Gypsum Solutions

Selecting a Pump to Maximize Productivity and Profitability in Gypsum Applications

By Tripp Farrell, President, Blastcrete Equipment, LLC

New construction is on the rise across the country – especially for multi-family residential units, where completions are at record numbers and show little evidence of slowing down into 2020. These projects create an ideal environment for contractors looking to break into or grow their business in high-flow material markets with gypsum floor underlayment, grouting, cellular concrete, plaster and stucco applications. 

Recent advancements in rotor-stator technology led to the introduction of an adjustable rotor-stator pump with inline pressure gauge to the gypsum mixer/pump market. This innovation allows contractors to adjust flow to meet a project’s unique requirements, resulting in less wear and tear on pump components

However, success in this field requires an investment in specialized equipment – a limiting factor for many bottom-line-conscious contractors. While there is no way to offset equipment costs altogether, recent innovations in gypsum mixer/pumps have made these units more affordable, user-friendly and versatile than previous options. With the right equipment, contractors can see quick ROI and increased efficiency.

Here are several key factors to consider when selecting a gypsum mixer/pump to maximize productivity and profitability.

Pump Type

The type of pump is perhaps the most important feature to consider when investing in a gypsum mixer/pump. For contractors considering lower output gypsum applications such as radiant heat, smaller and more economical peristaltic/squeeze pumps can be used successfully. However, squeeze pumps will surge, which results in a light interruption in material flow. Minimal surging can lead to splatter on drywall, resulting in unnecessary cleanup. The squeeze pump has a maximum 450 psi line pressure which limits pumping distance to around 300 feet.  

Rotor-stator pumps, on the other hand, provide continuous flow, eliminating surges and increasing productivity. These pumps can generate up to 600 psi of pumping pressure – about 30 percent more than squeeze pumps – for pumping distances in excess of 150 feet vertically and 500 feet horizontally. 

Gypsum mixer/pumps that can be charged directly with a specially designed skid steer bucket not only saves time and energy; they allow contractors to set up sand and gypsum stockpiles in a separate location when space is at a premium. 
 

Recent advancements in rotor-stator technology led to the introduction of an adjustable rotor-stator pump with inline pressure gauge to the gypsum mixer/pump market. This innovation allows contractors to adjust flow to meet a project’s unique requirements. Tightening the rotor-stator results in maximum pumping distances, which is ideal for high-rise and long-distance jobs. When the job requires shorter pumping distances – between 200 and 300 feet – contractors simply loosen Gypsum mixer/pumps that can be charged directly with a specially designed skid steer bucket not only saves time and energy; they allow contractors to set up sand and gypsum stockpiles in a separate location when space is at a premium.  rotor-stator. This flexibility results in optimum pumping pressure for the application. 

Adjusting the pump to fit the application specifications results in less wear and tear on the rotor-stator since these are the primary wear parts on this style of pump. Monitoring and adjusting the line pressure helps contractor double or even triple the life of these components. To further minimize lifetime maintenance costs and unnecessary downtime, some OEMs design their adjustable rotor-stator pumps with easy access to mechanical seals. This user-friendly design allows operators to perform mechanical seal maintenance without dismantling the rotor and stator, drastically reducing labor expenses and saving hours of unnecessary downtime. 

Price Point

No product selection discussion would be complete without touching on price. Cost is an important factor in determining the value a piece of equipment brings to a business and whether it’s worth pursuing. In the past, a limited selection of gypsum mixer/pump models meant contractors looking to invest in gypsum equipment might be stuck with a higher price tag and unnecessary features for their operation. 

The type of pump is perhaps the most important feature to consider when investing in a gypsum mixer/pump. Rotor-stator pumps provide continuous flow, eliminating surges and increasing productivity.
 

A lack of specialized gypsum equipment options also led some contractors to purchase units designed for more general cementitious applications – a situation that came with its own host of problems. However, as the gypsum industry continues to develop, more economical mixer/pump options with simpler and more user-friendly designs are filling the gap, offering contractors the ability to select equipment based on their needs without overinvesting.

Prices for a new gypsum mixer/pump can range from $45,000 to well over $125,000. Comparing apples to apples in terms of capacity and output, contractors will find minimal difference between most gypsum machines. The industry average is 12-cubic-foot mixers and pumping speeds well over 100 bags of gypsum per hour. 

Differences arise with a closer inspection of the spec sheets. Contractors looking to not pay for more than they need should contact manufacturers to walk through what features are necessary for their specific operation. For example, engine size can play a huge part in price differentiation. Gypsum mixer/pumps range in size from 3,350 pounds with a 32-horsepower engine to nearly 10,000 pounds with a 100-horsepower engine. 

Exactly how much horsepower is necessary will depend on the target applications, so discussing options with OEM experts is important for making the most practical and economical decision. While gypsum mixer/pumps are not totally customizable, partnering with certain OEMs allows for a more personalized result, often with a significant cost savings over standard models. 

Simplified Design

The saying “less is more” often applies to gypsum mixer/pumps. In addition to reducing the initial cost, selecting a reliable gypsum mixer/pump that does the basics and does them well often results in a user-friendly unit that’s easy to operate, maintain, and keep clean.

Hydraulic spiral mixers offer a benefit over paddle mixers since they can operate at higher speeds without splashing or throwing material out of the mixer. This mixer also limits possible maintenance issues and unnecessary downtime by minimizing moving parts.

To make the most of an equipment investment, the machine needs to have high utilization. For contractors looking to operate at multiple jobsites with multiple crews, selecting a gypsum mixer/pump with the essential components and no frills equates to less training, less downtime and less stress. Machines with a simple, intuitive design are easy to operate with minimal training. This opens up the door for maximum productivity since contractors can train several crew members and still deliver quality results.

Fewer moving parts also means less mess and less maintenance. A unit’s mixer is a good example of this. Most units feature either a paddle type mixer or a hydraulic spiral mixer. Both work quickly, mixing a full load in about two minutes. However, hydraulic spiral mixers offer a benefit over paddle mixers since they can operate at higher speeds without splashing or throwing material out of the mixer. This leads to increased productivity since crews are not spending unnecessary time cleaning. 

Additionally, the paddle style mixers used in gypsum equipment usually have two mixer shafts, which doubles the moving parts. Compare this to a single planetary gearbox driving the spiral mixer. With features like spiral mixers, new gypsum mixer/pumps limit possible maintenance issues and unnecessary downtime by minimizing moving parts.

These time-savings aren’t limited to major maintenance. Proper cleaning is vital for any concrete pump, including gypsum equipment. The less there is to clean, the faster this process will be. Look for a model with easily accessible wear parts to make daily cleaning as efficient as possible. Some manufactures have gone a step further to simplify maintenance by engineering a removable mixer and pump kit that simply detaches from the machine for the ease of cleaning and scheduled maintenance.

Maneuverability

Transportability is another key consideration when selecting the right mixer/pump combination. The larger and more remote the contractor’s service area, the more vital this becomes. Units featuring robust trailers for long-distance travel and a lighter footprint provide a more practical solution for extended service areas. For maximum maneuverability, look for a unit with a dual axle high-speed towing trailer and tubular steel frame to enable safe travel on highways. 

Onsite maneuverability is another area to keep in mind. Once the equipment has arrived, its placement and use can be quite the logistical challenge – especially on crowded jobsites. A gypsum pump with a smaller footprint can increase overall productivity. The charging process for different machines is a good example of this. Some models include a skip hoist to charge the mixer. The hoist is filled with sand and gypsum either by hand or with a skid steer bucket. When full, it rises and dumps into the mixer. 

This system requires sand and gypsum material to be stored near the pump and ample space for the hoist to maneuver, limiting where contractors can set it up. Gypsum pumps without the skip hoist eliminate the additional step and can be charged directly with a specially designed skid steer bucket. This not only saves time and energy; it allows contractors to set up sand and gypsum stockpiles in a separate location when space is at a premium. 

Customer Service

As with many equipment decisions, brand is an important factor to consider when selecting a gypsum mixer/pump. The right machine will ultimately be the one with the ideal combination of features and price, but the service and support behind that unit can’t be discounted. Partnering with a manufacturer that has a reputation for robust, high quality machines means operators can expect fewer breakdowns over its lifetime. Plus, when parts and service are required, knowing the team behind the brand is available 24/7 can be a huge relief. From fast delivery of parts to expert troubleshooting, dedicated OEMs help their customers increase efficiency.    

Making the Right Selection

The surest route to success in any business starts with investing in the best equipment to get the job done quickly and efficiently. Recent advances are making it easier and more economical for first-time and veteran gypsum contractors to take this step, but there are still many factors to consider. From design to durability, selecting a gypsum mixer/pump for maximum productivity and profitability must begin with the contractor’s unique needs. 

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor,
Western Builder

Workflow Verification Technology

By Jeff Winke

 A Scanning Robotic Total Station Combines Two Functions for Increased Productivity

In the 1950s, Ace Books began publishing Ace Doubles, which were two separate novels combined in a single volume. For example, a reader could read “Secret Agent of Terra” which ends at about the middle of the book. The reader could then close the book; do a head-to-toe flip of the volume; and there would be the cover of the second book, “The Rim of Space.” The reader is happy because they get twice the value– two separate novels for the price of one. The two-novels-in-one book concept clearly provided great value to the avid reader.

That same kind of value proposition can also be seen in a new product for construction workflow verification. Available from Topcon Positioning Systems, Livermore, California, the GTL-1000 is a compact scanner integrated with a fully-featured robotic total station, offering a site manager a dual-function instrument designed to complete a layout and scan on a single set-up. The data can be processed, mapped, and provide construction verification.

“The key benefit that got me most excited by combining layout and laser scanning into one device is placing that device in the right person’s hands,” stated Taylor Cupp, Technologist with M. A. Mortenson Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “On our projects, that is the layout professional – now we can empower them to not only do layout, but also capture what is built for quality control. It’s very beneficial because the person that knows how they’ve set up the job in terms of control points and those kinds of things can be the one to do that capture and get it as accurate as possible with one device.”

Topcon describes it as a first in the industry that all workflow components are integrated and provides users with a live, “as built” model of projects, allowing the contractor to identify and rectify any discrepancies. 

“Our field engineering team has expressed interest in a product like the GTL-1000 for many years – a product that allows them to survey and scan within the same workflow and not have to spend time in the office registering scan data,” stated Paulina Acosta, Senior Applied Technology Specialist with Rogers-O’Brien Construction in Dallas, Texas. “Each point cloud is geo-located before you leave the field. This makes them feel confident that the point clouds will be correctly positioned to our 3-D models, without the need for visual alignment or the need to return to the field to acquire more data in order to make the registration work.”

Nick Salmons, Principal Laser Scanning Surveyor at Balfour Beatty Construction in London, United Kingdom, said, “The new Topcon robotic scanning solution will increase productivity on site by accelerating the construction process and identifying design challenges more efficiently than traditional methods.” 

Salmons also said it will benefit the industry as a whole by “reducing cost and program duration, for both clients and contractors alike.”

Ease of Use

The system is designed so the user can initiate a scan with the press of a single button. A full-dome 360-degree scan can be created in a few minutes, according to Ray Kerwin, Topcon Director of Global Product Planning. “More traditional systems and methods take considerably longer,” Kerwin said. “So, depending on the job site conditions, a contractor can get in and out quicker and thus minimizes safety concerns.” 

A benefit Acosta likes: “We liked the ability to take individual as-built points with the GTL-1000 after it completes a full scan. This is helpful when you are trying to ensure that you captured the center point of a sleeve or a structural connection. These points appear in the point cloud after they are processed and eliminate the time spent by our 3-D modelers trying to determine the positioning of specific items in a point cloud.”

The scanner is used in combination with ClearEdge3D Verity, a software tool designed to automate construction verification.

“The seamless integration of the unit and Verity creates a complete package that is perfect for construction verification using 3-D modelling techniques,” Kerwin stated. “The result is a system that offers full-dome scanning which can quickly capture duct work, columns, beams, girders, flaps, penetrations, and structural steel. It helps to improve quality assurance, providing clear visual indication of construction-quality heat maps to minimize the effects of mistakes before they become expensive problems.”

The system is designed to build upon proven prism tracking and accuracy that allows operators to establish points in most construction environments. The product includes on-board MAGNET Collage field software designed to process the data and offer real-time field-to-office connectivity. 

Increased Efficiency

A key productivity benefit of the scanning robotic total station is that the site engineer requires no additional training and does not need to rely on outside scanning services. The new system is designed to take what was previously a rather lengthy, specialty process and compresses all the steps, reducing the overall verification time. The infrastructure group Balfour Beatty originally tested the GTL-1000 in the field. 

“In our use and testing, we have found that the new robotic scanning solution will increase productivity on site by accelerating the construction process and identifying design challenges more efficiently than traditional methods,” Salmons said. “We are delighted to have collaborated with Topcon over the last 12 months to trial this new tool, which will significantly benefit the industry as a whole; reducing cost and program duration, for both clients and contractors alike.”

The benefits of the combined scanning robotic total station are also said to extend to subcontractors, who can share the verification data, meaning all parties are working from the same construction-quality heat maps. For example, the first electrical ducts and conduits can often cause problems, as alterations can often occur that go unnoticed. With Topcon’s new system, the speed at which everybody working on the job can understand mistakes means the effects can hopefully be minimized before they become expensive problems.As efficiency becomes increasingly important in the market, time cannot be wasted and mistakes cannot be tolerated. Clearly, the demand for quick construction verification is on the rise, which supports the need for new technologies that can 

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor,
Western Builder

Be OSHA Ready

Knowing Your Rights Will Help Protect Your Organization if OSHA Comes Knocking

By Samantha Monsees

Fisher Phillips

Picture this. You’re in the middle of a large project and OSHA shows up at your worksite. Standing before you is a government agent whose sole purpose is to identify and cite safety hazards at your worksite. A knock from OSHA (or any government enforcement agent) is disruptive, stressful and intimidating. But don’t panic. You have far more rights than you realize, and when OSHA knocks, you can (and should) assert those rights to protect your organization. 

Reasonable Time, Reasonable Manner

Unless you are in the unfortunate position of having just reported a serious injury to OSHA, you will not know when OSHA is coming. In most situations, it’s illegal for OSHA to give you advance notice. As Murphy’s Law dictates, OSHA will show up demanding an inspection during your busiest time of day, or when your project manager is out sick or you’re shorthanded. Section 8(a) of the OSHA Act authorizes OSHA to inspect your worksite, but the good news is this same provision requires that the manner, timing and scope of the inspection be reasonable. 

Opening Conference

Keeping this reasonableness requirement in mind, the opening conference is your opportunity to determine why OSHA is there and to negotiate a reasonable scope before the inspection begins. It is a best practice to designate a conference room or other office to conduct the opening conference, which is away from and out of view of your construction site.

Similar to your right to demand a warrant from a police officer who shows up at your house, you have a Fourth Amendment right to demand a warrant from OSHA before letting a Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) inspect your worksite (unless there is the presence of an imminent hazard). Once OSHA returns with a warrant, they will most certainly scrutinize your worksite more harshly than if you had cooperated initially. On the other hand, if you are unable to reach an agreement with the CSHO on the scope of the inspection or you need additional time to allow the proper representatives to arrive to your worksite, a warrant may be appropriate. This is determined on a case-by-case basis, and you should consult counsel before demanding a warrant. 

Walk-Around

After you agree to the proper scope of the inspection, you (and your counsel) have the right to accompany the CSHO throughout the inspection. If there are other employers (such as subcontractors) on your worksite, it is a best practice to have a procedure in place for notifying the proper representatives of the other employers that OSHA is on site.

Take detailed notes of what the CSHO is doing during the walk-around, which employees are being observed and anything that is said by management or OSHA. The CSHO will want to take pictures and videos during the walk-around inspection. You have a right to – and should – take the same pictures and videos as the CSHO. If the CSHO wants to take samples or perform testing, you have the right to advise OSHA you do not consent to testing unless and until you are able to perform a side-by-side test conducted by an independent industrial hygienist or other specialist. Down the road, it will be difficult to challenge the results of OSHA’s testing without having your own test to compare.

Because the CSHO is using the inspection to collect evidence to support citations, managers should not volunteer additional information that is not requested and certainly should not admit that he or she is aware of a potential hazard. This is because OSHA imputes knowledge of managers to your organization. OSHA must prove the following to establish that a standard was violated: (1) the standard applied to the cited condition; (2) the terms of the standard were violated; (3) one or more employees had access to the relevant hazard; and (4) the employer knew or, with the exercise of reasonable diligence, could have known of the presence of the violation. In doing so, OSHA can rely on statements made by the employer’s managers at any time during the inspection. It makes no difference if the manager makes the comment during the opening conference, during the walk-around, during a formal interview or in idle small talk – it can (and will) be used against the employer. 

The compliance officer will inevitably request a list of documents. In most instances, you are only required to provide your OSHA 300 logs within four hours of OSHA requesting them. For all other documents, request a written list of the requested documents and designate one representative to communicate with OSHA regarding your production of documents. This allows you to carefully inspect the list of documents to determine whether the request is reasonable, whether there are any trade secret or privilege concerns in the documents requested, and what documents should be furnished.

Employee Interviews

It is important that both your management and non-management employees understand their rights and are instructed to tell the truth. Non-management employees are not required to participate in OSHA interviews, but if they refuse, OSHA could issue a subpoena at a later date. If the employee agrees to participate, he or she has a right to a private interview without management and also has a right to refuse to be recorded in any fashion. Any union employees may have a union representative present during the interview, as well.

In contrast, management employees have a right to a management representative or counsel during the interview. You also have a right to schedule management employees for a later date, after you have had the opportunity to meet with and prepare the managers. For the reasons discussed above, managers should be prepared in advance for a CSHO interview, should not permit the CSHO to record their interviews in any format, and should not verify or sign off on the CSHO’s notes of the interview. 

Closing Conference

After the CSHO conducts the walk-around, he or she will conduct a closing conference. This is your opportunity to learn what violations the CSHO believes exist at your worksite and why. This is also a time to note any abatement of hazards that was made during the inspection as well as request a copy of any photographs or monitoring results taken by the CSHO.

After the Inspection

If you receive a Citation and Notification of Penalty, you have the right to contest any citation issued to your organization, including the proposed penalties and abatement dates. Just because OSHA issues a citation does not mean your organization has violated the OSH Act. OSHA is required to prove a violation occurred.

Additionally, you should consider the potential impact of simply accepting and paying an OSHA Citation. While OSHA citations are harmful to any employer, some organizations rely on their safety record to win bids and keep premiums down. Even more troubling, an OSHA citation can be used as evidence of negligence in an accompanying liability case against your organization. 

Best Practices

  • If you are able and time permits, have an attorney present during the OSHA inspection to provide most of the information to the OSHA inspector. 
  • Notify any subcontractor or other employers on your worksite that OSHA has arrived.
  • Reasonably limit the scope, time and manner of the inspection.
  • Arrange interviews of management employees at a later date after you have an opportunity to prepare.
  • Refrain from volunteering unnecessary information that may impute knowledge of a hazard on your organization. 

OSHA inspections can be stressful for all involved, but they don’t have to be. Knowing what your rights are and when to assert them will help protect your organization.

Samantha Monsees is an attorney in the Kansas City office of national labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips. She can be reached at smonsees@fisherphillips.com

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor,
Western Builder

Protecting DEF from Extreme Cold and Other Conditions Can Keep Your Truck Running Smoothly

By Jeffrey Harmening, Manager – EOLCS/DEF/MOM, American Petroleum Institute

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the winter of 2019-2020 will be filled with bitterly cold weather in the eastern parts of the Rockies and east to the Appalachians. The Northeast should also experience very cold temperatures as well. For municipalities, public utilities, landscapers and others that are involved in outdoor work and snow removal, there is always plenty of annual winter preparation.

One thing that may be overlooked is the proper management of Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) used in many diesel-powered trucks. Handling and storing DEF can be challenging in wintertime for drivers filling up on the road and for shops. Made from a mixture of technically pure urea and purified water, DEF freezes at 11 degrees Fahrenheit and needs to be properly maintained and dispensed to preserve its quality.

Like water, DEF will expand up to seven percent when frozen and can damage the storage tank if it is full or nearly full when it freezes. Keeping a tank that you think may freeze less than full is a good idea. If DEF freezes in the vehicle, do not put any additives in the tank to help it melt. DEF needs to remain pure for it to work correctly. The vehicle will start without a problem and the DEF tank has a heating element that can quickly thaw the DEF.  Don’t worry; on-spec DEF is specifically formulated to allow the fluid to thaw at the proper concentration to keep your vehicle operating smoothly.

In addition to cold, there are other things to consider when purchasing, storing and handling DEF. Drivers accustomed to purchasing DEF in containers should look at the expiration date on the bottle and be sure to use it before this date as the product has a limited shelf life. If a date is not present, ask for the most recently delivered DEF products.  Also, be sure to look for the API certification mark on the bottle as well. Many diesel engine manufacturers recommend that drivers use API-licensed DEF.

Storage conditions have an impact on its quality. DEF can be expected to have a minimum shelf life of 12 months or even longer in optimum conditions. Check the label for recommended storage temperatures.  API recommends that you don’t store if for too long in your truck once you purchase it, especially if the storage area in the vehicle is routinely exposed to extreme heat or sunlight.

Purchasing DEF for Shop Use

API has found that the biggest misconception by fleet managers is the belief that if the urea concentration of their DEF is on spec, then the DEF meets the required quality. While it is true that the concentration is very important, there are many other important quality characteristics built into the ISO 22241 specification regarding DEF.

Those responsible for procuring DEF should confirm that their suppliers are providing DEF that meets the entire ISO quality standard. One way to do this is to ensure that their supplier is providing a Certificate of Analysis (or Quality) with every shipment that addresses all of the quality characteristics that the specification requires. You can also check to see if the DEF they are buying is licensed through API’s real-time directory of licensees on the API website

Managing DEF in Shops

For shops, the handling, storage and dispensing of DEF is very important so that off-spec DEF doesn’t reach the marketplace. Temperature during transport or at the point of storage or sale can harm the shelf life of DEF sold in containers. Make sure the stock is rotated to use the oldest product first. Proper storage temperatures in a shop is also vital. Storing in temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit will limit the shelf life of the DEF over time. Some additional things to consider in storing and handing DEF include the following:

  • Bulk storage tanks should be dedicated for DEF. Don’t switch products in the bulk tank without thoroughly rinsing the tank with distilled or de-ionized water or on-spec DEF. 
  • A closed loop system for transferring DEF from a drum or bulk tank is recommended so contaminants don’t get into the DEF. This is particularly important in a shop or construction site that has dust or dirt in the air.
  • Use dedicated equipment for dispensing DEF. Don’t use funnels, pitchers, hoses, etc. that are used for other fluids when putting DEF in a tank. 
  • Anything used for dispensing DEF should be cleaned with distilled or de-ionized water and followed by a DEF rinse. Don’t use tap water for cleaning.

For shops and drivers, it’s important to know what you are putting into your DEF tank. The quality of the DEF going into your vehicle is as important as the quality of the engine oils or fuels used in your vehicles.  Use of API-licensed Diesel Exhaust Fluid will ensure that the DEF meets the high standards required by engine and vehicle manufacturers.

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor,
Western Builder

5 Modern Capabilities that Optimize Field Operations

Travis Parigi, CEO of LiquidFrameworks

Field operations are behind when it comes to utilizing digital tools for the workforce. However, updated technology empowers managers to track and oversee operations at unparalleled levels in new environments. These updates can also provide an abundance of choices related to improved technologies like using smartphones, GPS, RFID, On-Demand/Cloud Computing, barcodes, scanners, and the latest generation of tablet computers. The modern capabilities of technologies can ultimately help both management and workers optimize operations while in the field. 

Nonetheless, the constant change of technology brings with it the rise of questions for operations management, such as…

  • What is the most valuable data?
  • What is the appropriate approach to utilizing technology?  
  • Which will deliver the biggest “bang” for your buck?
  • How do you integrate different solutions and data into an operations flow?
  • How do you entertain various personnel skill sets and ensure adoption by field personnel? 

It is first important to identify critical considerations when assessing new electronic solutions or field service providers to optimize field operations. 

hands of builder with small computer and gloves, selective focus on finger

1. Paperless Ops

The most apparent opportunity to update implementation is through shifting to an electronic platform for operations or adoption of solution elements. This approach is coined as going paperless. This method initially just scanned identical electronic copies of paper items such as service tickets or delivery receipts. Overtime data has advanced to capture documents to be represented and reported on devices. Both of those methods are valuable but only represent a fraction of the value that comprehensive field operation solutions provide. Elements of a complete mobile field operations solution include:

  • Fully Electronic/ Error Reduction
    • Every time a field operator produces a piece of paper documentation and sends it back to the office, at least $10 in processing costs are generated. Problems related to legibility, re-entering data into electronic systems, errors in the system and issues integrating paper with customers all contribute to added delays and costs. Modern solutions promise optimal speed and leverage through structured data representation. This allows field-generated data to be efficiently and effectively fed into back-office systems and presented to customers.
  • Configure vs. Capture/Validation/Rules
    • Solutions, such as scanners or pick lists, only capture documentation and often fail on several levels. Lack of internal logic and error prevention reproduces paper problems in an electronic format. It’s crucial for field operation solutions to properly validate data and prevent invalid configurations and data entry. AI functions, such as rules and knowledge base are invaluable. This is exemplified by solutions that either use configuration engines to take users through job set up steps or automatically configure based on job conditions or equipment.
  • Customization
    • It is also key for all platforms to flexibly capture elements of an operations flow, organization, or government/customer requirement. For example, when altering the location and appearance of screen elements to attached data entry points, the solution should be configurable to both your company and industry.
  • Data Availability
    • A solution must satisfy customer process demands, including customer signature, emails, and approvals. Data captured through the solution should then be available to your back-office systems and email.

2. Properly Modeling the Process

Possibly one of the most important factors in improving operations includes structuring electronic data into elements to ensure efficient scheduling, fulfillment, and analysis. First-generation field operations solutions made individual process elements such as field tickets or dispatch orders electronic. This approach is valuable but falls short in capturing the relationship between resources that allow for optimal planning and utilization. 

For example, the value becomes limited when the technical equipment is dispatched without the system attaching associated personnel and consumables. An ideal solution is not only aware of these associated items, but also recognizes locations, readiness level, and suitable, available replacements. Once these elements are in place, operations managers can then plan immediate operations and begin to prepare future consumable, maintenance, personnel, and other resource requirements.

3. Flexible Standardization

All platforms must pave the path for best practices to be overlaid on the solution while also remaining flexible enough for operations to continue remotely. Tools and technology that simplify workflow are essential. 

Tools

  • Data
    • Full access to data by field personnel allows operations to be executed even if the back office is unavailable. Access to the master data and configuration specifications enables single-entry without costly “fix-up” by personnel. Updated, accurate pricing also allows for improved customer coordination and minimized approval delays.
  • Rules Engine
    • Rules engines meaningfully supplement individual worker knowledge and enforce standards. This capability automatically recaptures previously lost or unbilled items, prevents unsafe configurations and allows personnel with less experience to perform complex operations. Rules engines also secure corporate knowledge as a key backup function for senior personnel.
  • Collaboration
    • Field workers and back-office personnel should work together. Whether you are enriching tickets with notes or requesting back-office involvement, collaboration capabilities of mobile field operations platforms are essential.
  • Workflow
    •  A solution must provide mechanisms to standardize workflow such as a customer approval process or uniformity of ordering equipment.
  • Integration
    • Solutions should integrate opportunities with electronic systems. An Open API makes it simple to seamlessly consolidate with existing systems.
  • Additional Documents and Forms
    • Companies often have additional documentation specific to their industry or organization, some of which include Job Safety Assessments and logs. Although electronic solutions do not come “out of the box” with the exact document, customization easily captures this information.

Technology

  • Smart Client
    • Even the best communication environments experience problems ranging from equipment failure to shielding and capacity issues. These bumps in the roadblock require communication from outside sources. These scenarios require autonomous solutions that flexibly reestablish communication and transfer data.
  • GPS/RFID
    • Solutions should provide technology integration points like GPS or RFID.
  • Attachments
    • Reference documentation, such as videos, procedures, and manuals, prove useful in field environments.
  • Leverage Existing Assets
    • Mobile field operations solutions should easily integrate with established IT systems, such as accounting and payroll. 

4. Effective Analysis

Effective analysis is key to optimize field operations and is part of a mobile field operations solution. The ability to measure production details and to generate custom reports is vital to company success.

  • Measuring
    • Demands of on-field personnel and floods of data lead many organizations not to capture the full extent of what happens during operations. For instance, a performed service is captured, but the detailed start/stop times, consumable usage, ancillary equipment, and personnel involved are not.
  • Report Generation
    • All solutions should have robust reporting mechanisms that feature a full security model with proper access. The capability to create custom reports is indispensable.
  • Availability and Distribution 
    • Reporting should be available to proper personnel. Web-based reporting solutions provide wide distribution capabilities for users at numerous locations on various devices. Email integration is a fundamental capability for the dissemination of reports, whether that is executed through an incoming-data based alert system or a scheduled distribution list.

5. Involve the Customer

Customer involvement is commonly overlooked when advancing operations and resource utilization. Customers are most involved at the beginning (ordering) and end (invoice approval) of the process, but true value comes in keeping them invested throughout the process.

  • Tracking
    •  Appropriate oversight capability in internal operations can effectively speed approvals and increase customer comfort and satisfaction. 
  • Approval 
    • Mechanisms that grant customers the ability to interact with the field operations solution, whether that be through notification emails or electronic approvals, can also significantly speed up the process.

Clearly there are many considerations to think through when evaluating field operations improvements. As a business leader, recognizing the impact technology will have on your field operations is your cue to initiate digital transformation as soon as possible to secure a competitive edge.

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor,
Western Builder

  Website: www.liquidframeworks.com

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