As the economy continues to rebound, infrastructure investments and building are on the rise. More contracts are going to bid, creating new opportunities for construction companies, but clients have become more demanding than in the past that projects be completed on time and on budget. In addition to asking for real-time data around schedule, budget and completion rates, customers increasingly want to see design files as well. Contractors and construction business owners are no strangers to these pressures or the struggle to meet those demands. On average, large projects take 20-percent longer to finish than the estimated timeline and often end up running 80 percent over budget.
Construction companies are under pressure to do more with fewer resources in an industry where margins are already razor-thin and they’re faced with rising labor and material costs. Construction materials saw a nearly 5-percent rise in costs from early 2016 to 2017—the highest yearly increase in 5 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because labor and material expenses are somewhat beyond construction companies’ control, their greatest opportunity to manage costs and improve profits is through operational excellence.
Fortunately, advances in digital technologies are helping more companies keep project timelines and bottom lines on track. In particular, the use of telematics has skyrocketed across the industry as more owners realized the cost, efficiency and safety benefits telematics and emerging technology bring to their businesses. Teletrac Navman’s 2017 Telematics Benchmark Survey: Global Construction Edition found 80 percent of organizations already use telematics or are planning to do so within the next year.
Real-Time Data Improves Site Operations, Efficiency & Safety
Inefficiencies plague many construction sites. A massive amount of direct labor time is spent waiting for materials and equipment, traveling to construction sites and planning work, often leaving heavy equipment idle. Construction fleets don’t lack for data, but if it isn’t available in real-time to everyone from on-site workers to managers and executives, this leads to asset mismanagement and delays. Staying on time, on budget and improving margins is all about making sure you have the right equipment, right materials and right people all together at the right place and time. Telematics and a more connected workflow gives you the insight needed to do this. Automating data collection saves labor costs and time, and consolidating all data into a single interface through telematics streamlines leads to improved project management and better decision-making across a team, essential for general contractors in charge of managing budgets and allocating resources.
According to the Teletrac Navman report, 75 percent of construction owners use telematics for equipment tracking, which provides data on when and how much each machine on their jobsites is used. If a machine is idle, telematics systems can automatically notify managers, alerting them to the issue and allowing for swift redeployment. On the other hand, perhaps operators are overworking machines: in this case, telematics helps managers see how adding an additional machine or a different type of machine could get the job done faster or better. Over time, telematics data patterns help construction owners invest or divest in equipment to arrive at the best number and type of assets for optimal productivity.
Telematics also provides practical insights around machine maintenance. In the Teletrac Navman report, nearly 100 percent of organizations experience unexpected equipment failure each year, and 75 percent of those say unexpected equipment failure affects around 11 percent of their equipment each year. Since even one piece of malfunctioning equipment can delay a project until it is fixed or replaced, it’s easy to see how equipment failure has the potential to rapidly derail a project’s timeline and budget.
Staying on top of maintenance schedules and tracking equipment use is challenging, but using telematics to provide real-time data about machines enables companies to have complete visibility across all their jobsites. A telematics system tracks usage automatically, keeping tabs on how the equipment is running and notifying managers when it’s time for a scheduled service. This gives them the ability to plan and schedule on-time maintenance, resulting in reduced unplanned downtime. Proactively servicing and catching performance issues before problems arise are impactful ways to curb budget-busting inefficiency.
Safety is another major reason why companies invest in telematics, and according to the study, nearly one-third of companies using telematics technology report fewer accidents. By understanding at-risk driver or operator behavior through trends in the telematics data, a company can intervene ahead of time. This not only gives managers the chance to address and correct potentially dangerous equipment use in real-time, it also provides insight into use patterns that can inform future training programs and safety protocols. Improved safety also helps profitability, as accidents lead to fines and poor safety ratings, possibly excluding a company from future bids.
Emerging Technologies Help Speed up Projects & Lower Costs
When asked about their plans for employing emerging technologies in their workplaces, respondents showed the most enthusiasm for fatigue monitoring tools (27 percent) and machine vision technology (19 percent), as they believe these tools will have the greatest impact on business operations and safety.
This isn’t a surprise considering workplace injuries and fatalities are a serious problem, with The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reporting one in 10 construction site workers are injured every year. Despite the pressure they’re under to increase profits, construction businesses also need to prioritize safety. That’s why many organizations are starting to use emerging technology to help curb the threat of workplace injury, often resulting in fewer safety violations and accidents.
Newer wearables and other sensor devices track several safety-related metrics, such as how long a worker has been on a job or a worker’s whereabouts, especially in remote areas. In the future, wearable devices may even be able to measure how much a worker is lifting and how much water they’ve consumed to determine whether they’re staying properly hydrated.
Of the 62 percent of organizations who say they are considering employing emerging technologies, just 9 percent report that autonomous vehicles and 16 percent say drones are top of mind. However, some companies have already begun to see the benefits of being on the cutting edge of new technology, especially when it comes to speeding up a project’s workflow. For example, drones with preprogrammed flight plans can be used to capture job progress data quickly, making them a faster, cheaper option for tasks like site safety walkthroughs or producing paper-based reports, both of which requires time and human resources. Drones can also be used to do inspections for facilities management once the building has been finished.
Workers should not be expected to adopt new technology overnight; they’ll need help incorporating new them into their workflows. But as construction executives and managers examine how to keep their businesses competitive in an increasingly demanding environment, it’s clear emerging technologies have a major role to play in their success.
Investing in Technology Pays for Itself
Technology has become a necessary competitive advantage, and its cost-to-entry has dropped significantly due to lower costs of cloud-based software and equipment like cameras and drones. Although most organizations already use telematics or plan to, those who have no immediate plans to implement telematics cite cost as their main concern. However, nearly four out of five respondents using telematics say they can “quantify their revenue impact.” This proves telematics is a sound investment with an easily quantified ROI, especially when tracking important business metrics like asset utilization, billing accuracy and employee hours, and in meeting increasing client demands without compromising profit margins.