The Future of Technology and the Construction Worker

July 31st, 2015 by Editor

In the not-so-distant past, Rob McKinney was on a jobsite doing a safety inspection for his construction company when he spotted a worker “top-stepping” a ladder—with two feet on top of an eight-foot ladder working in the ceiling.

McKinney, then a safety manager, addressed the issue with the worker, but the worker wouldn’t oblige. So McKinney pulled out his brand new BlackBerry phone (now he’s an iPhone user) and snapped a picture.

“I took a picture and I said, ‘listen, I’m going to send this to your boss,’” McKinney recalled. “And if he looks at it and says you’re good, then I’ll leave you alone.”

The conversation completely changed at that moment.

“And I started realizing as a safety professional how I could now enforce safety in a very different manner,” said McKinney. “There were no arguments or debates, because any boss could be shown anything at any time.”

Since then, McKinney has focused on the use of technology on the construction site, and he now runs ConAppGuru, which provides presentations and services for companies on the subject. Last week, he hosted a webinar on the evolution of technology in the construction industry and where it’s headed.

In the presentation, McKinney gave a quick rundown on the history of construction technology, starting with the abacus in 2000 BC, moving to the level in 880 AD and then on to the modern age of computers, handheld calculators, fax machines and mobile phones.

Now, he says, you can take a picture of a work issue, whether it’s regarding safety or a product defect, and send it back to the office. “These mobile devices have taken us to another level,” he said. “They’ve cut the chains from the desk” for project managers and foremen.

But it’s about much more than just pictures, McKinney explained.

He focused on a number of different tools in technology that are being utilized and have the potential to be even more beneficial to the trade in the future.

McKinney talked about iBeacons, which are low-energy, small Bluetooth-enabled boxes that transmit location information from users. He explored some of the ways the device could be implemented on the construction site, such as allowing companies to track employees and material.

“What if there’s a structural collapse?” he said, as an example. “You have 145 people on the project. You can look at the device and say, ‘I see two dots on Level 2.’” At that point, employees could be located and identified immediately.

He also noted the “big brother” aspect of iBeacons, which could be used to track employee location for time management.

McKinney touched on drones, which can not only provide information unattainable by the naked eye—via flyovers, for instance—but also carry a safety benefit. Drones can be used to take a look at up-high places and “get eyes on it without risking human injury.”

Laser scanning was another focus in his presentation, as the technology can give exact measurements of items in the field. He said the future of laser scanning is its coordination with BIM models in real time.

McKinney advised companies to embrace “the cloud,” which can provide real-time access to data. He referred to “connected trailers,” which can serve as a technology hub on site and are able to share information to the office, architects, etc.

He also discussed the benefits of “wearable” technology, as well as the potential in being able to download software on demand.

The implementation of new technologies will take time, but McKinney said the best way to vet which ones will work for a certain company is simply to try them out. When asked about that during the Q&A session, he encouraged companies to form a technology committee of employees with different levels of experience and knowledge on the topic.

“You want to pick out some superintendents, some project managers,” he said. “Pick out people who are good with technology, and pick out people who are bad with technology. Because everyone has different life experiences. … and once you get that core group that understands the tools and technology, then they can start being the champions to get everybody else on the same page.”

Nick St. Denis is the assistant editor of USGlass magazine.

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