Collaborative, powerful and intuitive, app-enabled smartphones and tablets have quickly become essential job site tools across the construction industry. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of construction pros who said mobile technology wasn’t mission critical to business plummeted from 40.1% to 20.7%, according to the annual Construction Technology Report conducted by JBKnowledge.
While that still leaves one in five AEC workers suspect of the mobile-optimized job site, the numbers are dwindling, and for some, the fully paperless, productivity-enhanced working environment provided by construction mobile apps (and related software) can’t come soon enough.
Josh Lannen is the quality assurance and control manager for Boston, MA-based construction management firm Bond Brothers. "We are desperately trying to completely rid ourselves of the paper," Lannen said. "There are still some holdouts we struggle to convince that mobile is a better way, that paper-based project documentation and reporting is two things: expensive and old."
Paper is also not, well, mobile, said Lannen, who uses smart phones and tablets "non-stop" for QA/QC assurance at Bond Brothers' education, healthcare, heavy civil and power generation projects across the Northeast to update and share project and design documentation in real-time with subs and other stakeholders.
As mobile apps continue to proliferate and provide solutions to timekeeping, safety audit, asset tracking, project management, drone flight optimization and more, Lassen and others expect efficiencies to win out over tradition. Indeed, the current wave of new apps shows no signs of slowing down.
Here's a look at some of the popular smartphone and tablet apps seeing adoption across job sites.
Safety and security
- Minnetonka, MN-based road sign maker SignCAD released its Cone ZONE mobile app to help road workers create optimized construction and traffic zones. Built-in video logging enables crews to document, manage and share up-to-date information about work zone conditions.
- Companies like Chicago-based Thomas Roszak Architecture are using TrueLook cameras for project time-lapse videos and to remotely monitor job site conditions and activity via mobile apps. The cameras are mounted inside a polycarbonate thermal plastic alloy enclosure and can operate on job sites with temperatures ranging between 25 degrees below zero and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Technology developers, including San Francisco, CA-based SafetyCulture and Reston, VA-based Canvas, are attempting to take construction safety compliance into the paperless era with a suite of apps that include field safety auditing, real-time accident inspection, OSHA reporting, fall prevention and other safety checklists and job site safety analysis.
- Speaking of fall protection, San Diego, CA-based electrical engineer John Whitcraft said a go-to, daily use app for Whitcraft Engineering Solutions teams is My Altitude, which provides location, altitude in height from sea level, barometric pressure and relative water boiling point.
Equipment and vehicle management
- The Fleet Manager app from Henderson, NV-based GPSTrackIt lets vehicle managers and dispatchers see the real-time location of equipment, and provides unauthorized and after-hours use alerts and specific operator assignments to minimize the risk of equipment theft and vandalism by providing visibility into crew and asset locations at all times.
- Designed to help salespeople optimize customer meeting times and location routes, San Francisco-based Badger also promises route optimization for construction material suppliers and for foremen and supervisors conducting regular job site visits on multiple jobs. The app provides traffic and road conditions and comes with backend lead management and CRM tools.
- While companies including Equipment Share and Equippo offer mobile-optimized, online marketplaces for renting idle equipment, the team at Truckdrivingjobs.com has developed the iTrucking app to provide smartphone-powered job listings for the Class A and Class B drivers, along with breaking news articles on the commercial trucking and haulage industry.
- With gas prices projected to climb in 2017, Boston, MA-based GasBuddy offers an iPhone, Android and Windows app for locating the cheapest and closest fuel (including diesel). The app also features pricing forecasts and a trip cost calculator.
Worker productivity and reporting
- Plano, TX-based general contractor One Source Building Services is using Timesheet Mobile to minimize "buddy punching," or inaccurate/late time entries, and increase job site efficiency. The GPS-enabled app allows workers to virtually punch in and out of geo-fenced work zones, and it has saved One Source $5,000 per month compared to the firm’s previous paper-based timesheet process, according to a Timesheet Mobile case study.
- Danville, CA-based R&J Construction likewise deployed the StreetSmart app from ClickSoftware to optimize timekeeping with worker location via GPS. The app also captures mileage reimbursement information automatically from worker phones, saving R&J up to $10,000 a month from erroneous expense reporting, according to ClickSoftware vice president of strategic industries Steve Smith.
- The Neat Company out of Philadelphia is deploying its Neat app into construction verticals to offer companies a mobile solution for managing expense receipts and costs reporting. The Neat app captures data from photo images of receipts, prepopulating vendor, data and time, cost, and other itemized information into popular accounting software, including QuickBooks and Sage.
- Major AEC project management and collaboration mobile app solution providers include Bluebeam, FieldWire, Procore, and PlanGrid, each of which provides plan access, review and updating, task creation and scheduling, take-off and punch list management, and more.
- On the design and planning side, Lannen said Bond Brothers uses the BIM 360 Field app from Autodesk more than any other mobile solution to collaborate with architects, engineers and subs and to maintain accurate and up-to-date project documentation in both 2-D and 3-D.
- Field reporting app Raken is used by firms including Bowen, Rand Construction and Turner Construction for collecting daily subcontractor reports via mobile app as opposed to paper- and spreadsheet-driven processes.
- Other subcontractor communication apps include San Diego, CA-based eSub, which provides access to contracts, insurance documents, RFIs, change orders and the most current project plans.
- Seattle, WA-based Anderson Construction has adopted Bridgit Closeout as its primary, app-driven punch list management tool. The Closeout app features project lists, subcontractor assignments, construction defect documentation, and PDF and Excel reporting outputs.
- Based out of Round Rock, TX, national drone services provider Drone Dispatch provides detailed topographic data, point cloud data, volumetric data, 3-D models and more by utilizing the DroneDeploy and SkyCatch apps that provide advanced mapping and photo modeling technologies, respectively. "Drones are becoming more prevalent on the construction site because of the capabilities they can provide through these apps," said Drone Dispatch CEO Chris Bonnet.
- Raleigh, NC-based Precision Hawk offers a free mobile app that will automatically fly a drone over construction sites to collect photogrammetry and thermal imagery for mapping and analysis. With off-app software, the imagery can be stitched together into 2-D and 3-D maps for tracking projects, managing resources and conducting volumetric material calculations.
- Berkeley, CA-based 3D Robotics partnered with Autodesk and Sony to offer SiteScan, a camera-to-app-to-cloud system for optimized drone flight path planning and high-resolution reality capture.