Prof. Janaka Ruwanpura

Introduction

Information has the best value when delivered to the correct place at the correct time in the correct format. The University of Calgary’s productivity researchers, and many other researchers around the world, have identified that such delivery of information is difficult in today’s construction industry due to inadequate communication facilities. This has become a critical factor contributing to low productivity in the construction industry.

The University of Calgary’s productivity research team have developed an innovative information kiosk, called “i-Booth©”, to enhance information management and communication for construction sites. The i-Booth currently consists of two versions – a mobile kiosk and a wall-mounted kiosk– and will include handheld devices for all three main platforms: Windows, Apple and Android in the future. The current i-Booth is equipped with many other hardware devices that are integrated through a software platform developed at the University of Calgary, Canada.

The second-generation i-Booth launched on April 18, 2012 can be summarized as:

  • An advanced information kiosk designed to improve information integration between office and site and on-site communication between different project personnel and the construction workers; and,
  • A large-scale multi-touch high-definition display and the latest advancements in distributed data warehousing and security technologies.

History and Development

Researchers found that morning toolbox meetings, in which foremen communicate the day’s planned activities to workers, lacked effectiveness and enthusiasm. It was also noted that supervisors do not deliver the information in a format that is easily understood by the workers. As a solution, researchers came up with the zero generation i-Booth, called “Information Booth”, which assisted foremen in communicating work targets, technical details and expectations to the workforce using visuals. This novel communication tool was planned to serve many purposes with important jobsite information. The Information Booth provided workers with information, such as daily and weekly productivity targets, assignments for each worker/crew, special technical information for each worker, updated safety instructions, long-term jobsite targets and three-dimensional (3D) models of the assigned construction work and finished products.

A prototype Information Booth was introduced to construction sites as a pilot project in 2006 and 2007, assisting foremen in effective delivery of toolbox meetings. The initial testing of the system was conducted at the General Hospital parkadeconstruction project and the productivity research team used an LCD projector and a laptop to carry out toolbox meetings with the workforce. The research team put together a presentation with the aid of site supervision staff. This presentation consisted of a few drawings, safety information, material locations, 3D renderings and work schedules. The foreman presented the content to the workforce. The research team changed the presentation based on the feedback and input from the workers and supervisory staff. This resulted in numerous benefits, including a 10% increase in tool time, a 17% increase in productivity and an over 70% increase in worker satisfaction.

After getting positive responses from the workforce and supervisory staff, the research team assembled a real kiosk for extensive field testing. This booth, later renamed the i-Booth©, was built by the University of Calgary and has been put into practical use in construction projects since September 2009. The research team carried out user acceptance testing on several construction job sites in Alberta. Software features of the system were modified based on the input from the user acceptance testing. The kiosk was tested at many building construction projects from January 2011 to December 2011.

The research team initially planned to integrate in-house document management system with the kiosk system. The data and information were uploaded based on two/three week look-ahead schedules. However, the following shortcomings relevant to many construction contractors were identified during field testing in the last three years:

  • Current document management systems do not have some key features needed for integration with the kiosk system. No amalgamation of information or no protocol for information uploading was clearly evident. It was also noticed that excessive time was consumed in information searching.
  • Project personnel at the operational level could not work with the information pertaining to only next two/three weeks, due to issues and problems in the drawings and other information. • The integration of information, such as site instructions (SI), requests for information (RFIs), contemplated revisions (CRs), project change notices (PCNs), etc. are currently done manually and need to be updated to soft copies to streamline the process and to improve the efficiency of the supervisory staff.
  • New hardware components are required to be integrated with the kiosk to ensure better utilization of the popular building information modeling (BIM) at the operational level.

AUSIA Framework (Total Integrated and Automated Solution)

The research team found that general contractors lose 180-200 minutes per supervisory staff member per day in ineffective information management subsystems. The AUSIA (accessibility, usefulness, satisfaction, integration, automation) framework has been designed to minimize the time wasted in ineffective information handling and to improve the following areas:

  • Accessibility: ability to access particular information at the field/site level.
  • Usefulness: ability to use particular information at the field/site level.
  • Satisfaction: the level of satisfaction for particular information at the field/site level.
  • Integration: sharing of information between project participants or melding of information sourced from separate systems.
  • Automation: the use of an electronic or computerized tool by a human being in order to manipulate or to produce a product.

AUSIA Framework has been applied to the 2nd generation i-Booth.

Features of the 2nd Generation i-Booth

The general contractor can decide on the number of kiosk systems required based on the size of the job site, workforce and financial capacity. The kiosk systems can be updated in real time via Wi-Fi, Ethernet or a mobile GSM air card. Critical updates will be received at the field level in real time. In the future, supervisory staff will be equipped with handheld devices, such as iPads and Windows and Android handheld devices, which will enable staff at the operational level to use new technologies, such as quick reference (QR) codes for material safety data sheets (MSDS), play training videos and display messages/photos and company contact details.

The 2nd generation i-Booth include twelve categories: design drawings, shop drawings, safety, schedule, quality, specifications, BIM, technical, certifications, work packages, weather forecast and virtual supervision. The system handles many types of information, such as PDF (portable document format), DWF (design web format), NWC (BIM file) and video files. Field engineers are responsible for updating and integrating the system with the existing information. This includes updating new drawings (design or shop) to the system and integrating them with SI, RFI, CR, PCN, other drawings (design/shop) and specifications with the uploaded drawings. The system enables contractors to create dynamic work packages that will be updated automatically in real time. However, the site superintendent / construction manager has to check the information before its release to the workface.Key hardware components of the kiosk are a multi-touch sunlight-readable screen and rugged industrial grade keyboard, mouse and track ball. Optional items include a proximity scanner, rugged printer, scanner and GPS tracking device. The site superintendent / construction manager will receive an alert when system is moved away from the job site. Access control will be done through card access and a pin number given to each individual.During the field testing phase, the research team determined that supervisory personnel are reluctant to use PDF/DWF markup software to permanently redline the drawings. As a solution, the 2nd generation i-Booth is integrated with a digital plan room to enhance information integration. Field engineers equipped with digital pens or touch screen computers can easily integrate the information. Digital pens and handheld devices in the workface can easily transform day-to-day documents into soft copies. This increases the efficiency of data distribution and processing. The kiosk is equipped with a printer to enhance the user experience at the field level, with end-users of the kiosk easily getting hardcopy printouts of information at the workface without going to the site trailer. Through the multi-touch display, foremen and operational level staff can use BIM without understanding the software functions.

Conclusion

The research team consistently observed inadequate information management and communication in commercial construction projects in Alberta, Canada. Through workshops that were recently held with the six general contractors in Canada of the research group, it was clearly evident that that the 2nd generation i-Booth is very innovative and practical. This type of innovative solutions bring positive outcomes to the construction industry, such as improvements in direct tool time and productivity, worker satisfaction and information management. Through i-Booth Inc., different versions of i-Booths are now available for the benefit of the construction industry.

(Thanks to Dr. KasunHewage, Lahiru Silva and Dr. Kamal Ranaweera for their contributions to build 2nd Generation i-Booth)

About the Author:
Ch. QS. Professor Janaka Ruwanpura, (Member No. 0032)
Ph.D., P Eng. (Canada), PQS (Canada), F.I.Q.S.SL, MRICS
Professor and Canada Research Chair in Project Management Systems
Director, Centre for Project Management Excellence
Schulich School of Engineering
University of Calgary, Canada