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Leveraging Technology in the Construction Industry

Keith Onchuck, CIO, Ozinga

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Imagine working in a bakery where a customer calls in to place an order for 100,000 chocolate chip cookies for the next day. You go through all the planning to ensure you have the ingredients in stock, the staff available to bake and the means to deliver the cookies to the customer.

Now imagine coming to work the next day only to find out the 100,000chocolate chip cookie order was changed to 75,000. You also had a few more customers call in to have 75,000 sugar cookies and 50,000 peanut butter cookies. Due to allergic reactions, you must bake these at a different location. Finally, imagine the ingredients you need for this order will take 4 hours to get and you do not have the space to store all of them.

"It is often said the construction industry is behind the times on technology, but technology is very pervasive in this industry."

This scenario gives you a bit of insight to what a concrete producer faces. Our “recipe” is called a mix design, and the ingredients are mainly cement, coarse aggregate, fine aggregate, and water. Also, much like the cookies, concrete is perishable—it has about a 90-minute shelf life before it starts to setup. 

Additional challenges in the ready-mixconcrete industry include logistics and weather.We need special trucks to transport the finished good of concrete, and bad weather will adversely impact the job site and ability to place concrete. This means on any given day, 20-80 percent of the scheduled work could change.

Storing the ingredients of the mix design presents another challenge. The coarse and fine aggregates can be stored out in the elements, but cement and cementitious material must be stored in a dry container. 

Since the concrete lifespan is 90 minutes, this means the production facilities are often in urban areas with limited storage, and travel times can be extended due to traffic.Supplychain management must be continually monitored and managed.

In the ready-mixconcrete industry, we use software, often called a dispatch system, to perform customer management, order taking, manufacturing and delivery scheduling. The program allows producers to set default times for each process which are then used to calculate the schedule.

The system will look at all resources (production facilities, production capacity, trucks, truck capacity, transportation time, inventory, etc.) and present a schedule to meet the demand of the customer. A typical order requires a truck to be at the job site at a specific time, and subsequent trucks are spaced so the contractor can unload the concrete and finish it as required.

The system will produce a report called the First Round Report, which is used to schedule the personnel required to fulfill the demands. There is also a Material Demand Report which will list the material resources (think recipe ingredients) that are required throughout the schedule to ensure there is sufficient materials for the mix designto producethe concrete.This whole process is recreated throughout the day until all orders have been finished.

At any time during the day, customers call to place a new order, increase the volume of a current order, reduce the volume of an order, put an order on/off hold, change the delivery schedule of an order, or completely cancel the order. Every time an order is altered, the schedule and Material Demand Report are recalculated.

The trucks have onboard GPS that provides turn-by-turn directions to the job site, up-to-date travel times (routinely adjusted for traffic), and details about the destination, like where to enter the job site or any special products to bring with. The onboard system also monitors the quality of the concrete by measuring the number of drum revolutions, amount of water added, concrete temperature, and slump (the consistency of the concrete) to ensure a quality product is delivered to the job site.

The onboard system also monitors the quality of the concrete by measuring the number of drum revolutions, amount of water added, concrete temperature, and slump (the consistency of the concrete) to ensure a quality product is delivered to the job site.

Once on the job site, the onboard device can determine when the truck unloads the concrete, when it completes unloading and leaves the site to start a new cycle. All of this information is communicated, in real time, back to the dispatch system. Drivers and dispatchers are also able to communicate via text message, or voice to text, between these systems.

At every step of the process, the systems are in constant communication and adjusting the schedule as required.

The Material Demand Report is used to ensure all the constituents (recipe items) are delivered to the production facility just in time to complete the manufacturing of each load of concrete. This can be particularity challenging since cement must be stored in an enclosed silo with limited storage. In many cases, the round-trip travel time for a truckload of cement can take two hours or more, but the cement silo may only hold one hour of product. The system manages supply chain process to occur in harmony with the manufacturing demand.

Much like the concrete truck, cement tanker trucks leverage GPS to track their process throughout the life cycle. The onboard GPS is continually updating the dispatch software used for the material delivery. The schedules are continually altered to meet the constantly changing demand.

It is often said the construction industry is behind the times on technology, but technology is very pervasive in this industry. We are very dependent on these systems to deliver a quality product, on time, safely, to our customers.

The next time you see a concrete truck or a cement tanker truck going down the road, just imagine it is full of cookie dough or flour and on the way to feed your cravings!

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