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Implementing the Digital Jobsite

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Ned Holmes receives recognition
Commissioner Ned Holmes receives recognition for his
service at the Houston Monthly Luncheon.

As we search for ways to use construction funding more effectively, advances in technology offer unlimited opportunities for cost savings. At the recent Southwest Construction Peer Network Exchange in Salt Lake City, a session on implementing digital jobsites provided a wealth of information on everything from Web-based information sharing to automated machine control.

As I’ve acknowledged before, we tackle ever-increasing workloads each day. However, dedicating time and resources to the transition to the digital jobsite allows us to take advantage of the efficiencies and cost-savings technology provides.

It’s more and more common to see laptops and tablet computers replacing bound field books on the jobsite. Project engineers, managers, and inspectors can upload project records to web application platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint, making the most current information accessible to the department, our district offices, and contractors. Everything from correspondence, plan sheets, material specifications, and executed change orders to project schedules and concrete and asphalt material receipts are available to everyone involved in the project. Daily diaries are more accurate with the capability to document events as they happen, instead of completing paperwork at the end of the day in the field office.

Automated machine control technology offers incredible potential to save time, increase accuracy, extend the life of new construction, and reduce maintenance. Drivers operating compacting equipment, excavators, scrapers, and other equipment are guided by GPS-location data. In the most extreme cases, equipment can be operated robotically by GPS controls.

Intelligent compaction equipment, for example, was used on the $1.1 billion DFW Connector project, which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2013. The system measures rebound data to indicate the extent of soil and base compaction. Color-coded maps display compaction results, which provide information to ensure roadways are compacted uniformly and sufficiently.

Other equipment such as diamond grinders use automatic grade controls to grind the surface of rough roadways to make the road ride smoother. Automated asphalt laydown machines and concrete pavers provide similar grade controls to produce smoother surfaces from the start and help prevent future maintenance problems.

Industry resistance to implementing automatic machine control technology due to higher initial costs should be offset by the long-term benefits of increasing the integrity and life of the roadway.

Using web-based programs for training or executing contracts through web links and electronic signatures are other opportunities for utilizing digital capabilities. With as many as 1,200 active contracts, electronic recordkeeping increases accessibility, eases retention, and saves space.

When representatives from DOTs in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado gathered in Salt Lake City in November, no DOTs reported a 100% use of digital jobsites, although all were targeting that as the ultimate goal. In the effort to do more with less, Every Day Counts. This may apply to implementing the digital jobsite most of all.

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