Editor's Comment: Technology has benefits, but why don't contractors adopt it?

By Chris Sleight11 November 2013

International Construction editor Chris Sleight.

International Construction editor Chris Sleight.

The uninitiated may think construction is an inexact business. That is understandable – projects are can be big, the machines used can be big and it would not be unnatural to think it was all about the quantity of material moved, rather than the quality of the results.
A bit more thought and common sense might change that view. Clearly tolerances have to be tight otherwise pre-fabricated building elements like steel work and pre-cast concrete members would not fit together. And in the world of civil engineering roads, railways, runways and so on have to be flat to be accepted by the client.
Despite what the general public might think, construction has always been a fairly accurate business. The challenge these days is to maintain that accuracy (or improve on it), while doing things quicker and more efficiently.
The case studies in the November 2013 issue of iC on road building illustrate time and again how technology can play a huge part in achieving this. Systems such as 3D machine guidance and control systems remove the need for a stringline – a time-consuming reference to set up – and can improve the accuracy and quality of the final road.
On board compaction monitoring systems show when an area is at the required density, removing the need for extra passes (to be on the safe side) or expensive re-working if the material is under-consolidated. These systems also have the advantage that they can document performance, which helps the contractor prove that he has done what the client is paying for.
Many of the contractors speaking about their experiences say they are impressed with the savings in time and money they have made by adopting new technology. They talk about the efficiency gains, the improved quality of what they have built and often say they will never go back to the old methods.
This doesn’t surprise me. The benefits of these systems seem overwhelming.
But what does surprise me is that so much of the industry is yet to adopt them. It is hard to get firm figures, but the anecdotal evidence I hear is that the use of 3D machine control in many parts of the world remains almost unheard of, never mind the exception to the rule.
Even something like a compaction meter is not yet a standard requirement for contractors. Some clients still seem to specify a certain number of passes by a roller, and contractors accept this. But as one of the studies in our road building feature illustrates, this can be a huge waste of effort – the compaction meter showed the correct density had been reached after three passes, but the old-style specification would have required eight!
If this technology was brand new I could understand it, but looking at the iC archives I see that as far back as 1979 the magazine reported on an on-board compaction meter, Dynapac’s ‘Compactometer’.
The technology has become more sophisticated since then of course, and when something has been around for nearly 35 years, it is probably time to take it more seriously.

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