Accelerate Autonomous Operations With Reality Capture

The autonomous jobsite is quickly moving from a theoretical concept to a business imperative.
By Troy Dahlin
August 2, 2022

Construction executives have discussed the autonomous jobsite for years, and it is quickly moving from a theoretical concept to a business imperative.

While other industries, such as manufacturing and mining, have automated large parts of their operations in recent years, market pressures such as the skilled worker shortage and increased costs have helped put the construction industry on the cusp of increased autonomy.

In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised. The construction industry has long needed new, automated solutions. While other industries have used automation for increasingly specified and repetitive tasks, working conditions change daily on most construction sites.

The autonomous jobsite presents opportunities for everyone involved. Automation increases productivity by coordinating people, products and precious resources—which can improve the bottom line for business owners.

Data is the foundation for an autonomous worksite

The fully autonomous worksite requires intelligence, and successful intelligence requires the ongoing collection of data. The information workers collect at every project phase is the foundation of autonomous operations.

While it’s fair to say most business owners look at autonomous operations for their ability to improve productivity and efficiency, perhaps even more important is the potential to help make jobsites safer. Construction executives must also ensure autonomous operations help keep workers safe, eliminating jobsite mishaps and ensuring the longer-term safety of a project’s construction.

Adopting new technologies often leads to reconfiguring the value chain, resources and the talent needed to execute. When crews operate autonomous machines, they can complete more complex work.

Autonomy reduces human errors

Many contractors look at automation as the remedy to overcome rising costs, whether material costs, inflation or hiring new workers amid the ongoing skilled labor shortage.

Arguably, the most significant benefit of automation is the potential to reduce the likelihood of human error exponentially. Such errors can also lead to unanticipated costs.

Consider how automation can help with the collection and reporting of survey data. To complete this traditionally cumbersome process, surveyors would collect information using cell phone photos or with hand-written notes. Then, teams would manually enter this data into their software of choice. Every step of this process presented the opportunity to increase the risk of errors.

The construction inspection process is the lynchpin of ensuring teams maintain quality and follow contracts. Using digital as-builts during construction inspection enhances safety and quality while saving time and money.

Eliminate the silos

Silos are bad for business, limiting what can be achieved and accomplished. Manual processes tend to create silos—often unintentionally. Information that is integrated seamlessly into a system reduces the potential for human error during data collection and eliminates silos.

Consider an inspector using an automated tool such as a rover to collect data. The tool empowers inspectors to perform their tasks faster and more accurately while automatically associating the information with the data collected during an inspection.

Additionally, inspectors don’t need to verify surveyors’ data, giving an added layer of confidence in accuracy.

Automation offers peace of mind

Traditionally, the paper-intensive construction industry’s widespread deployment of technology has been slow. Users may be the biggest hurdles in moving to a fully autonomous jobsite.

As new and younger workers join the ranks and the industry evolves, any hesitation or resistance to technology adoption will probably further subside.

While some legacy operators have resisted fully embracing new technology, an increasing number of workers on the jobsite are already working with robots, machinery and equipment. Embracing technology is the first step in the autonomous revolution.

Practical and easy-to-use applications such as fully autonomous mobile reality capture and automating machinery such as excavators are already helping workers embrace technology. Many companies already use reality capture tools on the jobsite, including drones, aerial mapping and digital cameras.

It will take the deployment of popular, emerging autonomous tools that make projects safer to bring about the fully autonomous jobsite. Teams will more frequently use GPS rovers and laser scanners to collect data, complete calculations, verify quality control and document progress.

Long before the pandemic, many contractors increased technology adoption and deployment. The widespread use of technology is significant because it positively impacts every aspect of the jobsite.

These applications lead to critical benefits throughout a project. By using reality capture tools, owners and their teams can improve how they track work progress, manage schedules, stay on budget and improve the quality of their projects.

Autonomy on the jobsite provides peace of mind for everyone, from the back-office worker to the project manager to the business owner. Autonomy enables seamless interaction and lowers the likelihood of human errors, ensuring the work teams execute on the jobsite mesh with the project’s plans.

Automation inspires confidence

Construction executives often focus on the real-world practical applications of new technology. They rightly want to safeguard resources and ensure they realize a return on their investments.

No industry—let alone an individual business—should turn to technology just because there is an opportunity to do so. Teams must use technology wisely to make jobs easier and safer and ensure their completion on budget and according to plan.

Real-time data capture impacts nearly every aspect of the construction process, including estimating and bidding, construction, and completing and verifying a project.

Errors and accidents are costly, from the expense of fixing a mishap to the lost time to the potential loss of life. Contractors have endless information at their fingertips. They must harness the tools and technology to interpret it to make the world and the jobsite as safe as possible.

by Troy Dahlin
Troy Dahlin serves as the vice president for the Heavy Construction Segment of Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, in North America. He is responsible for the growth of the business through increased sales and market share. Prior to joining Hexagon, Dahlin served in senior leadership roles with construction firms in the Northwest United States where he oversaw business plans, staffing, budgets, financial reporting, negotiations, and other business management activities.

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