Digital Transformation: How Construction Equipment Is Changing

Digital transformation is here—and it is changing construction equipment and the jobsite. Construction professionals will be working side-by-side with intelligent equipment that provides the data to help make decisions on projects and keep the jobsite safer.

This comes as digital transformation in general is on the upswing. A recent report from IDC shows that worldwide spending on the technologies and services that enable the digital transformation of business practices, products, and organizations is forecast to be more than $1.1 trillion in 2018, which is an increase of 16.8 percent.

One of the use cases that is expected to see the fastest spending growth during the forecast period is robotic construction, according to the research.

“New technology such as robotics and drones do away with the need to move a human to heights to perform some tasks,” explains Tim Whiteman, CEO, International Powered Access Federation (IPFA).

When looking at which areas will see the greatest growth, he explains that today new tilt and load-sensing alarms in mobile elevating work platforms (MEWP) are likely to be introduced. At the same time, smart technology is playing a part, enabling equipment to be connected.

Today, machines are becoming more intelligent, offering insights into projects and helping to create a safer jobsite for workers.

Training for New Technology

Technology on equipment can help in a number of different ways: it can guard against unauthorized operation and can also log machine use. Telematics and geofencing can prevent machines from going missing or being operated in an area of a jobsite that is prohibited.

Whiteman explains that this can help fleet operators manage their equipment more efficiently. The challenge is this new technology in the cab or platform can take operators more time to familiarize themselves with specific machines, and there can be confusion when switching between machines.

“Additionally, older machines may look the same or very similar to a newer machine with different functionality or alarm/safety systems that might cause the platform to stop working if exceeding allowable tilt angles or platform load rating,” he says.

To help, he recommends operator training, which can be done in a number of different formats such as a classroom setting, eLearning, or virtual reality simulators.

Beyond the equipment itself, Whiteman points to a number of other new technologies that has an impact on machine operations. Here are just a few examples:

  • BIM models of MEWPs are now available in global libraries.
  • Augmented and virtual reality apps and platform simulators are being applied.
  • Robotics, telematics, and drones offer automated and remote alternatives to lifting a person to perform some tasks.

Still, he says for now powered access is still the safest way of conducting work at heights. “The capabilities and reach of MEWPs are also improving all the time, with some platforms now able to reach well in excess of 300 feet in height.”

While this is one specific example of how the digital transformation is impacting the construction jobsite, all machines are advancing, as are the different technologies that support them.

One example is Volvo Co-Pilot and the intelligent machine services such as Load Assist and Dig Assist to help support machine advancements. Also, concept machines such as the HX2, which is an autonomous, battery-electric, load carrier, show that Volvo CE is advancing in three key areas: electromobility, connectivity, and automation.

“Technology is impacting the design of the cab as well as how we manage the operator interface to incorporate that new technology, such as the tablet computer that’s part of Volvo co-pilot,” says Scott Young, director of electromobility, Volvo Construction Equipment. “Integrating the technology in a good way is extremely important. At Volvo, we have developed a comfortable cab that supports the operator and helps to improve efficiency.”

With all this new technology, operator training becomes a big part of getting the most out of a piece of equipment.

Creating a Safer Construction Site

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of all this new, emerging technology is that it helps create a safer jobsite, giving construction professionals the tools needed to work in a way that is safer—in some cases even taking the worker out of the dangerous situation.

This is essential too, as there were 683 crashes in highway work zones across America in 2016, which resulted in a total of 765 fatalities. Of the deaths, 143 were members of the work crew in the zone.

Working in highway construction projects can be dangerous, with the truck-mounted attenuator truck driver being one of the most dangerous, according to Samantha Schwartz, marketing and business development manager, Royal Truck & Equipment.

To help, Royal Truck & Equipment distributes an autonomous truck that removes the driver from the truck intended to be crashed into. At the same time, it also improves the performance of the truck in protecting the work crew in front of it.

“By our nature, humans have a self-preservation instinct,” explains Schwartz. “In practice a driver’s natural reaction to an oncoming vehicle is to flee away and protect themselves, thus exposing the work crew they are intended to protect from potential danger. With the ATMA truck, human instinct is removed, and the truck will remain in place to protect the workers.”

Looking inside the cab, the truck houses many technology add-ons. For instance, it has a camera package with DVR recording capabilities. With five cameras, workers can record nearly everything that is happening. Additionally, video can be captured and then saved on a solid-state drive located in the cab of the truck.

While saving lives is one of the cleared benefits, there are others that factor in as well. For instance, the smart-truck mounted generator means a company no longer needs to idle a truck to power lighting and accessories during operators. Secondly, equipping the generator to the truck reduces the fuel consumed.

Another popular add-on with this truck is a full matrix message board, which can function as both a message board and a radar board. It can display the speed of oncoming traffic alongside the posted speed limit. The result is slower traffic in work zones, which equates to a safer working environment, according to Schwartz.

But perhaps one safety aspect that is often overlooked in work zones is the communication between members of a team. In a recent study done by the Project Management Institute, roughly one out of every five projects is unsuccessful due to ineffective communications.

In a work zone, this can lead to setbacks in operations as well as personal injuries and deaths. Radio handsets can help, offering hands-free communication to teams.

“Being able to speak in real time with everyone on the jobsite is an invaluable aspect of a successful operation, not only in terms of meeting expectations, but also keeping members of your work crew safe,” concludes Schwartz.

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