The construction industry is in a state of transition, with many small, family-owned companies handing down their business to a younger, digitally native generation of workers. Even contractors that aren’t facing generational leadership changes are facing a labor shortage that is plaguing the industry, with not enough trained workers to meet demand.
As part of this transition, concrete companies like New Jersey-based ASW Concrete & Masonry and Pennsylvania-based Roc-Hard Construction, are embracing the digital transformation, moving away from manual processes to more advanced technology solutions. Today’s concrete layout professionals have a variety of tools and techniques at their fingertips, including hardware such as robotic total stations, rapid positioning technology, global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), and 3D scanners, as well as software that integrates the data from these tools and is easily accessible in the field via tablets.
Embracing the Digital Transformation
In recent years, advancements in technology have dramatically improved construction layout. Taking a natural step beyond the capabilities of the total stations of previous decades, a robotic total station reduces the opportunity for human error and frees up layout professionals for other, higher priority work. Controlled remotely using a tablet or controller, one person can handle even the most complex layout tasks without needing to be a trained survey professional. Advanced 3D models also provide powerful visualization options, such as photographic documentation and augmented reality-style overlays. The utility of these tools is enhanced by layout software solutions designed specifically for building contractors for true connectivity between the office and the field.
Scanning technology has also evolved to the point where it is easy for professionals with little or no scanning expertise to scan a job site and produce a comprehensive multi-station view of the entire work area. 3D scanners can deliver dense point clouds with color images of the space. Recent innovations enable the work to be reviewed and produced right in the field on a tablet as each scan is collected. This data is also recorded in the system, making it easy for contractors to go back and review the scans and ensure greater accountability for their work.
These tools are often used for quality assurance and quality control before and during the pouring of concrete. Contractors can put anchor bolts or embeds in place and then check them before they pour concrete. They can evaluate the flatness of the floor and measure the whole area quickly in a matter of seconds before the concrete sets. As concrete is poured, adjustments can be made on the fly using these tools to make sure everything is level and that the right amount of concrete is poured, which helps save money and eliminate waste.
Scanners can also be used to capture what is in the concrete before it is set, creating a digital record. This way, if someone wants to install a new pipe later on, they will know where all the reinforcing steel and post-tensioning cables are and can easily avoid drilling in the wrong location.
Scanning today isn’t just for the big firms, many small- and mid-size firms are able to more affordably use 3D scanning technology in their workflows because the same construction software for layout on the jobsite is also used with RTS and GNSS instruments. Using desktop software, data preparation can be done prior to going into the field and if there are multiple crews, they can all access the same data and then send it back to the office to check the work.
Putting Digital Tools into Action
All of these digital tools are providing faster, more accurate layout and streamlined workflows for concrete contractors like ASW Concrete & Masonry, Roc-Hard Construction, and others.
ASW Concrete & Masonry is a high-volume residential concrete contractor that used to do layout with tape measures, string lines, and plumb lines. This process would typically take half a day and two people to complete. Using rapid positioning tools on a recent project, ASW workers were able to pin a footing from setup to finish in about an hour. The company’s layout crews streamlined the layout workflow and, more importantly, were able to ensure accuracy of the information and increase their point layout efficiency by nearly 300%.
Roc-Hard Construction, which is focused on commercial concrete foundations, would previously have survey crews come out and provide 20-foot offset of filming corners. The Roc-Hard team would then complete the layout using tape measures and old-style transits. Now, the company is doing everything off a tablet faster, more efficiently, and with more accuracy. For example, using a camera with live feed video, workers can now zoom into a half-inch anchor bolt, enlarge it to six inches, touch the center of the image and have the technology navigate them to within a 32nd of an inch of the exact location on the site. By integrating rapid positioning tools into their existing layout workflow, Roc-Hard has cut its layout task schedules by two-thirds.
While increasing productivity is a key benefit, these digital tools can also provide a competitive advantage. In many cases, small concrete firms integrate new scanning technology to help with productivity and find that it also allows them to win more work and be more proficient on the job site. Technology levels the playing field, enabling smaller firms to beat bigger competitors with more accurate bids and the ability to execute more efficiently.
New, digital tools are helping to seamlessly integrate construction workflows and provide layout professionals with access to constructible 3D models created by designers and detailers along with all the corresponding metadata. This data-driven approach empowers layout professionals to move beyond manual processes and leverage technology advances to meet the demands of increasingly complex projects, all while working faster and with unprecedented accuracy.
Bryan Williams is Segment Manager, Field Technologies Group at Trimble Buildings.