Oracle: connecting construction
“Today, there’s a huge trend towards remote operations and connectivity is key to that. You need to make sure you have the right bandwidth, latency and a reliable connection from your site back to your point of digital operation.” Oracle Construction & Engineering’s Director of Innovation, Burcin Kaplanoglu, speaks with authority on the topic having spent the last two years developing Oracle’s Innovation Lab in Chicago; a hands-on trusted space for customers to see solutions in action and collaborate with Oracle’s Partner Network (including the likes of Bosch and nPlan) on how to build the construction sites of tomorrow.
In December 2019 the Innovation Lab moved from being a simulated to an actual site with a general contractor ready to utilise Oracle’s learnings over the previous 15 months to inform new approaches to safety, productivity and connectivity while delivering a planned expansion to the facility. “Remote site monitoring demands reliable connectivity for streaming live video and real time data,” explains Kaplanoglu who points out that 80% of the solutions used at the lab are now commercially available. “We’re able to capture and laser scan from the site 360-degree videos, drone imagery and photos in order to match that information to a BIM model and construction schedule.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Kaplanoglu notes the remote monitoring products Oracle were implementing are now being used broadly across the team, by the general contractor, owner and designers. “The design team doesn't need go to the site anymore,” he adds. “They can remotely monitor and see changes and address issues off site. However, to utilise all of this innovation, high bandwidth connectivity on site is paramount.”
The need for high bandwidth and low latency at the construction sites of the near future is amplified by the demands of digital transformation across mission critical operations. “The installation of 4K cameras on site with super high resolution for the live streaming of imagery required to gain a more reliable view of site progress requires tremendous bandwidth,” confirms Kaplanoglu. “The implementation of 5G can support this along with the operation of autonomous equipment and virtual reality solutions.” Allied to this, Kaplanoglu points out that with the proliferation of devices connected by IoT, 5G will be capable of managing the flow of data from millions of sensors per square kilometre.
“Everybody’s looking for connectivity,” he says. “Currently, at many sites in Europe, the US and around the world, we must identify a reliable network - whether it’s wireless through a carrier or a local provider or a site that provides its own wi-fi connections. With the broader adoption of 5G we’ll no longer need to do that. The connectivity will be instantly available for everyone to take advantage of through the expanded capacity of enhanced mobile broadband.”
Building in a post-Covid world
With the construction industry hamstrung by the global pandemic, huge impacts to schedules were inevitable. Kaplanoglu highlights the uncertainties around the accessibility of labour, the availability of materials and, when on site, the ability of crews to perform their roles freely. How can Oracle help companies address the evolving challenges faced around safety, efficiency and productivity?
Kaplanoglu explains the increased use of remote monitoring (with solutions like Reconstruct) is allowing construction teams to access a single source of truth where a BIM model is united with a schedule utilising data on what materials and workers are in place on site. “Our architects and designers don’t have to be in Chicago for OAC (Owner Architect Contractor) meetings, we can do everything for the Innovation Lab remotely,” he offers by way of example. “The cameras and scanning equipment require terabytes of data for large image files so high bandwidth connectivity, such as 5G, is becoming essential.”
Oracle are also addressing the challenges presented by social distancing to safeguard the health of workers and the general public. “Our teams have explored new processes and practices while keeping the project moving forward with as little disruption as possible,” says Kaplanoglu. The Innovation Lab hosts many technologies whose unique capabilities could be brought to bear on the new set of problems the pandemic presents. “For example, Oracle’s partner technology Aconex facilitates a common data environment (CDE) where images from a site can be grabbed and processed by its AI engine. This technology can scan for objects to process compliance to PPE and enable us to keep people working in their set groups,” explains Kaplanoglu. “It’s not about facial recognition or highlighting violations but about educating people on the best practice for changing working conditions. Here, we’re not processing live images so you could rely on a 4G connection.”
Kaplanoglu believes another key area for improving efficiency involves better supply chain management which goes beyond materials handling to materials readiness. “Our partner product (from Jovix) integrates with our schedule to let us know the percentages of materials already being use in production, available on site and what remains to be delivered. We can track materials linked to the schedule which are scanned by gate meters on site when they arrive. For material delivery it’s good to know you can have delivery on site without signing for anything. You unload and the gate reader tells you what's arrived. For large infrastructure projects it’s often a challenge to locate materials on site when they’re stored in different locations; our approach is getting great feedback from customers looking for an efficient solution and relies on consistent back office connectivity.”
Oracle’s payment processing solution Textura is helping companies upgrade their financial management. “We can only share metrics of success if the customer accrues it,” stresses Kaplanoglu. “They actually have improved the speed of their payment processing during the pandemic by as much as two weeks. It’s important that they were able to ramp up how fast they pay to the general contractor during the pandemic. And one of the key things is because this product is fully digital, you don't need to write a check, you don't have to mail it, everything is done online. All the documentation is done online and so with management teams working remotely during the pandemic, connectivity is key.”
Laser scanning solutions are also provided by Oracle partner Faro (famous for its work with Boston Dynamics on the payments robot Spot). “We’ve been working with one of their robots on site since April,” reveals Kaplanoglu. “It goes to a location, it scans the site, it climbs up the stairs, goes to the second level, stops in a location, scans the site, goes to another location and so on… So, we now have automated laser scanning.” Kaplanoglu maintains this is not about robots versus humans but about automating repetitive tasks requiring multiple tripod set ups. “We believe robots can be a complimentary labour force allowing humans to do what they’re best at. We’re testing more ways of outsourcing other repetitive or high-risk tasks for more agile operations. As the industry progresses more towards fully remote operations 5G will be vital to ensure low latency for this type of real time data capture.”
Making future connections
Throughout the pandemic, the resulting enforced lockdown and gradual reopening of construction sites worldwide, Kaplanoglu has seen an increased appetite for technology investments. “Necessity is the mother of innovation,” he says. “Things have changed in terms of how fast companies are looking to scale solutions. For example, how people perceive technology is changing. Previously, if an evolving solution could only solve 70% of a problem it wouldn’t be adopted, but right now the response I get from the customer is that 70% is better than 0%. There’s definitely a willingness to make new connections and be part of the development of these technologies.” Kaplanoglu is excited by IoT partner technologies like Versatile – a camera box that can be attached to crane hooks to measure productivity in real time.
In tandem, the work Oracle Construction & Engineering is doing at the Innovation Lab is being extended across Oracle’s other businesses. “We now have Oracle Utilities and Oracle Communications joining the lab,” explains Kaplanoglu. “This gives us the ability to show how you can build capital projects or a utility like infrastructure. We can also demonstrate how you can actually have a smart grid at your house and how the energy use can be monitored via Oracle Communications bringing technologies from its partners across energy and utilities. It’s an exciting time as we seek to expand the mission of the lab beyond engineering and into the communications industries that complement construction. We truly believe that, as an organisation, the only way to improve the industry is to share what we’ve learned. If we all keep the knowledge to ourselves, we're not going to get there. Collaboration with customers, partners, and industry institutions - especially at a time like this - is really important to help us build a better future.”