United Rentals sees these technologies about to take off for real.
2018 may not be the year technology completely takes over construction and industrial jobsites — in fact, the jobsite of the future is still years if not decades away — but several technologies will have their day according to Helge Jacobsen, United Rentals’ vice president for operations excellence. Jacobsen is also general manager of the new Advanced Solutions Group, which partners with original equipment manufacturers to develop and implement autonomous and IoT-enabled solutions for customers.
“For a lot of customer applications, drones are going to take off in 2018,” said Jacobsen.
The biggest users in 2018 will be in wind energy and solar energy, where pilots can fly drones with clear line-of-sight over large areas to do inspections. “For a solar panel field survey, it could take weeks to get the corners accurate. But we could do it today with a precision flyover in 30 to 45 minutes.”
For chemical, oil and gas industries, drones can dramatically reduce the time and expense — not to mention eliminate the hazards — associated with inspections of boilers and tanks, for example.
Building contractors will use drones more often to perform initial surveys of construction sites, measure a job’s progress and keep track of materials on the jobsite. “This will be the year we reach the tipping point in companies adopting the technology,” said Jacobsen.
Drones uses will multiply as contractors and plant managers realize what these unmanned aerial vehicles can do. "The more we use drones with customers, the more use cases we get. Then customers realize what we can do and come back and ask for more applications,” said Jacobsen.
“2018 will be the year when autonomy hits the ground in doing real stuff in real environments,” Jacobsen noted.
Autonomous vehicles won’t take over jobsites (yet), but they’ll make an appearance. United Rentals deployed its first autonomous machine, a Bobcat skid steer, at a customer site in November; the machine is doing forklift-type work, moving materials onto a jobsite.
“We are going to be deploying another 50 autonomous vehicles next year, and we are probably going to have four or five other autonomous platforms ready for real work,” said Jacobsen.
Jacobsen expects to see big advances in telematics in 2018.
“Telematics will move beyond big equipment,” he said. For example, United Rentals is developing a telematics solution for tracking hand tools and smaller attachments, and other companies are working on similar projects.
United Rentals will also be providing telematics solutions for tracking workers to improve safety. Telematics can be used to alert managers of dangerous situations before they happen and also alert them of slips, trips and falls. It will give unprecedented visibility to safety on jobsites.
Companies will continue to look for wearable technology to keep workers safe and healthy.
“We are getting many requests from companies to find solutions for problems like dehydration, exhaustion and temperature control,” said Jacobsen. “Body temperature is a big deal, dehydration is a big deal.”
While cooling vests and similar wearables already exist, customers today want even better options. “We don’t know exactly what the solutions will look like, but we definitely have people at United Rentals who are working on that. We are on a mission to introduce technologies to make our jobsites safer,” said Jacobsen.
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.