Review of ConExpo 2014

I hate to say I told you so, OK maybe I like to. I wrote an article for our ConEXPO edition of the magazine, In it, I mentioned some tools the progressive contractor could use to be more successful. Amazing what I saw when walking through the booths of the manufacturers. No need to get too detailed here, I just want to further define where our industry is headed.

Technology was everywhere. I know for some time there have been rovers displayed along with grade control systems on machines. That is not the point; this year the technology was front and center. Multimedia displays highlighted the application and integration of technology. We have all known of the advantages of machine control for some time now. The take home message from ConEXPO was the fact that machines have more electronic power than ever before, manufacturers want you to take full advantage of it.

For a moment, let’s look at what this will do for the contractor. Many of these concepts have undergoing growing pains and development over the past several years. The show came at a good time. All the lights are green and this stuff now works as advertised, don’t believe me? Just put any of the things I’m about to discuss to the test. I did and the future is very bright.

We know there are electronic monitoring points on all heavy equipment. We also have these on fleet vehicles and our personal vehicles. The service indicator notification on the touch screen of the family car alerts you when a combination of factors has been reached. The amount of high speed driving, idle time and stop and go traffic are monitored by the computer to give you the optimal service interval.

Your field tractors use this too, only a few years ago, the technician would hook a laptop to the port on the iron and read what needed to be done; just like the car. Fast forward and now a technician gets a warning from those stored on a web site page with the machines information. Parts availability is verified and you are contacted to set a time for one trip to the site to fix the machine. Industry reporting shows the number of one trip fixes has gone up dramatically when this process is followed.

The ability to see the job site progress in real time is a reality. As a former equipment operator, I may look at this like an imposition on my freedom. Thinking needs to change. Operators need to embrace the idea that this information will help to make them better operators and therefore worth more money and lower down the off-season layoff list. Will we someday see an operator efficiency rating that will follow you from job to job and make you a more valuable asset?

For a project manager or owner, the ability to see what is going on with a job so changes can be made on the fly is a huge advantage. For the past few years, we would stress the need for weekly reporting so the job could be fixed before all the wheels fell off the wagon. Now it can be done daily; big stuff.

Direct to field data transfer has become a way of life. It is very easy for us to log into a client’s network and transfer information to the machine and office computers. The information does not enter the work flow without approval from the operator and we always make notes with updates so there are no surprises in the dirt. Nobody likes to grade ten pads just to find out they are wrong when the new file comes in.

Robots and LIDAR
No need to make these, (and other similar tools) separate items. Positioning is the use of a corrected signal at the end of a cable, or Bluetooth signal. Ten years ago, a GPS rover was expensive. Prices went down and their use increased. With the prices coming down and previously expensive tools, contractors are taking notice. The reason we don’t want to buy when the prices are high is twofold; we can’t keep them busy enough to pay for themselves and it was more cost effective to use other methods or hire it done.

The grass is always greener on the other side. If I just had, (insert $50,000.00 toy name here) I could get this done quicker and better. The price of the tool has dropped that now you have options on how you are going to locate information on the ground that is currently residing in the computer in your hand.

We routinely receive point cloud data from client’s when working on jobs that need detail. The best example is urban street rehabilitation. When it comes time to tear up Main Street, your biggest obstacle may not be buried utilities. A hundred screaming merchants with muddy bumpy access to their store is what will give you nightmares. Don’t ask me how I know. Here is an example of what we are able to do for our client’s.

A good scan of the area of construction will let us know what the real conditions are like. When the street and new entries go in it’s nice for everything to go in right the first time. Steep slopes, puddles and poor sight triangles are just a few of the things that can be built on the screen before the road is ripped apart. Potholing the utilities so we can make a good pipe network is huge. We will spot potential collisions before construction begins and give everyone time to fix it on paper, not in the field.

I was really excited about the show. With the true mainstreaming of technology the business adoption rate is sure to increase. I would like to know what you think and how it looked to you.

The potential increase in business is going to take two tacks. The contractors who have not bought into the concept have finally gotten the message; if I don’t get these tools my business will suffer greatly. The other avenue is the contractor who owns technology increasing their investment. In addition to the tools mentioned above, the integration of technology in the machine just changed the iron purchase to equipment that also happens to have machine control fully integrated. Sure, there will be machine control units installed on existing equipment, but all new purchases are going to have a technology ready option as an item on the sales form.

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