Willy Schlacks is the president and co-founder of US-based Equipmentshare, a peer-to peer airbnb-type equipment rental marketplace that also offers telematics and equipment utilization services.

Willy Schlacks

In an exclusive interview with Inside Construction, Schlacks discusses the slow uptake of technology across the sector and how important telematics is in order to keep track of the fleet. 

IC: Why has construction not witnessed the same level of technology as transportation and manufacturing?

WS: Given the scale and complexity of the average construction project, it's understandable that the construction industry has experienced slower advancement than other industries. Unlike the manufacturing and transportation space, construction doesn't run on assembly lines. Between multi-faceted projects, numerous subcontractors and organizations onsite and unpredictable variables like weather and mechanical issues, there are lots of moving parts that have hindered advancement in the space. Additionally, the lack of existing-use cases, and a precedence of improving operations and efficiencies, has kept executives and decision makers from investing in new technologies. 

IC: Explain how telematics will benefit the construction sector?

WS: The biggest hurdle to effective construction equipment management is the disconnect between contractors and their equipment. That's where telematics comes in. Telematics puts actionable equipment data to the hands of executives and managers - taking the headache out of fleet management. From giving contractors greater insight into machine health so they can take a proactive approach to maintenance to providing an overview of equipment utilization so owners can make smarter business decisions, telematics gives contractors more control over their fleets.

In addition to enabling contractors and owners to manage their fleet more effectively, telematics is laying the foundation for greater innovation in the space. By aggregating immense amounts of equipment data, telematics is providing the data required to power other advancements such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, precise job costing, and one day even full-scale automation. Telematics also brings other technologies, like drones and augmented reality solutions, to their fullest potential. For example, when paired with a drone, telematics can collect visual data - like volume of aggregate material or location of equipment - for more effective job site management. 

IC: How would self-operating construction equipment work? Do you have a case study you can share with our readers?

WS: Controlled construction environments, like mining, agriculture and off-highway construction, are starting to see robotic and automation machinery take shape. Due to the lack of environmental factors or physical barriers capable of disrupting workflow, these areas of the construction are the most fertile environment for automated equipment to operate. But until telematics and AI technology reaches full potential, predictions say full-scale automation is still at least a decade away.

Construction robotics and self-operating machinery decrease time spent on nuance procedures (like concrete pouring or harvesting), and also assist with difficult tasks such as lifting heavy materials. Automation will also lead to a safer, healthier work environment for human workers. Take the Construction Robotics' bricklayer, the first commercial bricklaying robot for onsite masonry construction, as an example. Not only does the self-operated machine increases productivity 3-5x, it also reduces required lifting by 80% - lowering health and safety impact on workers. 

IC: How will data aggregation lead to AI and predictive analytics?

WS: Despite telematics having a strong foothold in the construction industry, data aggregation among construction fleets and job sites still needs to reach a much higher resolution before automation can reach it's fullest potential. That's because the more granular data collected over time, the easier it is for analytical solutions to uncover relationships between data and equipment behavior.