Interview: Giving construction machinery a brain
By Andy BrownDecember 21, 2020
The topic of construction technology is so large, encompasses so many different areas such as BIM, electric and hybrid power, drones, automation and remote control that it can be difficult to know where to start. This is why it can be good to get back to basics and reiterate the importance that those in the industry embrace it.
On the subject of technology in the construction industry Scott Crozier, vice president, Trimble Civil Engineering and Construction, states that, “If you’re not using technology in five years, you’re not going to be able to be competitive.”
Crozier accepts that in the beginning it was the larger contractors that were the ‘innovators’ and adopted construction technology, but says that the tide is now beginning to turn and increasing amounts of smaller contractors are embracing it. “We see a big gap at the smaller contractor level, between those that don’t believe in it and those that realise they are not going to be in business if they don’t invest in it.”
New technology does require investment – both financially and emotionally. For any business, changing the way that it operates, and has operated for years, or even decades, requires a degree of courage. However, if construction technology is implemented properly than it can save businesses both time and money.
Of course, there are some companies in construction that have adopted this technology for some time.
In terms of ‘advanced’ geographical regions Crozier picks out Australia, parts of the US, and Norway and Sweden as having a high degree of these companies and says that these firms have seen an increase in efficiency and are now looking for what the next gains are.
“Those that have been using digital construction tools for a period of time, now they’re onto data-driven and analytics to help them help find additional efficiencies. You need those digital tools to be able to get the data. Now they’re running analysis on that data to find out areas where they could improve, help their future estimates and look for efficiencies to be gained in certain tasks and coordination of tasks that they’re working on.”
Construction data standardisation
One of the biggest issues for the adoption of technology in the industry is, regarding telematics, just how much data there is out there and – because it is produced by different technology companies and OEMs – how it doesn’t all speak to each other, it isn’t all compatible. Step forward ISO 15143.
This is an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) committee with the aim of standardising digital construction data. It is, concedes Crozier, absolutely vital.
“It’s a really important topic. Trimble does have its own proprietary protocol just like other digital technology providers for construction. The only way to succeed is going to be having a consistent data set, or at least an interoperable data set.”
Trimble is one of the companies working with the committee to produce a standard for digital construction in different tiers, starting with the basics of digital construction and then looking at connecting data file formats on a site, before eventually looking at the data required for automation.
Crozier is passionate about the importance of this saying, “There’s no doubt that it’s the fragmentation of the industry that is driving the inefficiencies. Creating a collaborative, standardised environment is where significant efficiencies are going to come from.”
As mentioned at the start of this article, construction technology is such a broad sector. With this in mind, is there one aspect of it that Crozier can highlight as being especially exciting? The answer is tied into artificial intelligence and Trimble’s WorksOS, which was launched at the Conexpo show.
The new launch is all about bring data together, something that Crozier says is key to the development of machine intelligence. Automation is available now, but the level of machine intelligence will increase from set parameters if the machines on a construction site have access to more data.
Intelligence is key in construction technology
“A robotic machine by itself is just a robot. It needs the intelligence to actually perform the task effectively,” he says.
“Let’s start to give intelligence on a workflow and then that intelligence is the first step to being able to enable autonomous construction. There’s a whole lot of things required to create robotic machines, but the intelligence is the key part, creating a machine that can stop when it sees something, can do the task it is told to do. That’s all possible. It’s giving the right information to a machine so it acts efficiently and effectively, that is the key.
“WorksOS will be the brain of a construction site. The aggregation of all this data coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms really start to step us towards enabling autonomy.
“The robot is not what’s holding us back at the moment, it’s the ability to provide real time intelligence.”