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Let's Talk Technology

October 25, 2022
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This past October, SMS Equipment hosted Let's Talk Technology – a mini expo where customers and industry professionals were introduced to cutting-edge heavy construction equipment technology. Participants saw demos in five key areas:
In this edition of Experts Corner, Kris Troppman, SMS Equipment's Manager of Smart Construction, summarizes the highlights from some of the conversations that took place.

The labour market is top of mind.

Tight labour markets, particularly for skilled construction workers, are a genuine and ongoing concern. For participants at the event, that challenge is causing them to consider technology that will alleviate this problem today and for years to come. Searching for innovative technology solutions isn't just about equipment operators – technologies are creating a circular economy by saving time for employees responsible for keeping the data and designs on smart machines up to date and helping to make operations more efficient overall.

Kris: Many of the customers who came were looking for an edge. They don't have enough skilled people, and labour markets are very tight – especially in construction. Construction companies are either currently using technology or looking to take advantage of technology to close the labour gap. Efficiency gains through project execution and decarbonization tactics are also top of mind for companies looking at technology. 

We had people seeing intelligent machine technology for the first time. In one notable conversation, attendees instantly connected with Komatsu's Smart Construction Dashboard, which helps you visualize project progress and can give you volumetric reporting. People were excited about how impactful that could be for their business. One said, "I wish we had adopted that last year."
Change management is the biggest hurdle.

Change management is the biggest hurdle.

Tech demos tend to make everything look easy. At the event, however, there were no illusions – our customers are fully aware that technology is straightforward compared to the task of incorporating it into established workflows. 

Kris: It's not the cutting-edge technology that's difficult – it's change management and people management. How that plays out depends on the company's work, but I would unpack change management into two buckets. The first is that you need to plan for the disruption of your business processes. That means identifying where to create new tasks and evaluating existing tasks. The second is around people. Having a 3D-equipped machine with the design and all the architecture and infrastructure around it is one thing. Getting the operator to use it is another.

Smart construction equipment benefits from mining innovations.

Mining is easier territory for smart equipment, as its operational parameters are more consistent than construction, so that sector has seen earlier adoption. It is also familiar territory for SMS Equipment, and several experts from our mining business were on hand to share insights. 

Kris: Intelligent machine control is table stakes in construction right now, and we're moving towards more advanced applications. Tele-remote, for example, is very new in construction, but it's been in mining for a while. Therefore, operations that resemble mining, such as quarrying, will be initial use cases for tele-operations in construction. Digging trenches for sewers and pipelines are other areas. 

Some of these repetitive processes are also dangerous for manual operators, not to mention dull, so it's better for companies and workers if companies handle monotonous tasks with semi-autonomous or, eventually, autonomous equipment. 
Being connected means better training and support.

Being connected means better training and support.

One of the advantages of smart machines is that they're connected, making it easy to support operators with remote tutorials, help desk support, or automated alerts. 

Kris: We provide both in-person training and remote training for our machine control equipment. If an operator forgets how to use a particular feature, we can remote into their machine and use their tablet to have a conversation on Facetime. There's also ongoing support. 

The bottom line:

The digitization of the construction trade has literally hit the ground with smart construction equipment. Based on the input from customers who attended the Let's Talk Technology event, this "last mile" of the digitization journey offers enormous potential for:
  • addressing the labour shortfall
  • boosting efficiency
  • improving progress monitoring
  • making construction work more appealing to the next generation of workers  
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