Going High Tech

How local companies are stepping into tomorrow

Technology will continue to play an important role, both on and off the job site, in the construction industry this year. Arguably one of the hottest technology trends will be the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), according to ConstructConnect, a leading provider of construction information and technology solutions in North America.

Virtual reality is an alternative environment that completely envelops users (think giant headset that transports you to an alien planet), while augmented reality is a blending of virtual reality and real life (think Google Glass).

Last year a number of new VR headsets hit the market, like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. More are said to be on the way this year, like the new model from Lenovo that will be lighter, cheaper and have higher resolution than either Vive or Rift. The new Lenovo headset will also provide room-scale virtual experiences and motion tracking in a self-contained unit.

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Better project visualization — enabling and improving real-time collaboration among stakeholders and leading to increased adoption of building information modeling (BIM) applications — are just a few ways the construction industry will benefit from AR and VR technology.

VR will likely be used for design by architects and engineers, with some use by construction firms in areas like safety training and teaching workers how to properly operate heavy equipment in a controlled environment. AR is expected to have a larger presence on the construction site.

JD King, senior estimator with Kent Design Build Inc., says his firm is already reaping the benefits of new technology. “We just recently completed a new server for the company, and all of our employees now run on virtual machines and can log in from anywhere and see their personal desktop programs. This has allowed project managers and superintendents to work from the field as if they were sitting in our home office.”

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Established in 1996, Kent Design Build Inc. is a full-service commercial construction firm with 65 employees and corporate offices in Mandeville, offices in Lafayette and projects along the Gulf Coast from Lake Charles to Mobile, mostly in Greater New Orleans. The firm’s projects fall into four divisions: commercial, faith, industrial and medical.

The company has also begun using BIM software — software that enables the construction of a virtual model of a project.

“With the construction industry moving in the direction of 3-D modeling, we executed a plan to utilize BIM in as many projects as we could,” King said. “Revit (a software developer) had a significant learning curve, and we brought in a BIM manager to help kick start the process. BIM has helped us from the very beginning of a project by sketching floor plans and building models to give clients a much clearer idea of architectural intent than traditional black lines on a page. The BIM advantage doesn’t end there, as it allows us to coordinate conflicts between multiple trades and contractors. BIM also allows our field staff to visually see how a project will come together and can walk a site comparing the status of construction to the 3-D model.

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“We really expect BIM to take off in the construction industry. As the cost comes down and more subcontractors embrace the process, the advantages will compound. We believe that all projects, no matter how big or small, can utilize BIM,” he added.

According to JBKnowledge’s ConTech Report, widespread use of BIM is expected in 2017, resulting in improved workflows and efficiencies. Apps such as BIMTrace will allow construction companies to overlay a picture on top of the model, measure, and then push that data back to project review software, all of which allow for easier and clearer communication.

Helical Pilings

Greg Abry, president of Abry Brothers Inc., thinks that in 2017 helical anchors/pilings — an extendable deep foundation system where helical bearing plates are welded to a central steel shaft — will be a widely utilized piece of equipment for specific applications.

For five generations, Abry Brothers has been serving the New Orleans area, providing foundation repair, home elevation, structural shoring, house leveling and carpentry. The company has been in continuous operation to residents along the Mississippi River since 1840.

“This technology has probably been around for about 10 years but has just recently been picking up steam, and more engineers are starting to include it in their designs,” he said. “These are not the traditional pilings; they are different than the ones used for homes or that are typically used with a pile driver. In layman’s terms, it is akin to screwing or twisting in a steel piling instead of pounding it into the ground. It works really well in confined spaces, like the buildings where contractors are converting older buildings into new spaces. These pilings can go into depths of 100 feet and are installed with a bobcat so there are no vibrations in comparison to the traditional piling installations.”

Abry said helical pilings are great for French Quarter construction and remodels because there are virtually no vibrations that will damage the historical integrity of the buildings in the area. “All of the old buildings can now be protected,” he added. “Also, we can now fit into really tight spaces that traditionally we could not get into. We have been using this for a lot of elevator installations in confined areas. We are excited that we can achieve the necessary design support in these locations that we used to have to design around in the past because we could not physically gain access. Now we can get the support we need.”

With helical pilings, the load is transferred from the shaft to the soil through bearing plates. Central steel shafts are available in several sizes and diameter, and combinations are also available for compression applications in soil conditions where dense/hard soils must be penetrated with softer/loose soils.

Segments or sections are joined with bolted couplings. A helical bearing plate or helix is one pitch of a screw thread. All helices, regardless of their diameter, have a standard 3-inch pitch. Being a true helical shape, the helices do not auger into the soil but rather screw into it with minimal soil disturbance. Helical plates are spaced at distances far enough apart that they function independently as individual bearing elements; consequently, the capacity of a particular helix on a helical anchor/pile shaft is not influenced by the helix above or below it.

“We have used this equipment at the Maison du Parc condominiums in the French Quarter, because they needed pilings driven that did not cause any vibration because of the property’s location,” Abry said. “Also, we recently used the helical pilings for a local printing company that needed us to go down 90 feet. We did the work while their employees were working and their operation was running, and no one even knew the work was going on.

As great and helpful as it is, Abry said he doesn’t think this equipment will totally replace traditional pile driving. “Traditional pile driving is still more efficient for new construction and those applications that are not in tight quarters,” he said. “Helical pilings are really for more specific, stylized areas that a traditional pile driver cannot get to or will be too disruptive to the sensitive, historical environment.”

Looking Ahead

Drone Sweet Drone

Industry experts predict that more drones will be seen flying and hovering over job sites this year. (Constructech Magazine).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued rules for commercial use of these small, unmanned aircraft systems, which went into effect last August. Even before the new rules were released, the FAA was granting exemptions for commercial use. A large percentage of exemptions granted covered applications in aerial surveying, construction and infrastructure. Drones can be used to do aerial surveying of a site, monitor worker productivity and safety, and conduct inspections on bridges and tall buildings.

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Automated Toys

Autonomous construction vehicles and heavy equipment are becoming more frequent additions to the job site.

Leading manufacturers like Komatsu and Volvo CE continue to release new models of autonomous, semi-autonomous and remote-controlled excavators, bulldozers and other heavy equipment. Royal Truck & Equipment has been doing pilot tests with the Florida Department of Transportation for self-driving crash trucks for work zones. Two benefits of this technology are safety and labor. With these machines, you can put a less skilled worker in the cab and the equipment will do almost all of the work.


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