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PCL partnering with Microsoft to modernize construction processes

Angela Gismondi
PCL partnering with Microsoft to modernize construction processes

PCL Constructors Canada is using digital technology and cloud services to be “smarter builders” and improve processes, increase safety, efficiency and productivity.

PCL’s Business Technology team has partnered with Microsoft to develop an Internet of Things (IoT) Smart Construction platform, Job Site Insights (JSI), using Microsoft Azure. The platform is used to gather and analyze IoT data and provide a “single-window” view into all aspects of a construction site through sensors. The devices are mapped to spaces, equipment assets and people, which allows project staff to monitor the whole digitalized jobsite.

“We really think this is the future of smart construction and smart construction can lead to smarter buildings and collectively that leads to the ability to create smarter cities through safety, quality productivity and efficiency with a focus on reducing our carbon footprint and being a more sustainable builder,” explained Mark Bryant, chief information officer at PCL.

Construction sites are connected to the IoT sensors using the JSI. The data collected is continuously streamed into the JSI cloud platform using Microsoft Azure products. JSI uses artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to convert data into real-time actionable insights available to construction site staff, partners and owners, explained Bryant. JSI is accessible through a desktop PC, tablet or mobile device. The platform is designed to be agnostic so it can employ sensors from any developer.

 

We were one of only 20 organizations in the world selected for this preview program

— Mark Bryant

PCL Constructors Canada

 

“It was birthed from a paper sketch I did with a stick man in August of last year and here we are about a little over 14 months later. We’ve got a solution we’re actively rolling out,” said Bryant.

“We wanted a solution that was simple, centralized, available mobile, secure. We need to know where the data is so we can properly secure it and maintain the quality of that information not only for ourselves but for our customers and the Microsoft platform was one that we felt very confident that we could develop the solution.”

At first, PCL started developing JSI internally. Microsoft asked if PCL would take part in a preview program for a platform they were developing, now called Digital Twin.

“We took a really hard look at that and said we can keep developing this on our own, and it would take us another 18 months to develop it, or we can accelerate our time to market by taking some the core fundamentals of the Microsoft technology and develop on top of that. So that’s exactly what we did,” recalled Bryant. “We were one of only 20 organizations in the world selected for this preview program, the only construction company.”

The partnership was discussed at Microsoft’s annual conference for developers and IT professionals, Microsoft Ignite, and a video highlighting the 69-storey Stantec Tower in downtown Edmonton, one of the proof of concept sites, was shown. Sensors were used to measure the humidity of the suites so millwork could be installed when humidity levels were optimal, which takes the human element out of conducting frequent manual checks, Bryant explained.

“We had a project manager that was willing to try the technology and the timing just made sense in terms of where we were in the development cycle and the proximity of our people and the tower,” said Bryant, adding pilot projects are also being established in Toronto, Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

The sensors allow you to track information such as temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. Bryant said there are a number of reasons that’s important including reducing rework and warranty claims, improving on build quality, conserving energy, increasing productivity and safety and reducing PCL’s carbon footprint.

“Fresh construction is very sensitive to temperature and humidity conditions so us maintaining optimal humidity and temperature ensures that the millwork is sound and we don’t have warranty issues, claims or rework. That saves us money and improves our quality,” said Bryant. “Conversely, it’s also an opportunity for us to improve our insurance premiums because we’re being proactive about ensuring we don’t have warranty claims.”

Bryant said this is just scratching the surface and by next year there will be even more sensor technology tools available to track elements on the jobsite.

“As you can imagine the IoT sensor market is moving really fast. The sensors are getting smarter, they are getting more features and capabilities on them,” said Bryant. “In the future we will look at materials tracking, flood monitoring, there is a whole list of things we would like to do in terms of tracking capabilities.”

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