The construction industry’s aversion to digital technology is both retrograde and unrealistic… However, things are beginning to change, according to Powered Now’s Benjamin Dyer.
Why are so many people still using pen and paper on construction sites in this day and age of digital technology?
Everywhere you go and in every job you do, you can see the impact of technology on our society. Unfortunately, the electronic revolution appears to have snuck up on the construction industry, particularly on-site.
Many of the typical tasks required in the construction industry are still hampered by paperwork, and this is especially true when larger companies are involved with their layers of management. This is especially evident when something on the plan needs to be changed in order for a theoretical proposition to be reworked into a viable project. In other words, the pen is drawn out.
The issue with this approach is that there is an increased risk of critical information not being communicated to those who need it. When a completed project is being inspected by planning officers to ensure that it complies with regulations, this can make all the difference. In one particularly extreme case, a structure had to be demolished after the builder arbitrarily decided to increase the size of some joists by three inches; it no longer conformed to the plan.
Contractors are frequently required to consult full-size construction drawings. Because they must convey a lot of information, these documents are frequently quite large. A contractor, on the other hand, could use a tablet instead of constantly bending over a large sheet of paper that might be blowing around in the wind or getting wet in the rain. In addition to avoiding paper, the contractor can zoom in and out to inspect an important detail or obtain a broader view of the plan as a whole. Any changes are also saved in the cloud on the shared file.
Most, if not all, tasks can be made more efficient by using portable digital devices such as smartphones, ebook readers, and larger mobile computers such as laptops and tablets. Through mobile collaboration, telestration (the digitization of drawings, plans, and maps so they can be accessed on-screen), and real-time multi-party conferencing, these devices can improve efficiency and planning on-site.
However, the issue is that these are relatively small devices that are also far from robust in adverse weather conditions or on dirty and dusty sites. This can be mitigated to some extent with iPads by encasing them in protective cases or suspending them from your neck or shoulders using specially designed bags and straps. In this way, they function as a mobile clipboard.
Other devices, in addition to the iPad and smartphone, are becoming more ‘ruggedized’ to meet the demands of field conditions. This includes the ability to withstand extreme temperatures and the ability to survive being dropped onto a concrete floor or into a puddle. Many of the solutions now on the market are represented by devices such as the Rocky II Ruggedised Notebook, Panasonic’s Toughbook range, and the Motorola Psion Rugged Computing Range.
In addition, new wearable computing devices that can be strapped to wrists or form part of intelligent headsets (e.g., Google Glass) are being developed to prevent damage from being dropped or coming into contact with substances.
Another solution to this problem is to ensure data recoverability, so that if the device is damaged in some way, the information can be recovered relatively easily. According to Dan Cox of Streamline Solutions and David Perry of About Time Technologies, who have uploaded a series of video presentations on this topic to YouTube, the benefits of bringing mobile devices on-site far outweigh the costs of replacement if the device itself is damaged. While this viewpoint may be correct for larger construction companies working on large projects, it may not be true for small to medium-sized businesses with limited budgets.
With regard to iPads and smartphones in particular, appropriate software that is specifically adapted to the range of tasks involved in construction is being developed.
App Crawler, for example, can enable limited inspection of large documents via an iPad, whereas one construction company in the United States required its employees to switch to the cloud-based Box.net software in order to generate reports on the job site. Box.net can also help with project bidding, accessing CAD/CAM files, blueprints, and other documents through apps like AutoCAD and PlanGrid, as well as auditing, monitoring, and control.
My company’s Powered Now app is another one aimed squarely at the construction industry. It streamlines paperwork, projects, and payment, allowing field tradesmen and engineers to run their businesses efficiently on their iPad or iPhone.
As I previously stated, the construction industry has been slow to adapt to computing and information technology, but the good news is that it is catching up. However, the United States appears to be far ahead of the United Kingdom in this process, to the point where construction computing conferences and award ceremonies are now commonplace. It’s still early in this country, but the construction industry is finally moving in the right direction, with hardware and software developers creating new devices and apps that can withstand the rigours of a construction site.