Technology

Tech Implementation: The Devil Is in the Details

Adopting new technologies is rarely painless, and implementation carries costs most people overlook. It’s very likely the technology won’t work as planned the first time it’s put into practice, so construction firms should be prepared to overcome obstacles before enjoying any benefits. Learn from these real-life examples.
By Gerald Vogl
August 31, 2018
Topics
Technology

Adopting new technologies is rarely painless, and implementation carries costs most people overlook. It’s very likely the technology won’t work as planned the first time it’s put into practice, so construction firms should be prepared to overcome obstacles before enjoying any benefits. Learn from these real-life examples.

Equipment Roadblocks Lead to Delays

An estimator for a foundation contractor worked diligently for months on an opportunity to build the foundations for a pedestrian bridge in a major U.S. city. She successfully won the bid by using, in her words, “an engineered solution.”

The solution—specially constructed helical anchors instead of micro piles—seemed simple enough. Per the plan, they were cheaper, faster and avoided closing major throughways for extended periods during the construction process. They had been used before, and the client’s engineers signed off on the design. At the time of winning the bid, it appeared to be a win-win situation for all involved.

But the reality of implementing this technology was a different story.

Only one hydraulic drive existed that could install the engineered helical piles, and it was designed for use on a specific model excavator. Renting the drive was already in the plan, but no machine specifics were given. The first excavator provided for the job wouldn’t work with the drive, so two engineers had to find a different model that could be used (one week lost). Then it took another week to find the appropriate model without spending $100,000 for transportation and rent.

At this point, the project was two weeks behind, and the original $35,000 budget for this stage was significantly exceeded.

Installing the drive on the new excavator was straightforward, although it did require an engineer familiar with the drive to return at the construction company’s expense (costing approximately $3,500).

With the drive installed and the materials onsite, installation of the helical piling went smoothly until the third day, when one piling encountered refusal depth way short of meeting the design depth, and then another one never reached the required torque at full depth. The engineers needed two weeks to study the possible consequences, including additional soil samples and fees to cover the analysis.

More issues arose with the proximity to and crossing of a railroad with the more massive excavator, and for finding a welder with the proper certification for attaching the support structures to the helical piling.

In the end, this three-week job ran more than six months behind schedule. The total cost of overruns and the legal consequences are still up in the air, as the work isn’t complete yet.

The moral of the story is that implementation plans must be painfully detailed and identify all potential contingencies. Keep in mind that when a plan is truly comprehensive, including performing equipment tests such as driving test piles offsite before commencing the project, the immediate savings of using the new technology usually evaporates.

Consider what long-term advantages will be achieved through learning and adopting new technologies before deciding to approve them.
It’s mostly luck if the firm makes money on the first use.

For example, on the aforementioned pedestrian bridge project, the equipment provider ended up establishing a long-term discounted rate for the foundation firm’s future rentals, and the general contractor awarded the company additional projects. Over the long term, this firm may make money from experimenting with this new technology, but certainly not on the first job.

Seeing Something on a Report Doesn’t Automatically Make It Right

A construction business owner was obsessively relentless about using a new work order system. Nothing in the company got done without a work order, including holding a meeting. On the face of it, management could review what everyone was working on or was scheduled to do. Everyone looked very busy because their calendars were full.

The dilemma was this level of activity wasn’t reflected in the weekly billings. As it turned out, the average ticket took three minutes to complete (mostly phone calls), but every ticket was assigned 30 minutes. That means 16 tickets were required to fill someone’s calendar for what took, on average, only three minutes per ticket (or 48 minutes a day).

Incredulous as it may seem, this discrepancy wasn’t apparent to management. The staff was very good at appearing busy and had, in fact, developed an ethic of working to get through tickets quickly rather than focusing on quality.

The takeaway from this situation is: Don’t take information at “screen” value.

Analysis and feedback are critical even if it appears like everything is working correctly.

Keep in mind, a perfect and flawless implementation may not be achieved even with relentless planning and analysis, but the effort can surely result in saving time and money when the unexpected does happen.

by Gerald Vogl

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