July 31, 2012
FEATURE | Site Services
Nova Scotia digital study looks to find efficiency
Life on a busy building site could be easier for the oft-harried foreman and supervisor. An industry-led project in Nova Scotia examining a cadre of the latest digital devices that speed information gathering and sharing is out to prove that point.
The brainchild of the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council (NSCSC), the project has put about 40 high-tech tools in the hands of on-site construction personnel employed by more than a dozen building contractors in the maritime province.
If a contractor doesn’t like one device, the idea is to provide it with a suitable alternative in part to improve the information relay between jobsites and the office.
“We at the Secretariat believe that enhanced productivity and efficiency is needed not only to be competitive but to deliver product to meet the expectations of the client,” says Trent Soholt, executive director of the NSCSC.
The project is jointly funded by industry and government. Industry, made up of labour and contractors, is contributing $215,000; another $212,475 is from Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education and $97,586 comes from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
At this stage of the multi-year project, called Function Information Technology (FIT), foremen and supervisors are the primary target because conclusions to date show that the right tools in their hands will yield “the biggest bang for the buck,” says Soholt.
Their responsibility has grown significantly, he says, noting that duties include occupational health and safety plus a seemingly endless stream of paperwork and materials tracking processes.
“Giving them tools to make that portion of their job easier so they can spend more time mentoring workers is important.”
The project’s organizers are purchasing the latest mobile and high-tech devices from worldwide sources. Devices offering multiple applications with web-enabled technology are preferred to single-application tools.
He says some tools have video components, helpful for on-site trouble-shooting; others are tiny computers that can be worn on hardhats and operated by voice command.
The priority is to buy tools that cut the time workers need to run back and forth from jobsites to offices — “sometimes several times a day” to deliver hard copy to an office that might be an hour or more from the site as is often the case with large industrial projects, says Soholt.
Emphasis is placed on construction-grade computer and tablet devices that can take a hefty impact, say from a fall off the top of a building. Some can be submersed in water while other “military grade” devices keep ticking even if run over by a vehicle.
Soholt says in recent years many contractors have either hired tech consultants or been approached by salesmen trying to sell them on new technology — sometimes with bad results.
“Our aim is to take the guesswork out of it for the contractor because we are able to buy the largest variety of state of the art devices available internationally for them to test.”
One thing organizers have learned about construction personnel is that they tend to learn only the “basic minimum” about a tech device’s functions, unless they are instructed otherwise, says Soholt.
With smart phones, for instance, most construction personnel are using them as phones; they don’t take advantage of the features.
“It was a surprise to us,” says Soholt. “We learned that there a lot of assumptions that if a company provides you with a smart phone that you will learn how to use all of its functions. From the workers perspective, it is seen as just another fancier phone.”
The first of the four-phase project was completed about 15 months ago.
“It helped us focus on where technology could be better used on construction sites,” says Soholt.
This, the second phase, will wind up at year’s end. Phase three will review training gaps and develop implementation strategies for foremen and supervisors, while the final phase puts implementation plans in place on jobsites, he points out.
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