Civil contractors advancing in the use of technology

During the last two years, the publication Civil Quarterly has surveyed civilian contractors about their use of the technology. It’s not a long timeline, but there are some trends to see.

One is that the big winner in the type of technology seems to be utility detection. As you might guess, things like ground penetrating radar, pipe location, concrete scanning, etc. are used to identify where cables, pipes, and the like are underground. They want to know before they dig. It is quite a common need, especially in civil engineering projects.

But big winner has a very different value than if you wanted to know if carpenters use levels. Half of those surveyed said they used some version of the technology, up from 40% in 2020.

In second place was the use of drones, which went from 51% to 46% in the 2020-2021 period. The next most popular technology was rugged tablets at 46%, which seems surprisingly low given that field conditions would wreak havoc on many devices and the use of computers is widespread across different industries. Although perhaps people are replacing the phones that they keep protected in their pockets. Then came machine control, using types of sensors to help heavy machine operators monitor their locations. That was 43%, down from 47% and 49% in 2020 and 2021.

There seems to be a gap in usage to the next group, where usage hovers around a third. Equipment tagging, to know where expensive tools and machinery are, reached 37%, although losing something through carelessness or theft would seem to offer a good economic reason for implementation.

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Mobile mapping systems, which use sensors on a variety of mobile platforms, are used by 34% of surveyed contractors. A third used robotic total stations, which allow for more efficient surveying, while laser scanning or lidar to map areas in high resolution were found at 30%.

Grouped around a quarter were electronic tickets and electronic proof of delivery (26%). The rovers, or equipment that helps crews measure sites to within an inch, a level of accuracy needed to prepare for site grading, was at 24%.

Technologies fell rapidly, such as RFID tagging, at 10%, which uses radio frequency identification devices to identify items, or wearable devices, which are computer equipment worn on someone’s person, at 13%.

Interestingly, we saw the main expected benefits (increased productivity, better data collection, better ability to manage budgets, and increased security) compared to the perceived drawbacks of adopting new technologies, such as concerns about workforce adoption, lack of of qualified resources to manage and the cost of technology.

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