors to transform practices on and off a job site. Construction companies are already using smartphones and cloud storage, two components that make wearable technology possible, according to a senior manager at a major investment management company. BIM captures a project in 3D, including every element and aspect, subsequently storing it in a collaborative database. In the future, an engineer can use AR to view inside the walls of any project that met BIM standards during construction.
A BIM building design uses one system of computer models to replace separate drawings. The concept produces savings in time as well as money, and it provides a more reliable method of estimating and avoiding the need for rework and alterations. While it requires changing the software to get the programs that can produce the 3D models, it also requires every participant in the construction process to use a fundamentally different approach. At a minimum, it requires collaboration among all of the design and construction disciplines.
With a collaborative approach, BIM makes it possible for all disciplines to visualize building projects at the outset. AR has the capability to superimpose a virtual model onto reality where anyone can view it with a smartphone or tablet and the appropriate software. Contractors are all too familiar with the difficulty of communicating construction concepts through the use of a floor plan, but AR increases visualization and understanding of a building project. Construction issues that usually do not emerge until late in the process can be on view by site managers and construction workers at the outset. AR can change the way that the development process progresses from start to finish.
The blending of BIM with AR on wearable technology gadgets merges the physical world with the digital one to produce a more perfect and fluid building process. A few construction companies are trying to implement wearable technology, but participation is on a small scale. An incomplete understanding of the ways in which the devices can pay off contributes to the delay. Contractors who can combine BIM with the use of the devices have an edge that may produce benefits when the next generation of wearable technologies comes to market.