Digitalisation and analytics revolutionise construction site management and operations

Digitalisation and analytics revolutionise construction site management and operations

Dave Swan, SVP, Products, Trackunit, discusses how digitalisation has revolutionised the management and operation of construction sites and outlines how analytics can be utilised on construction sites.

Dave Swan, SVP, Products, Trackunit

How is digitalisation transforming the management and operation of construction sites today?

Over a relatively short period of time, digitisation has had a wide impact on construction and that varies by project type and the way that contractors have invested and approached integration of digital technology.

Various areas of construction have witnessed a dramatic increase in efficiency in resourcing, cost and completion timeline, so that a new scale has been set to measure what success looks like, for example with large solar farm construction.

Other project types and areas of application have seen incremental gains where contractors are beginning to have a complete digital picture of their projects, but have only recently started to drive job site processes from that data.

We see two factors for the speed and size of the digitisation impact: Firstly, the project complexity when considering the assets, environment and workflows that are fundamental to project completion. Such as the opportunity for automation in a solar farm build vs a condo complex. The solar farm, while a complex project, has a relatively simple environment to digitise. The residential high rise build can divide into six or seven unique phases from dirt moving to finishing, with each of these phases incorporating unique machinery and assets, different physical makeup of the worksite, and a different set of sub-trades executing unique processes for each phase.This scenario still benefits immensely from a digitally connected worksite but requires a more complex and nuanced understanding on how the data from all the assets, machinery and space flow together throughout the life of the project.

Secondly, key to determining the impact of digital technology in construction organisations is whether digital resources and processes are placed at the centre of a business (inside out) or treated like siloed projects around the periphery (outside in). 

Organisations that start with the principle, ‘to make a digital platform the foundation of our workflows’ organically create more efficient data processes, reducing guess work, and lack of visibility in construction. 

The counter to that approach is traditional analog processes and ‘bolt-on’ digital tech that accelerates what are fundamentally analog processes. To achieve the digital centric business approach, you need to have a common platform that’s fit-for-purpose and connects the wide variety of data types and business systems that inform, organise and track the project.

What are the key benefits of using data analytics for monitoring machines and tools on construction sites?

There are staggering inefficiencies around machines and tools on larger construction sites. The lowest hanging fruit are around sharing assets between the many trades and functional groups on site. Having clear visibility of when machines are idle and when they are being productive immediately gives you an actionable list of available machines.

Proving a clear picture of machines that aren’t being used today, or this week, can do two things with impressive return on investment: It can expedite the provisioning of machines to trades and tasks that need machines/tools to move the project forward.

Secondly, it can reduce unnecessary cost, and reallocate where demand is highest. The contractor’s owned fleet can be more effectively distributed across its projects, and rented fleet can be right sized for the site. In an industry where faster timelines, and more projects are always part of the plan, these high impact benefits will lower complexity when it comes to execution.

Increased safety is a crucial benefit. Where there is a clear path to a safer site is when we have true visibility to machine activity. This can include the digitisation of safety prechecks, and application of digital operator certificates to limit use of potentially dangerous machines to properly trained operators. 

How can construction companies ensure the security of their data when integrating new information sources and IoT devices?

As edge connectivity and digital platforms have quickly moved to mission critical status within construction, data security must be the provider’s focus. There should be an expectation that IoT providers have rigorous processes and audits in place to protect data, both at the edge and up through the platform stack. This has been a driver over the past five or more years as we’ve seen many construction companies, and large rental companies go from a build to buy mentality, where it has become increasingly important to have dedicated resources focused on platform security and stability.

What impact does real-time monitoring have on improving safety and reducing accidents on construction sites?
The single most impactful activity in improving safety and reducing accidents on site, is to ensure properly trained machine operators are using digital access management and digital credential systems e.g. IPAF (International Powered Access Federation) EPAL. 

A requirement for a digital license before you’re able to operate a machine creates a work site where we can almost guarantee that operators are trained to safely operate the machinery they are using.

Another consideration is visibility drives accountability. It’s not as such real-time monitoring, but the ability to identify problematic machinery operation and execute focused change management through coaching, training and site layout adjustments.

How can construction sites leverage technology to become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint?

The machine OEMs are focusing on more sustainable power trains for construction machinery such as electric, hydrogen and cleaner diesel power. That’s an important step, but we’ll have to wait as most machines in the field have traditional power units.

However, the most important steps in sustainability on sites are around active change management through measuring and adjusting impact with asset connectivity. Specific operating behaviour of construction machinery is an opportunity to aggressively reduce CO2 emissions. 

Fleets are increasingly digitally connected with productive operating hours and idle time measurement therefore operators, rental and contractors can implement goals, track with actual machine data, and then manage downward the emissions impact of the fleet on a construction site.

Reduction in emissions through goal setting, measuring actual run time and CO2 output along with idling via machine connectivity would result in a dramatic reduction of overall CO2 impact. This application is available now, and most large machinery is connected, and the platforms are in place to set goals, measurement and analysis at the site level.

What are the biggest technological challenges construction sites face, and how can they overcome them to improve efficiency and productivity?

Complexity is a real challenge in the construction industry, with a myriad variety of assets to connect and integrate. The resolution is to invest in the industry communities (AEMP, AEM, AED) that are working to standardise this connectivity, and utilise the work that’s been done by those investing in solving this challenge.

It’s important to seek solutions from a construction perspective for construction digitisation. Purpose-built solutions account for that wide variety of scenarios, including equipment and job sites, whether it’s scissor lifts or excavators. The insights are the result of the connected systems, the edge technology, and sorting and normalisation of those data points into common sense construction data. 

It’s also very important to choose a problem and take an action. I’ve witnessed many companies gather five-years of data in a siloed group in the organisation and sit on it waiting for a series of perfect integrations.

Put the tools in the hands of the people closest to the job and let them help build the processes. Measure the efficiency, adopt, adjust, share-learnings and keep moving forward. The speed that construction tech is evolving and the speed of tech in general means waiting for an ideal time to start is the death of the future opportunity we see as an industry.

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