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07.05.2017 Geofencing for General Contractors By: Stephen G. Test

Knowledge is power, and this is true not only in politics but also in construction. As fast as advances are made in construction materials and methods, we also need to keep pace with information technology, especially given the powerful tools that contractors already have at their disposal. Geofencing is one of those tools that should be considered seriously.

A geofence is a “virtual perimeter” created for a real world area such as a construction site. Industry reports indicate that use of this technology is growing rapidly in the construction industry. It provides real-time data and information to the contractor and provides multiple benefits for a nominal investment, including increased productivity and efficiency which should translate into savings.

The technology to do this has been in use for nearly 20 years. Its applications are widespread and include child location services, the ability to disable or enable firearms to work only in specific locations and the ability to track movements of wildlife in and out of protected areas.

Software systems are available that use either global positioning systems (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define and create virtual geographic boundaries. These programs can be set up to “trigger” when a monitored device such as a cell phone; iPad or other electronic device crosses an imaginary set boundary, allowing an administrator to know in real time who or what has entered or left the monitored space.

The use of this technology varies from industry to industry. Retail and transportation industries are well ahead in using software to monitor all monitor- and drive-specific aspects of their business, such as alerting customers to available parking spaces or bargain sales, or monitoring travel times and routes of delivery trucks.

Many geofence applications incorporate Google Earth. This enables the administrator to set the perimeter using a satellite view. Other applications can set perimeters by use of longitude / latitude or other mapping programs. Some programs even allow the administrator to disable the monitored device under defined criteria. Automatic alerts that can be generated include email, text or other forms of communication and recording.

The administrator can set the radius of the monitored location to almost any size desired. Generally, the larger the area monitored, the less useful the tracked information. Size will depend on what information is sought to be obtained.

Various types of triggers are available. A static trigger is based on the actual position of a device user with respect to a fixed area. One that is dynamic will track a device user in a changing data field. You can also determine location information between multiple devices compared to each other. Geofencing differs from programs that broadcast beacons which trigger actions on a beacon-enabled app on a mobile device but do not pinpoint location on a map.

Just as the advanced use of drones now allows a contractor to see instantly the status of project work from close up to wide angle, the real-time electronic data provided through geofencing software allows instant recording and archiving of essential elements of progress.

Once set up, the virtual fence will automatically monitor and track activities for the entire project duration. The administrator is notified of all that occurs within the fenced area day to day and month to month. The technology has become very affordable. Most contractors supply mobile devices to their project managers, so contractors already have made the hardware investment needed to use the programs.

The digital boundaries that can be set up will monitor more than just the movement of employees in and out of the project site. The data can be collected to prepare detailed and accurate reports of devoted manpower to support a claim of overtime or general conditions costs. It can also be set up to monitor equipment and materials moving into and around the fenced area. The administrator will receive a real-time alert by email or text when equipment has been brought to the site or materials delivered. Equipment that can be tracked and monitored includes portable heaters and generators, mixers, rental equipment, dumpsters and construction trailers.

Some contractors are now using the system to keep track of their fleet of trucks by installing devices on each truck as well as on other construction equipment. The system then provides a timely alert when the truck or back hoe has arrived on site, but also notifies the administrator if the equipment is stolen.

It is clear that there are important benefits to the contractor in tracking materials and equipment and their presence on-site. In addition to tracking stolen property, the system will detect unauthorized use, monitor fuel consumption and thereby contribute to a reduction of idle time.

Knowledge in real time of the actual delivery of materials to the project site is an obvious benefit. A contractor can know immediately when site delivery is made or is imminent, thereby allowing for reduced waiting time. Large orders of steel, glazing or specialty materials can then be monitored upon delivery and storage, allowing for better coordination of planned installation and reduction of idle time.

Contractors involved in site grading can now install GPS grading devices on their heavy equipment to track more accurately and timely the achievement of the proper grade, rather than relying on the age-old method of survey stakes, which are subject to movement and displacement. Estimates are that use of this technology may improve the cut and fill process by as much as tenfold. The GPS device can be installed in the cabin so the operator knows in the field when she has reached final grade. This will translate into reduction in idle time, elimination of re-staking, lower fuel bills and increased efficiency.

Most geofence technology programs are quite flexible in design capabilities and allow a system set up for your projects particular needs. There seems to be no limit to the usefulness of geofencing technology when applied to construction projects. In this competitive marketplace, this technology is a useful addition to the tool box.