Story at a glance:
- The experts at Skanska have long been using innovative tech—but now it’s everywhere.
- Data consolidation is critical when it comes to making the best decisions for sustainability.
- Innovative tech can also minimize impact from traffic jams, utility disruption, noise, and light pollution.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Skanska—one of the world’s leading construction and project development companies—was mostly prepared.
They already had virtual planning and meeting tools in place and innovative data technology to assist in tracking safety and other details both on and off-site. There were, of course, the initial pains of having to go more virtual and some slight issues surrounding the now high-volume use of such tools, but for the most part, it was “pretty seamless,” says Myrrh Caplan, senior sustainability director at Skanska.
The pandemic experience did teach the Skanska team how to further increase productivity, especially when it comes to planning meetings. They already had the technology in place to meet virtually, but it wasn’t being used regularly. In the past large projects were planned with in-person meetings requiring travel and transporting of drawings and other data; now everyone meets on the screen with all information at their fingertips. “It is remarkable now how accessible things are. Fifteen people can meet and have everything on their screen. We can innovate and collaborate and not leave our homes or offices. Now we can do 10 of those meetings in a day. It has been a real godsend,” says Paul Pedini, senior vice president for Skanska Civil in New England.
These and other technology tools are constantly evolving and changing the way we build.
Imagine if everything that is learned about a project is at your fingertips. At Skanska, it is. All the data collected during the planning and construction of projects around the world is gathered into one central digital location.
“We develop a tremendous amount of data in our industry. We collect it, clean it, and aggregate it to make it available to our planners and operators to draw insights from and make better decisions,” says Will Senner, vice president of preconstruction at Skanska.
Data banks have been critical during the pandemic as project teams deal with crippled supply chains and scarce materials. All information about lead times and prices for materials is entered into digital platforms by manufacturers and vendors so everyone can access it and plan accordingly. “In a Covid world where things are changing week to week, day to day, it takes the search for materials off their plate. There is one place to go for accurate, timely pricing and lead times,” Senner says.
Such data consolidation has also been critical in making the best decisions for sustainability. An internal carbon footprint tool looks at the material and other carbon-emitting areas related to the material—transportation, fuel use, manufacturing, and more. Detailed product information, including cost and environmental declarations, is available with a few pushes of a button, putting all the information in front of planners to make the right choice of sustainable alternatives. “It used to be the design was handed off to the estimators; now it is all integrated,” Caplan says.
The data can help determine exactly how much concrete, steel, or glass is needed on a project, power density, and how much to spend on control systems. “The goal is no surprises,” Senner says. “We are in the certainty business and having the ability to provide certainty on costs, schedule, environmental platform, and to leverage data to provide that certainty is a game-changer.”
Job site safety software allows construction companies to track core safety elements—including misses, major/minor incidents, and response.
“The key data that has changed the market is those near misses. As an industry we didn’t used to track if someone didn’t get hurt. We used to just be glad it didn’t happen,” Caplan says.
Near-miss data helps to inform where the major risks are before they become a major incident. The advent of such software allows planners to be more predictive and work on prevention through design. They take insight from those near misses and apply them to the design phase.
“Nothing beats preparation,” Pedini says. “If you can take technology and plan everything to a T, then the risk and moving parts are reduced and everything goes as planned.”
Such technology was used when Skanska erected a bridge over a live railroad. “There were huge degrees of risk,” Pedini says.
It was determined that they needed to place the entire bridge in one action. Skanska teams engineered it on the ground and used a 650-ton crane at 2am to place it. “It was like muscle memory. We knew exactly how to do it.”
With the complexity of construction projects continuing to grow each year, it is more critical than ever that everyone and everything is connected. The use of all-encompassing digital platforms keeps schedules, accounting, and planning in one place.
“The power of today’s scheduling software, linked to the project three-dimensional model and tied to project controls data, allows the entire team—including contractors, designers, and owners—to monitor jobs on an ongoing basis. We can see issues coming, react quicker, and work proactively to ensure project efficiency,” Senner says.
These platforms ensure everyone working on the project has the most up-to-date information.
“With so much information, you need to have all the data at your fingertips all the time,” Pedini says. “A field manager can use an iPad and access project controls and revenue in the field. Everything is connected. Actions are sent to the right people immediately so they can spend their time managing the project like they are supposed to be doing.”
Skanska recently implemented a production tracking workflow for concrete foundation on a major health care project. The client and the team were able to monitor hours worked and work completed, giving them key insights on production rates and allowing them to facilitate earlier intervention based on predictive trends. The data was linked to the building information model, allowing production status, workflows, and trends to be visualized in a 3D format.
“It made it more accessible and understandable for other members of the team,” Senner says.
Creating to Be Less Intrusive
Large-scale infrastructure projects can have a major impact on daily living in the areas they are being built. Digital technology tools can minimize impact from traffic jams, utility disruption, noise, and light pollution.
“We can test-drive an entire project before it gets built,” Pedini says.
GPS-guided equipment scans the ground for any existing utilities before construction starts, and laser scanners enable precise modeling. In 2020 Skanska was the successful proposer for the Interstate 95 Northbound viaduct replacement in Providence, Rhode Island. The planning team developed a radical design to tear down an existing bridge that was not in the scope of the job and build a replacement that solved many problems for RIDOT, including raising the bridge elevation to avoid vehicle hits. This innovation enabled Skanska to eliminate 25% of the bridges in the owner’s preliminary design. Using technology they modeled the current and final conditions of the project. They studied the movement of the traffic and measured every structure on the job, assembling them piece by piece to make sure they would fit as they should.
The final project solved a dangerous traffic situation, was scheduled to finish a year early, reduced environmental impact, and saved millions of dollars.
“This is not in the realm of how it would have been 10 to 20 years ago,” Pedini says.
This technology is a game-changer for historic renovations. “Existing conditions can be scanned in a way that allows for the prefabrication of a system that fits like a glove,” Caplan says. “We can get every landing perfect, every slant, every wall. We can get it down within millimeters.”