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IT in Construction – Keeping track with GPS

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Keeping track with GPS

Logistics plays a critical role in the success of construction projects. Can IT help overcome the challenges related to this field? Satish Pendse finds out that utilisation of the GPS technology could be beneficial

Importance of logistics in construction can never be over-emphasised. Logistics costs form a good part of construction costs. India has additional geographical challenge. Many construction projects are executed in remote and in-accessible areas. One of the major challenges faced is management and utilisation of available assets which contributes directly to the progress and cost of the project.
For a typical construction project, the movable equipment comprises of a fleet of say 150 trucks, 40 mixers, 25 vehicles and so on. There could be several logistical challenges in such projects. For example, the fleet may not be not utilised optimally. It may even be utilised for unnecessary and non productive activities.
Many times, there are no optimised travel routes for this fleet. While at times, the fleet operators do not adhere to the scheduled route or timetable. This could also be due to the many unauthorised and unnecessary stoppages of fleet on the way. Inventory is another issue. Non-availability or excess inventory can both affect a project’s performance and delivery. All these real life scenarios reduce the logistics efficiency and hence increase the costs.
Let’s examine whether Information Technology (IT) can provide some solution to these issues. Imagine a situation wherein we know the locations of the fleet at any given point of time, their path and also exception reporting whenever there is a deviation. Will it not allow us to exercise better control over the fleet movement and hence overall logistics?
We are aware that earth is mapped using GPS (Global Positioning System). Each point on the earth has unique latitude, longitude and altitude. There are devices available that can capture the GPS coordinates of the area where they are placed, along with the date & time when the coordinates are picked. The devices also have an assigned number.
These devices also have a mobile phone chip using which the said GPS coordinates along with date, time and the device number can be transmitted to a secured central website on the Internet. On the website, one can have area maps and the coordinates along with date and time can be mapped on those maps. Thus it can show us on the website in a real-time mode, how the vehicle is moving, which path it is taking and how much time it is taking to reach from a point to point. This technique can be used to address many of our logistics challenges.

Let’s consider an example. Imagine a construction project that has quarry about 150 Km long. On a daily basis, 75+ dumpers travel this distance, carrying aggregate from quarry to batching plant located at the construction site. GPS devices can be installed on these dumpers. They can draw power from the battery of the dumper. The road of 150 Kms can be divided into ten logical milestones.
The devices can be programmed to send the date and time when they cross each of the milestone. The standard time for each milestone travel is maintained in the system and we may allow for say 10-15% variation. The system can be programmed to detect any variation beyond this. One can also make a further analysis such as whether a particular dumper is taking more time or whether the dumpers of a particular sub-contractor are taking longer or whether a particular driver is taking longer to reach the destination. Such analysis can lead us to appropriate managerial actions, so as to improve the logistics efficiency and to reduce wastage.
If some of the locations do not have mobile connectivity, then the date/time, coordinates reading can be stored n the memory of the device and they get transmitted as and when the mobile connectivity is available.
Another famous example is that of consignment tracking. We receive construction equipment at a port and that has to be transported to the construction site. For example, the port can be Mumbai and the construction location could be Kashmir.
The equipment requirement could 4-5 trucks for transportation. There may be transshipment on the road wherein the consignments are handed over from one truck to another. It’s therefore possible that out of the five trucks, four will reach in time and one may get lost. Tracing him may result in one week delay in installation of the entire equipment. As against this, imagine each consignment is fitted with the GPS device.
The device can be programmed to send its coordinates along with date and time after every one hour. They can be mapped on a Google map on the website and central logistics coordinator can monitor them. Whenever he sees any truck going on the wrong road, he can alert the transportation contractor. He can also monitor the delays on the way.
These are just two illustrative examples to explain the concept. There are at least a dozen of ways in which this technology can be used at a construction site for improving logistics efficiency and reducing costs as well as wastage. It can be a very good control tool. At HCC, we used these devices on the barges that were supplying material, equipment and manpower to different work-fronts in the sea at Bandra-Worli sea link. It helped us reduce our transportation costs of the barges used at that project.
The system is very easy to install and use. It’s not very expensive and the value it delviers is high. After realising the benefits we have developed a product that provides this end-to-end service. The devices are provided by us and we have also developed a website with maps on which the device movements can be tracked by the customers.
Required reports can be extracted from the data collected on the said website. I believe that the GPS devices and the associated service is an excellent tool to address some of the logistics challenges of the construction industry.

The author works as the chief information officer for Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), which has started offering IT services to the infrastructure industry. This also includes implementation of the tendering & estimation software. Through this column in Construction Week India, the author brings out the increasing significance of Information Technology in the construction industry. He can be reached on satish.pendse@hccindia.com

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