5 Technologies for Lean Construction

In recent articles we’ve discussed how technology can help reduce waste and increase productivity. In this article we’ll discuss some specific technologies that can be applied to a lean methodology to help your construction business become more productive and thrive.

Here are five ways that technology can help you become leaner in planning stages and during the course of construction work.

 1.) Cloud-based management software

For starters, if you don’t have construction project management software in place, then it’s likely that your projects are suffering from productivity problems related to coordination, communication, and recordkeeping. Having to go back and forth between different, unconnected databases or spreadsheets duplicates effort and wastes time. Planning is also less agile and responsive to changing conditions.

Despite being absolutely essential for all companies, some may have aversions to web-based software due to concerns with confidentiality. Companies will ask themselves, “Is the cloud keeping our data safe?”

The basic standard is to employ end-to-end encryption, which means that unless someone has a username and password provided to them, they’re not getting into your data. It’s also argued that cloud data is safer than traditional servers since they are not as vulnerable to local conditions and hazards, like flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. With cloud-based location, the data is dispersed, backed up, and protected.

Real time data lets you react immediately to on-site issues. Having a cloud, or web-based system gives you real-time data, accessible from anywhere to help your company reduce costs and save on wasted efforts.

2.) Using VDC to create BIM

A lean process can be initiated from the very beginning of a project starting with the design phase. Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) is a process that uses software to create 3-dimensional computer models infused with a 360 degree informational view to provide your project more with salience and visual power.  The product of this process is called BIM, or Building Information Model. It incorporates basic material attributes like length, width and height, and pairs them with factors like manufacturers, availability and size, etc. The model is dynamic in the sense that if one factor changes, then the affected factors respond and adjust. Other factors, such as time (4D) and cost (5D), are integrated in order to provide a truly holistic picture.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  -- Abraham Lincoln

In other words, the more time you spend planning, the less actual work you’ll have to do. This is exactly what lean construction is about, and how VDC can help you achieve those goals.

3.) New Realities: Augmented and Virtual

Augmented reality is equipment that interacts with reality, giving users more information about something that already exists. One such example is the Daqri helmet which includes a screen providing real-time information laid over real world machinery, tools, or structures. On a construction site, it could be used to provide users with how-to instructions, or general safety and environmental information. Among the possibilities for this kind of helmet is a leaner training or onboarding process, providing foremen with general reference information, or immediate hands free communication with on-site workers. An added bonus is making wearing safety helmets fun!

Virtual reality is a tool that lets users interact with a virtual model of a space or worksite. The advantage of VR is that it puts people together in one place to test or view a perhaps necessary and time-sensitive condition, without them having to be geographically present. This means that difficult and competing schedules can be more easily aligned. It can also save time and money by preventing instances of rework since all the right eyes are making sure a plan is being carried out correctly. It can also improve safety, lower labor costs, and help you meet your timelines.

4.) The bionic men vs. the robots

Bionics are here and are already helping to increase productivity in some enterprises. This technology began in the military and has moved into the private sector. Some items currently available are exoskeletons for strength, gesturing technology for drones, and wearables to help mitigate inclement conditions (heat/cold) (see #5). Using bionic equipment can help reduce downtime, prevent injury, enhance reach, and empower your work-site with supermen and women.

Robot labor is also becoming more available and can help enhance your workforce in other ways. Labor shortages can cause stress and delays on a project, but with robot labor capable of simple repetitive tasks, your workers can focus on more complex and challenging objectives that will keep your project moving forward.

5.) Sensors and wearables

Sensors are usually passive wearables, like Fitbits®, that monitor some aspect of an individual’s physical condition. Such technology can notify you when someone is pushing themselves too hard, or even having a heart attack. They can provide health data specific to the hazards of the work site, which helps keep safety standards high and incidents low. It’s not uncommon for some of your more dedicated folks to push themselves through an injury which can cause further problems down the road. Rather than worrying about the condition of your workforce, you can know how things are going from a centralized location.

Other kinds of wearables can aid in extreme hot or cold conditions, like vests that react to keep bodies at the right temperature; kinetically rechargeable boots, to notify management of a worker’s location or if someone has fallen on site; and smart caps to monitor brain waves in cases where microsleep, a detectable condition in which the mind temporarily falls asleep while the person looks awake, can be a hazard. Having this kind of technology creates potential for improved productivity by reducing injury, and optimizing communication throughout a project.

Get lean with technology

Many firms have already introduced process improvement or lean methodology, but it’s clear that new technologies like those above are providing additional avenues for productivity. It’s important to be on the lookout for new developments, but also to keep in mind that you should have a clear strategy for integrating them. Whether it’s about acquiring new management software, or robotic machinery, you’ll have to have a strategy in place first. As with other industries, the introduction of innovative technology could propel exponential growth. By developing a technology strategy early, you will save time and effort, and set yourself up to profit from future growth.


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