Constructing the Highway of the Future

Smart cars, self driving cars, and flying cars are all part of the future of transportation. As these evolve, so too will the highways.

There is a push to digitize highway construction and repair for smoother and faster project completion. With highway construction, the jobsite is semi-permanent and usually mobile and the project typically doesn’t last as long as some other construction projects. The technologies available for this type of job can improve the project.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has laid out its FAST act plan for funds to be allocated to road projects for the next four years. In 2017 alone, $850 million has been set aside. With such a high amount of funds available to the nation for projects, having a smoother jobsite and using technology can help contractors get more work.

Driving Factors

The reasons for using new and more technology on a highway jobsite are not necessarily new to the construction industry.

Richard Humphrey, vice president of marketing, B2W Software, says, “It comes down to a few challenges, from an infrastructure standpoint; there is demand to build them, but the supply isn’t there to build. The need for technology comes from we are building the same way we did 100 years ago. There are lots of inefficiencies and paper trails. The agencies coming out with demands and mandates are driving the need for technology. (There is) the Federal Highway Administration e-construction push for electronic plans and projects; and the need to digitize highway projects.”

Danielle Dy Buncio, LEED AP president, VIATechnik LLC, concurs. Dy Buncio says, “Stagnant and potentially declining productivity is a major industrywide problem that we cannot begin to fix until we, as an industry, embrace the efficient use of technology. Connected devices on jobsites have the ability to make a huge impact on improving productivity through efficient data collection and enhanced communication.”

Implementation Strategies

The technology can help fix inefficiencies and productivity, but first contractors need to be open to learning the emerging technology solutions and implementing them on the jobsite.

Humphrey explains the challenge to adopt the technology and the productivity from of the new solutions up to this point in time has been essentially flat because of slow adoption.

He says, ….”We need to adopt the technology to close the generation gap. The feeling of if it’s not broken, why should I fix it. If you’re at the end of your career why would you adopt it? The newer generation adopts technology.”

Humphrey continues saying mobile technology and applications are being used by both more experience construction workers and younger workers. “The tech companies have to have tech that is easy to train, learn, and adopt. Mobile apps need to be able to be used offline, a lot of times a highway project is in tunnels where they lose connectivity.”

“Technology adoption is really about people, process, and product. Many people focus on the product or technology side of this equation. But a strong understanding of the team's dynamic, skills sets, and willingness to change, as well as the workflows on a project and within an organization is required to facilitate technology adoption,” Dy Buncio says. Being aware of your employee’s habits and work styles can help a team adopt new technology to have a streamlined workflow on the jobsite.

When taking the leap to digitize your workflow, knowing the benefits can help transition your employees and make it worthwhile to everyone.

Humphrey says one benefit is increased productivity. If you leverage tech and change how contractors work, you can make more money as a contractor. You can make your projects more predictable, timely, and productive. If you can give your contractors access to data in realtime, they will be more productive. The workflow from the field to office and back is improved. The type of data they get from the site is a larger quantity and higher quality; they are able to make coordinated decisions that are more efficient.

Dy Buncio adds, “The benefits of connected devices on the jobsite stem back to productivity and efficiency. Being able to pull up our BIM on a tablet allows us to build from that 3D model. Being able to sync design changes or RFIs, so the jobsite worker always has the most current data is reducing field mistakes and rework.”

What’s Ahead

Having access to data is important when doing highway construction. This type of jobsite usually has to bend to weather changes, asphalt cannot be put down in the rain, and extreme heat can slow progress. Having all the jobsite and workflow information in a digital format that can be updated instantly will help the overall job.

After seeing the advantages that come from utilizing this tech, contractors need to be aware of some overall market trends for the future. Humphrey says, “They need to get up to speed on what technology is out there. It’s all about the data. The key tech they want to look for is how they will manage the data. All this technology has given them more data than ever. They need to look around the market for the right partner. The industry is one of the last ones to digitize. They should be demanding technology solutions for their own sector.”

Dy Buncio says it is important to understand the top line and bottom line impact of certain technologies. There is a lot of momentum right now in the construction technology sector, so it's important to take a deep look at the options out there, and to quickly access the impact it could have and the value it could bring to your organization. And that answer is different depending on your organizations set-up, strategy, and market.

As more highway projects come about, having the right technology at the jobsite will ensure the highest output and smoothest projects. The contractors that make the most of the new technology available to them will be at the forefront of construction jobsite innovations.

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