Shrinking the planet with global jobsites

These days, it’s not unusual for projects to involve people who work for different organisations and, increasingly, in different locations. But it’s not easy. Project work has always presented significant challenges in managing and sharing information. Large projects require close collaboration among stakeholders including technical disciplines, project owners, construction trades and financial managers.

Much of this collaboration hinges around geospatial information, an essential component in the planning and construction of large projects. Large or complex projects such as highways and railroads, energy facilities and large buildings rely on timely and accurate spatial data. Geospatial information is used to conceive and plan the project, execute construction and quality control, and finally to manage and operate the completed structures.

The efficient interaction and use of information among widely dispersed team members illustrates the concept of the 'global jobsite'. The term stems from the fact that many components or phases of a project are handled by people and teams not located at the construction site. Global jobsites provide flexibility and enable organisations to optimise the utilisation of human resources and tools to increase productivity, reduce rework and manage costs.

As an example, developing nations often have the need and funding for large projects but lack the expertise to design and build them. Building a power plant in an African nation may engage engineering expertise from one firm, construction from another, environmental management from a third and so on. While the bulk of the work takes place on the project site, the project’s activities extend around the planet. The design and engineering teams may be in Europe, structural steel design and fabrication takes place in South Korea, and generators and electronics are sourced from the U.S.

The project’s success requires efficient communication and data exchange between the participants. Even when large, multi-national, multi-discipline companies are hired to handle the entire venture, they must be certain that their various internal teams are collaborating efficiently. That’s where the global jobsite comes in.

Location independence

In our power plant example, some geospatial professionals must be on site throughout the project, of course, but the global jobsite allows many tasks to be completed in separate locations that house dedicated staff, IT infrastructure and specialised tools. This method, known as 'clustering', reduces costs and increases efficiency by concentrating expertise and interleaving multiple projects. Team members’ skills readily transfer from one project to the next, reducing both downtime and project delays. Contractors can operate with smaller teams of engineers and project managers on the construction site, thereby avoiding expenses for travel and local accommodations.

Using the clustering approach, a company might have a single team that specialises in processing and modeling using aerial or terrestrial photogrammetry. This team receives data from projects around the world. It has the capacity and flexibility to handle the varying workloads from multiple projects and locations more efficiently than a dispersed, project-by-project structure. As data flows from the project site, it is processed, checked and routed to the appropriate destination. Because dedicated staff do the work, it can move quickly. Some global teams even leverage Earth’s time zones, using teams on different continents to enable work to continue around the clock. The deliverables, which can range from revised designs to schedule changes and updated work orders, are sent to the jobsite or — in many cases — directly to handheld or on-machine controllers for layout and earthwork.

The global jobsite does much more than link engineering and construction teams. By including administrative functions such as budget and scheduling, materials management, permitting and approvals into the information flow, project owners can control expenses and prevent delays. This flexibility provides an excellent opportunity for building information modeling (BIM). The rapid exchange of information supports the development of constructible models for buildings and complex structures. Design data and as-built information move between jobsite and remote personnel, enabling efficient construction and setting the stage for successful post-construction operations and facility management.

Technologies for the global jobsite

Like many solutions to complex problems, the global jobsite leverages several enabling technologies to produce the desired results. Cloud-based services for information management provide an easy, secure way to move information between field and office. By providing a platform for exchanging data among different software and technical disciplines, the cloud can remove traditional barriers of time and distance between collaborating teams. Applications for design, modeling, project management and more can access spatial data from a central location, reducing the need for data transfer and translation. Cloud services are used to connect project teams to external sources of geospatial information.

On the jobsite, geospatial systems use optical and GNSS instruments to provide precise location data for mapping, layout and as-built data. GNSS users can tie to local reference stationss. For quality control, workers can use rugged tablets or handheld controllers to capture detailed inspection reports. On-site communications are handled using site-specific Internet access such as WiFi or existing cellular telephone networks to transmit data, plans and more.

Thanks in part to increasing wireless bandwidth, imaging can play a valuable part in the global jobsite. Photographs can provide detailed data on site conditions. As part of the global jobsite, the field imagery can be synced to the cloud for immediate access by office technicians who use the visual data to measure dimensions and create new points. Aside from panoramic images, which help remote stakeholders to visualise the project and gain context on specific problems, other geospatial solutions including mobile mapping, 3D scanners and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) collect images and LiDAR data for use in planning, quality control and progress measurements.

To illustrate this, consider a tunneling project in which surveyors use 3D scanning to quickly capture in-progress data. Office engineers can verify clearances and confirm that tunnel-lining shotcrete is applied to specification. Scanning and imagery can also be used to confirm correct placement of forms and rebar prior to concrete pours. The data can be processed and analysed quickly by remote technicians; in some cases results can arrive overnight.

Global solutions for local projects

The global jobsite is not limited to projects in far-away locations. It can be applied in any situation dealing with multiple interests and disciplines. Local projects such as transit systems, hospitals, utilities and commercial construction can benefit from the rapid interaction and data sharing afforded by the global concept. The enabling technologies for geospatial data, communications and collaboration are readily scaled to suit specific project needs and locations.

By facilitating easy collaboration between diverse tasks and disciplines in different locations, the global jobsite helps prevent errors and misinterpretation of information. The smooth interface among individuals and systems reduces project risk while enabling increases in overall quality and adherence to plan.

Ron Bisio, vice president of the Surveying and Geospatial Division at Trimble