Teaming Up to Trace COVID-19: Gilbane and Triax Technologies

Gilbane Building Company prides itself on being a simultaneously safety-minded and data-driven company. So, when the coronavirus struck, the team quickly realized they needed to leverage technology to help employees maintain social distance.
By A. Vincent Vasquez
December 17, 2020

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Editor’s Note: This article is the ninth in the Construction Tech Talks series, highlighting technology trends and digital transformations from the perspective of industry leaders. Conducted by Vince Vasquez, founder and CEO at PrecisionStory, this valuable enterprise takes the form of both an audio interview with a forward-thinking, tech-savvy CEO and an accompanying article that seek to illustrate how to leverage complex technology via the exploration of successful use cases.

Gilbane Building Company prides itself on being a simultaneously safety-minded and data-driven company. So, when the coronavirus struck, Gilbane CIO Jason Pelkey and his team quickly realized they needed to leverage technology to help ensure individuals at a Gilbane jobsite kept six feet of social distance. They knew the manual alternative of having someone walk around trying to spot people working too closely together was a nonstarter, especially on larger sites.

Facilitating contact tracing represented yet another challenge for Pelkey and his team. The lack of a fixed work area at a typical jobsite meant that an infected individual might come into contact with any number of people. This was an especially important problem to solve—not only to help reduce the spread of the virus, but also because, without the precise data, a case of COVID-19 infection would lead to an extended shutdown of an entire site. Looking for a solution to these complex challenges, Pelkey turned to Triax Technologies.

Triax Technologies’ CEO Robert Costantini and his team also understood the new challenges facing contractors. In fact, Costantini estimates that, on average, it costs a contractor $770K per week for a single site closure due to a COVID-19 infection: expenses add up quickly with delays in schedule completion, remobilization of subcontractors and cleaning costs.

Understanding the need to help contractors respond to these COVID-19 challenges, Costantini and his team brought their proximity trace solution to market, which leverages their existing Spot-r “Internet of Things” platform.

With the proximity trace solution in place, everyone who enters a protected jobsite is issued a pager-sized device that either clips onto a shirt or mounts to a hardhat. If anyone comes within six feet of another person wearing the device, a beeping alert occurs that increases in volume with proximity. Workers can silence the alert for up to five minutes with the push of a button should they have to perform a task (for a short duration) that requires less than six feet of distance.

In addition, the proximity trace platform provides the data needed to enable efficient contact tracing, as it keeps a tracked web of each person other wearers come into close contact with throughout a site, allowing for a quick alert system should a worker test positive.

Additionally, data from the Spot-r platform can be employed to aid in direct cleaning efforts. For instance, if an infected person only worked on two floors of a 50-story skyscraper project, those areas where the individual worked need to be deep cleaned—not the whole skyscraper.

That said, when Pelkey and his team first piloted the proximity trace solution, the new technology was met with a degree of skepticism given some obvious privacy concerns.

Pelkey was able to reassure workers that privacy was being protected because the proximity trace uses a local wireless technology rather than GPS, so it only tracks wearers when at the jobsite. In addition, wearers are assigned number IDs, which only get matched to the individual’s personal information in the case of an infection and follow-up contact tracing. With these clarifications—along with the convenience of wearing the device mounted on hardhats—workers quickly embraced the technology, understanding it is another tool Gilbane has deployed to help keep everyone safer.

That said, Pelkey quickly found other use cases for the Spot-r technology. For instance, the device is being used to electronically allow entry into a jobsite.

Pelkey and his team are also using the data to find bottlenecks in their workflow. For example, they can see if long queues occur to enter a hoist, which reduces overall productivity. Or, as another example, they can track if workers are making multiple trips to laydown areas to retrieve materials, which could imply a need to relocate materials .

Today, Gilbane successfully deploys Triax solutions at 22 jobsites nationwide. At a high level, Pelkey thinks it all comes down to gaining access to the right data to transform the way the construction industry has operated for the past 150 years. He acknowledges the industry is still in early days, as are solutions to COVID-19; but, he’s excited to see how technology is helping to improve both safety and productivity efficiencies at Gilbane’s jobsites, improving the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Visit CE’s other online articles, “Q&A With Matt Abeles: Labor & Productivity Tracking” or its monthly installment of “Construction Technology and Software Rundown” for other new and innovative jobsite technology solutions.

by A. Vincent Vasquez

Vince Vasquez has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise sales, marketing and engineering. Working with 20 industry leaders, he is the co-author of Precision Construction, which teaches the fundamentals of IoT with a focus on the construction industry. He is also the co-founder and CEO of PrecisionStory, which brings Precision Storytelling—a new and innovative approach to enterprise storytelling—to market. Vince has an MBA from Stanford University, an MS in Computer Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. 

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