Dispatches from World of Concrete – The promise of technology


After making his way through Autodesk University in November, BuiltWorlds’ News Analyst, Jim Lichtenwalter, returned to the desert oasis of Las Vegas to cover one of the largest events in the built industry: World of Concrete. The massive exposition is the place to showcase and announce new products, softwares, and tools. This is a gargantuan event, boasting 1,500 exhibitors and

58,000 attendees. The Las Vegas Conference Center is practically bursting at the seams with companies trying to showcase their newest innovations to consumers.

Between the press conferences and booth visits, one key theme that stood out during the conference’s first two days: the promise of technology. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. As technology advances, so do the capabilities of tools and software. But what are the newest wares showcased at World of Concrete promising exactly? In what ways are they helping your average general contractor and subcontractor? Here are the three main ways we saw how technology is improving the built industry:



1. Increasing safety

Without a doubt, one of the chief concerns on any jobsite is increasing safety. The more we can build, without workers getting hurt, the better. BuiltWorlds sat down with Donna Laquidara-Carr from Dodge Data & Analytics and Eileen Betit from CPWR (Center for Construction Research and Training), to discuss the "Contractor Use of Safety Best Practices" report, which was written in cooperation by the two organizations. A major health concern CPWR sees on every jobsite, but that is not necessarily addressed, is noise level.

“It’s not uncommon for a 25-year-old to have the hearing of 50-year-old,” Betit said. “This is an issue not because of lack of awareness, but because the thought is ‘this is the norm; you’re on a construction site and it’s going to be noisy.’”

Betit says a variety of practices can be utilized on the jobsite, but one of the most impactful changes is noise-reducing equipment. These are tools that are consistently used on a jobsite--like a jackhammer of wall saw--that are created specifically to do a job and reduce the amount of noise they admit during use.

Another health issue on the jobsite is the perpetual lifting of heavy objects, which takes a serious toll of workers. Betit discussed the CPWR’s “Best Built Plans” program, which provides education and training to contractors. One of the most interesting parts of the program is a smartphone game, which hammers home the lessons workers take away from the program’s instructional segments.

It’s not uncommon for a 25-year-old to have the hearing of 50-year-old.

“This reinforces safe practices when workers play the game on their phone during a lunch hour or break,” Betit said.

On the software side of things, construction technology platforms, like Trimble, being used to increase safety on jobsites in numerous ways.

Eric Harris, a strategic communications manager at Trimble, noted that the platform is leveraging the data it collects on jobsites to keep workers out of harmful situations. For example, instead of making a worker jump into a hole during an earth-moving operation, and measure the dimensions of the dig, laborers can now input exact models that dictate the necessary specifications.

“The models are going directly into the machine control, so I know exactly how deep that hole is going to be,” he said. “We’re putting data on robots and big equipment, and this gives us the ability to keep people out of dangerous situations.

Another major way construction technology platforms are keeping workers safe is through what Harris described as “crew management situations.” Trimble’s CrewSight provides labor tracking through sensors installed on every worker’s hard hat. This information provides contractors with insights such as a worker’s health history, where they are working on a jobsite, the number of hours they worked, and their certifications.

Harris described an actual situation that took place on a jobsite using CrewSight, where a worker was injured in an accident.

“By the time the ambulance came to pick the person up, the doctor had all this necessary information--who this person is, medical records, first of kin,” he said. “Nobody had to go fumbling through any papers.”

By the time the ambulance came to pick the person up, the doctor had all this necessary information--who this person is, medical records, first of kin. Nobody had to go fumbling through any papers.

2. Heightening Productivity and Efficiency

While safety is of paramount importance on the jobsites, contractors are also always looking for ways to increase the productivity of their workers and the efficiency of their processes. The market is saturated with construction technology software solutions promising to streamline the countless workflows on any project.

During its press conference on Tuesday, Procore announced the addition of an equipment tracking solution that will likely release in early 2019.

“This is so the contractors will know where their equipment is, and safety and quality inspections on that equipment is being tracked,” said Kevin Strum, Procore’s Director of Product Marketing.

This new announcement comes just a year after Procore announced Labor Tracking, which tracks the productivity and activities of workers on a jobsite. These applications put information in the hands of contractors to keep projects on track and under budget. With the information gleaned from Procore’s suite of products, managers can make changes and decisions that lead to increased efficiency and productivity among workers.

Similarly, Trimble is working to make jobsites more effective places.

“We feel pretty strongly that with a construction process, the real value comes from not the ‘M’ in BIM (Building Information Models), but the ‘I,’” said Harris. “It’s the information and how that can be used to change the construction process.”

Trimble Connect is one way the platform trying to leverage data and information to increase efficiency on the jobsite. The program connects individuals working on a jobsite, and allows them to easily share data between different software. One feature Andy Dickey, a business development manager at Trimble, highlighted was the project status. Workers can change the status of a project, indicating its progress. Once an aspect of a job is completed, workers can mark it as such, and this information is immediately accessible to stakeholders. By connecting people and the information on a jobsite they possess, Trimble Connect breaks down information silos and allows projects to flow smoother and quicker.

“This is a great way to communicate to others,” Dickey said. “It’s shortening the time between when you finish your work and I can begin my subsequent work.”

3. Providing new insights

Technology is also being leveraged in the built world to help users and stakeholders gain access to new insights that they previously did not have access to five to 10 years ago. We sat down with Jeevan Kalanithi, the CEO and Co-Founder of OpenSpace. Kalanithi described the application as being like Google Maps for a jobsite. With the use of 3D camera attached to a worker’s vest or helmet, OpenSpace creates a digital map of a project, which users can walk through offsite with their computer, mobile phones, and tablets.

“What we are doing is digitizing reality,” said Kalanithi. “You can see the project without actually being there.”

Kalanithi also noted that OpenSpace is also providing context to its customers. If a sheet of drywall was damaged on the third-floor east hallway of a project, OpenSpace shows exactly where that damaged drywall is, instead of only providing a photo that is completely out-of-context.

Additionally, OpenSpace allows users to see the progress of jobs over time. They can see the evolution of a project, and actually visually pinpoint when certain changes and additions were made.

In a booth not too far from OpenSpace, Sensera is a technology company that is also helping users gain access to information and insights that previously wasn’t available. The company is known for its solar-powered jobsite cameras, which can easily be erected by a single worker. While other cameras need to wait for a jobsite to have internet and electricity, Sensera’s cameras can immediately be installed.

Additionally, David Gaw, the CEO and Co-Founder of Sensera, described how many users actually utilize the camera to specify when materials were delivered to a jobsite and even when subcontractors began working on a project.

For more insights from Jim’s final two days at World of Concrete, stick with BuiltWorlds.