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September 15, 2009

Augmented Reality and the Future of Construction
Filed under: Productivity — Tags: — nedpelger

A carpenter considers the wall she’s about to build and goes a bit fuzzy on the dimensions. She pulls out her phone, points it at the wall and the camera viewfinder shows the background while the internet provides the view of the future wall. She scrolls to menu and finds the dimensions and other attributes. She looks at the wall through her phone and can see the future wall. That is augmented reality.

Sound fantastic? All the pieces of technology are now available on new phones: fast internet connections, GPS, tilt sensors and the last piece of this technology, which recently became available on phones and will soon be widespread, digital compasses. With those pieces of technology, the software knows where you are, which way you point your phone and what angle you tilt it.

The first uses of augmented reality will probably be crowd sourced from Wikitude, a travel guide application. You can point your phone while traveling through Germany, for example, and see the names of landmarks, castles, and other points of interest. As you zoom in, you can find much more information about those items you see. As people around the world add content (like on Wikipedia) imagine the increase of accessible intelligence you’ll have!

We live in a time of change that transcends most of our imaginations. Take some time every month to keep up with the technology. When you fall too far behind, you lose value. If you want to read an excellent article about augmented reality, try this at The Economist.


August 29, 2009

Would Phone Apps be Helpful to You?
Filed under: Productivity — Tags: — nedpelger

My friend Erik Schouten suggested I should be making iPhone and Blackberry phone apps for the various helpful items on I imagine it would be useful to have the most common ADA requirements or some concrete form tolerance requirements right at your phone, to access immediately when a question arises on the jobsite. Often there just doesn’t seem like there’s time to get to a computer and search for the answer.

Erik uses his phone with all sorts of crazy apps. He’s a drywall contractor and I recently asked him to investigate some complaints about excess noise from an elevator equipment room to adjacent apartments in several buildings we just completed. Erik had an application on his iPhone that measured sound pressure in decibels and also a frequency analyzer.

So he was able to tell me that in several of the units the bathroom exhaust fan made more noise than the elevator, but one unit had substantially more elevator noise than the others. He was also able to pinpoint that the noise was almost all mid-range (500 Hertz to 1000 Hertz). Knowing that it wasn’t real low frequency sound transfer, helped us devise a simple solution to the problem for that apartment.

Previously, I was thinking expensive lead drywall may be the best answer. Because of the tools from Erik’s iPhone and some basic knowledge of sound transfer, we can save the owner substantial costs and ourselves some serious headaches.

I don’t think most guys on the jobsite will want or need a sound frequency analyzer, but I am wondering if they wouldn’t use clear building code and technical info that is easy to find in their smart phones. What do you think about this concept? I’d really appreciate some comments here, as it will be a major step to develop these apps.

As a final note, I understand lots of PMs, Supers and Foremen don’t currently have the more expensive smart phones, but I’m fairly sure within a couple of years we will all have them. The benefits, even just having instant access to email and the internet, will be too high vs the lowering cost.

Please take a few moments and leave me a comment about your thougths on this issue. I appreciate it.


August 21, 2009

Opportunities Abound for Improved Construction Productivity: Part 3
Filed under: Productivity — nedpelger

This will be my last post in this series. I hope you thought about how our industry could operate differently…better. We get so caught up in our daily fights that we often don’t consider the future. I’m proposing you take some time to think about how your work could change, how things could be done better. Then put forth some effort to move things in that direction.

Whether you own your own business or work for others, your value depends on what you deliver now and how you improve in the future. Please commit to improving both those measures. You’ll be glad you did.

The video gives a good visual introduction to BIM.


One of the features that will ultimately be most useful will be 4D modeling. Obviously the 3D model shows the various building components. If we assign time as the next dimension (4D) we can build the model to show how it will look each day of construction. Think of the advantages of being able to design the exact construction sequence on a tricky project all in advance. Also, that information can be communicated to everyone involved, keeping all stakeholders working in the same  direction.

It’s a small stretch to go from 4D to 5D, which could show which materials or equipment or labor is needed at each moment in time and each location. Imagine how these technologies will change what we do.

I encourage you to take some time to think and learn about where our industry is headed. You’ll certainly have a better seat when we get there!


August 19, 2009

Opportunities Abound for Improved Construction Productivity: Part 2
Filed under: Productivity — nedpelger

In the previous post on this topic, I discussed the potential power of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and of decreasing productivity in construction trades. For many years, I’ve understood the industry fails in building design and planning. All parties allow the acceptable level of performance to be so low, then we resolve things in the field. This pattern harms construction productivity more than any other factor.

Owners, Architects/Engineers and construction Project Managers have failed to achieve good designs and planning. Too many traditions remain from the early 1900s, things like shop drawings really showing all the critical information. This process allows A/Es to be sloppy in their design, knowing what they show isn’t what anyone builds from.

Let’s consider structural steel. The structural engineer lays out a grid and sizes members, but doesn’t design the connections (which are the most critical element of the design, i.e. most likely to fail). The old rationale for this procedure was that various steel fabricating shops did their connections differently and there were cost benefits to letting them decide. In current times, any steel shop can do any connections. The Structural Engineers just don’t want the liability of fully designing the steel…and it’s just the way we do things.

We miss an opportunity for truly efficient design, with one party (the Structual Engineer) going through the design process one time, correctly. The current method also keeps everyone else that works around the structural steel somewhat vague about what will really be installed. So the trim carpenter doesn’t really know how the framing of the columns can be detailed since the connections aren’t clear. Also, the duct and sprinkler contractors have to make assumptions in their shop drawings which may or may not be correct.

Have you ever struggled with the system as it currently works? What improvements could occur? How?


August 13, 2009

Opportunities Abound for Improved Construction Productivity: Part 1
Filed under: Productivity — Tags: — nedpelger

An entrepreneur says, “For what opportunity do I have an unfair advantage?” Learning to see where those advanatages may be develops as a useful skill. Whether you’re trying to delight customers in your own business or add value in the company you work, learn to look for advantages you can bring to the game.

I see Building Information Modeling (BIM) as one of those advantages…probably the most important one I’ve seen in a decade. Most of us still work with 2D drawings, even though AutoCad produces them. Most architects still think in terms of plan, elevation and section. BIM doesn’t just take us to 3D drawings (which are only slightly more useful than 2d) but requires each component of the building to be modeled.

A conduit isn’t just a line on the print, it becomes a 3D tube that exists in the virtual design. Of course the obvious advantage is to see the intersection of conduits, ducts, sprinkler pipes, etc and prevent crashes. The more important advantage, though, involves the potential for huge construction productivity increases from BIM design. I haven’t read about anyone else seeing this potential.

Those of us who work in the day-to-day building design and construction business understand how much  inefficiency happens on a typical project. Designs typically aren’t well coordinated between all the professional disciplines and Owner’s change their minds often when they begin to see what they are getting. Labor productivity doesn’t suffer because workers don’t want to work, but because Owners, Designers and Supervisors don’t clear the way.

In 2004, a Stanford University study showed that construction labor productivity declined almost 20% from 1964 to 2003, while other non-farm productivity  increased by over 200%. That’s an astonishing statistic. Can construction really have done that badly?

If you have an opinion, leave me a comment. I’ll be writing more about it soon.


July 31, 2009

A Great Car Device for $1.99
Filed under: Productivity — nedpelger

A friend recently sent me a link to purchase a devise that plugs into a car lighter and charges all sorts of electronic devices through a USB cable. Since many of our electronic devices (smart phones, MP3 players, cameras, GPS, etc) can have their batteries recharged through the USB data connector, this device could be used in place of lots of device specific chargers. It seems like an innovative device that I want to have in any car I’ll be driving.

When I saw the device sells for $1.99, with free shipping and comes from Hong Kong, I was skeptical. My buddy ordered a couple, though, and got them in a few weeks. He tells me the devices work well, so I’ve ordered a few for us.

By the way, how do they sell a device for under $2 and ship it free from Hong Kong? Perhaps I’ll find an unpleasant answer to that question, but what the heck…life is for the living.


June 30, 2009

The Secret of Being Creative
Filed under: Productivity — nedpelger

Most people answer “No” to the question, “Are you creative?” They are wrong.  Humans exhibit creativity as long as their lungs fill and their hearts beat. We are all creative. Humans are hard wired for creativity, though many of us don’t flip the switch too often.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to teach that only the Einsteins, Edisons, and Picassos are truly creative. From elementary school, those that had a natural gift for drawing or thinking were told how creative they were. The rest of us heard that and drew the obvious conclusion that we weren’t.

Further, popular culture includes this idea of the creative genius who has a constant stream of amazingly good ideas. I’ve worked with some incredibly creative people and they did have lots of good ideas. The important thing I noticed, though, is that their ideas didn’t start out perfect. They simply had lots of good (and some not so good) ideas and they were willing to run down many rabbit trails to determine the difference.

The secret of being creative is to realize that your ideas won’t be perfect. Stop beating yourself up about not finding that one beautiful and perfect idea. Start pitching concepts, thinking about things that probably don’t make sense, be willing to let ideas fail and not feel like a failure. You’ve got to take risks to be creative. You must separate your sense of worth from the ideas you consider.

Edison didn’t make all those amazing discoveries by sitting and trying to find the one perfect thing. He’d have an idea, test it, continue to test it if it showed promise but drop it if it didn’t. He tried hundreds of materials trying to get the lightbulb improved. Finally, he hit on the right one.

Construction gives us many opportunities for creative thinking. Too often we fall into the rut of doing everything the way we always done it. I challenge you to put forth the effort to be more creative…at work, at home, in every aspect of your life. Be willing to try something different and fail a bit. At the very least, it will make you laugh more.


August 2, 2008

A Difficult Week
Filed under: Productivity — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m completing one of the crappiest weeks I’ve had in a while. I keep things in perspective, of course. My son didn’t die smashing his car into a tree on Pierson Rd. and my wife isn’t dying from cancer. Still, it’s been a tough week.

We had tenants moving into a new apartment building starting August 1st and on July 30th the State Elevator Inspector failed the elevator for going up to the top floor before coming down to the first floor in fireman mode. After much discussion, it turns out that the State requires this feature, even though they know it doesn’t make sense and are in the process of changing it. So the elevator company wants to charge $200/hour to have an operator run the lift to help tenants move in over the week-end. As you can imagine, no one’s thrilled about paying those costs. One of my last calls on Friday was a bit of good news, though. The State agreed to allow the elevator inspection to be valid and for the residents to use the lift.

My entire week, though, consisted of design changes, meetings to understand disputes, meetings to see changed site work conditions, and scheming to  get a  Highway  Occupancy  Permit  before the  Municipal Officials start using me for target practice. I had a plan for what I wanted to get done this week and none of it happened. Like the Chinese proverb, I was managing too many affairs, like holding pumpkins under water. One pops up while I try to hold the others down.

I’m normally a good time manager. I value time. I organize myself well to get the most out of time. I say no easily and try to understand and focus on the truly important things. But this past week, none of that seemed to matter.

What I can learn from the week, though, is how my response to the crap made me even less productive. I let myself get stressed. I started to live in the future, worrying how bad I’ll look when something isn’t done that I planned to have done. I know better. Worry stupidly wastes my time. I need to recommit to live in the present, to not be anxious about the future.

Next week I plan to get up a little earlier, work a bit more and exercise a bit more, focus on my present task (having chosen it as the most important thing for me to be doing at that moment) and not worry about the future. I’ll survive…until I don’t. It’s not much more complicated than that.


June 18, 2008

Using their heads to move a pile of rubble
Filed under: Productivity — Tags: — kaegw

Debby and I are in India visiting two of our kids who have been wandering around here for the last seven months. It’s a fascinating culture. I tend to pay attention to things I know, so I’ve been watching the construction business here.

We were staying at a little cheap hotel and I could see a construction project out our window. A large pile of construction rubble (broken concrete, rocks, etc.) was within view. Since labor is cheap in India, their method to move the pile involved no equipment more complicated than a shovel.

Several women, wearing the traditional saris, made the process fascinating to me. Each woman walked quite erectly with a wide wicker basket balanced on her head. The basket seemed about 3′ wide and less than a foot deep. Men standing at the rubble pile loaded this basket and helped her lift it onto her head (the lifting seemed to take two people but the carrying was a solo activity).

The women kept making the trip back to the pile with empty baskets on their heads, then walked away with full ones. I watched for a while, intrigued by a very different method and set of relationships than I’ve ever seen on the job. I wondered a few things.

How do the women get treated on the jobsite? Do the men harrass them? Flirt with them? Ignore them? Does anyone go through an economic analysis of using labor vs equipment? What happens here with work site injuries? Do more primitive work methods bring less worker satisfaction since less gets done or is the level of worker satisfaction independent of technology and production?

The only thing I know for sure is that when we got back from a day of touring Mumbai, the pile of rubble was completely moved. The next day they were placing concrete for a 4th floor slab and the woman material movers were carrying concrete in baskets above their heads.

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