In the past 10 years, construction technology has advanced and more sophisticated tools have become an essential part of the construction process. The value of these tools in improving efficiency, reducing errors, increasing accuracy, and enhancing visualizations is undeniable. What may not always be clear, however, is that an equivalent toolbox doesn’t result in equivalent benefits. Although many companies now have an array of technologies and the ability to deploy them, the value of the technology depends on the expertise behind the application.
How is Robins & Morton different?
Robins & Morton’s Building Forward® approach informs every aspect of our business, including our process for adopting emerging technologies and developing new tools and methods in house. Because our goal is to be our clients’ choice for every project, we are intentional about our decisions and carefully evaluate each project’s needs. The result is that we innovate and adopt technology in ways that clearly make sense and add value.
Innovation is an extension of our commitment to exceptional service.
Robins & Morton’s success is built on our dedication to providing a positive construction experience for our clients. To that end, we employ technology that aids our teams and trade contractors in being safer, faster, and more efficient while ensuring that quality remains a top priority.
Robins & Morton’s technology efforts are led by our Corporate and Operational Technology team, which includes Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), Jobsite Engagement Team (JET), Innovation, and Information Technology. This team of experienced professionals collaborates to find the best technology and innovative solutions to serve our clients, team members, and projects.
While we employ a bevy of practices that have become commonplace in the industry — including model-based quantity take-offs, virtual mockups, clash detection and conflict resolution, 4D scheduling, laser scanning, and project imaging — we are also on the leading edge as we investigate, and develop, new technologies. For example, our Innovation Services team, housed in our Birmingham office’s Innovation Lab, provides the expertise, tools, and space to work with our project team members, creating solutions to challenges. A reflection of Robins & Morton’s commitment to continuous improvement and collaboration, the Lab designs and often develops prototypes for solutions that don’t yet exist, such as specialized drill attachments that improve installation quality and laser scanner prism mounts that expedite conventional layout work. Possibly the most important benefit of the Lab is its influence in creating a network of innovators within Robins & Morton as we encourage our team members to step outside of the norm and try something new.
We’re excited to see where new ideas, methods, and technologies will take us. Here’s a snapshot of a few of our current initiatives.
Jobsite Engagement Team (JET) Power TOW
The Jobsite Engagement Team (JET) helps our construction sites plan and procure all IT, audio-visual, jobsite imaging, security technology, and internet connection needs. These highly trained technology specialists save our projects time and money by mitigating challenges related to remote IT mobilization.
Our JET team developed a powerful and sustainable tool for our projects, the Power TOW (Technology on Wheels). This customizable solar-powered tool is a portable clean-energy solution for field power and network connectivity on our project sites. It can be equipped with live 4K project monitoring with day and night vision cameras, secure Wi-Fi connectivity, and power for small tools, phones, and drone charging.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
Robins & Morton’s in-house experts can use virtual and augmented reality to assist with a variety of tasks for our clients and field teams. Our VDC team creates interactive mockups that allow our clients to virtually walk through designed spaces and provide valuable feedback before construction begins. These virtual mockups can be adjusted quickly, dramatically reducing the feedback cycle time and eliminating material waste associated with design changes, as well as lowering costs. We also use AR to assist our field teams with coordination efforts. Using VR headsets, our teams can view and verify various scopes of work. Although a project may be in the early stages of construction, the field teams see an augmented view of how the above-ceiling or in-wall scopes will look when installed and can quickly identify coordination and quality issues, preventing costly rework. By using 3D virtual and augmented reality mockups, we can provide early visualization, clarify details, and reduce the likelihood of late changes and change orders.
Safety Virtual and Immersive Learning
We use VR to supplement our safety training with a video game-like application developed in-house based on a digital model from one of our projects. Wearing a VR headset to create the immersive experience, trainees are challenged with navigating a virtual worksite, including properly fastening their fall protection gear, staying within safe areas, and identifying and addressing hazards such as wall and floor openings, unprotected rebar, overhead hazards, and same-level slip and fall hazards. The VR experience allows the instructor to evaluate trainees in a situation-specific environment similar to what they’ll encounter on a jobsite, while the trainees develop muscle memory and learn through virtually experiencing the consequences of oversights.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones)
Robins & Morton’s drones have become frequent flyers on our construction sites, used for a variety of operational construction purposes, including surveying, monitoring safety conditions, conducting thermal scans of building envelopes, and providing progress photos and videos. Using drones for these tasks reduces the human resources spent on them. With specialized software, we can also acquire data from drone footage to analyze quantities of materials, such as soil, and provide measurements, such as excavation areas and depths. Drones enhance our quality assurance measures, providing an added layer of visual reference and information for our clients.
Boston Dynamics Spot™
In 2021, Robins & Morton’s VDC team began collaborating with Boston Dynamics as a part of its early adopter program. Our team, along with Boston Dynamics, StructionSite, and FARO, investigated innovative and valuable ways that we could use Spot™, whom we affectionately call Morty, on our projects. We continue to explore how Morty can assist our project teams with repetitive tasks that benefit from the improved quality and consistency of automation, and with tasks in extreme or confined environments. Morty can operate in both manual and pre-programmed autonomous modes, navigating uneven ground, slopes, and stairs while avoiding people and other obstacles. Morty can also be programmed to return automatically to its charging station, allowing for offsite remote control and automated after-hours operation. We are currently using this technology to document existing conditions within buildings and to perform laser scanning.
During construction of a typical project, our field layout managers are responsible for providing surveying services. Whether providing trade contractors with project control points, checking elevations, laying out concrete structures, or determining the location of future equipment, their accuracy is imperative. With the help of robotics, our field layout managers’ staff can easily perform these tasks with precision. Using points that represent layout locations in the model and a piece of equipment called a total station, field staff can quickly and efficiently lay out installation locations. Additionally, field staff can collect and upload points on existing or newly constructed elements to verify construction accuracy.
Honda Autonomous Work Vehicle
In 2022, Robins & Morton began working with Honda to aid its development of an autonomous vehicle designed to support construction-related activities. The all-electric autonomous work vehicle (AWV) can be controlled remotely or programmed to operate autonomously. So far, project teams in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida, have hosted Honda for weeklong AWV field tests, marking the first steps in exploring the tremendous potential of this technology for our industry.