PCL Gains Further Insight on Job Sites
A construction company can amass an extensive fleet of equipment, but its work can suffer without the help of a loyal staff. PCL Construction values its team and knows they are its best asset. “We really take care of our employees,” Deron Brown says.
Founder Ernest Poole started PCL as a construction business in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1906. Since then, it has grown to become an 100 percent employee-owned group of independent construction companies throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.
Brown, who serves as the president and COO of the company’s U.S. operations, notes that PCL’s employee-owned structure has created a sense of teamwork among the different entities. “If somebody needs expertise, people will come from any office to help one another,” he says.
The Denver, Colo.-based PCL has nurtured loyalty among its staff by creating an environment where people want to stay. “When you have a company that doesn’t have a lot of turnover, your workforce and talent pool stay solid,” he says.
In fact, this was one of the reasons Brown joined the company. When he interviewed for a project engineer position at PCL in 1996, he learned about its “Quarter Century Club,” which consists of individuals who have been with the company for 25 years.
This is rare because “construction can be a transient industry,” Brown explains, adding that the club includes crane operators, accountants and vice presidents. “It amazed me because it was a very diverse group of people in all different positions.”
Brown has since earned his loyalty and has been with the company for 24 years. “I’m close to joining that Quarter Century Club and will join hundreds of other people across the company who have 30, 40 and even almost 45 years of service,” Brown says.
The Launching Pad
In addition to supporting its workforce, PCL encourages innovation and introduced Job Site Insights™ to the industry. The technology can monitor a building’s environmental conditions during and after construction. With the platform, builders can measure temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, light and standing water, as well as control water flow at any given time.
According to Chief Information Officer Mark Bryant, PCL started working on the concept for Job Site Insights two years ago. “A lot of our customers were asking about smart buildings and wanted our advice,” he recalls.
There were many types of sensors available, but the market lacked a single or central platform to view multiple conditions in one place. “This made construction — already a complex business — even more difficult,” Bryant says.
Job Site Insights has solved the problem by providing a platform where builders can see all metrics in a unified interface. “This was the launching pad in terms of helping us improve quality, productivity, efficiency and safety at the job site,” he declares.
Job Site Insights allows builders the ability to quickly detect and resolve site issues, Brown says. For example, if the system’s sensors detect a water leak on site, another sensor can be used to turn off the valve.
In addition, if a user sees empty office rooms through Job Site Insights, they can use the system to turn off the heating or air conditioning in those places, saving money on power.
The sensors can also check job site temperatures and humidity continously. According to Bryant, this is particularly useful for building in cold weather climates, where morning temperatures can range from more than 86 degrees to negative 40 degrees F.
“Your work environment can impact productivity,” he says. “If you’re continuously monitoring the conditions around you, you can help reduce energy costs and decrease warranty and insurance claims through rework factors caused by the environment.”
In additional to providing real-time alerts to abnormalities, Job Site Insights allows PCL and its clients to keep historical and electronic records of all the data collected from jobsite sensors.
The feature has paid off for a pasta warehouse in Toronto using Job Site Insights suffering with continuous refrigeration breakdowns due to high humidity levels in summer months. “They found they were throwing out thousands and thousands of dollars of pasta because of refrigeration unit failure,” Bryant recalls.
With Job Site Insights, the warehouse owner has saved money. In a recent alert, “The owner was able to move product from one refrigerator unit to another,” Bryant recalls. “It saved him thousands of dollars.”
PCL has implemented Job Site Insights on more than 70 projects in the past year. However, Brown believes the technology has yet to reach full potential.
“These sensors can be used inside equipment [such as] boilers and really help with maintenance,” he describes, explaining that the sensors could send signals to the facility owners to notify them of specific maintenance needs.
PCL plans to expand its reach in the next two years. Insurance companies are actively interested in Job Site Insights to help mitigate construction risk along with other organizations that want to license and white label the system, including external customers in the United States, Canada and Europe. “People see the value of this as a risk-mitigation platform during construction,” Bryant says.
Although some can be resistant to adopt new technologies, PCL has not encountered this with Job Site Insights. Instead, customers tend to see that “the solution effectively pays for itself.”
PCL also benefits from the platform. “It’s helping us conserve energy, eliminate rework and avoid insurance claims by monitoring the environment in ways we typically haven’t been able to before,” Bryant says. “We’ve been using it to maintain the quality and efficiency levels we want to have as a constructor.”
Coping with COVID-19
Like many organizations, PCL has adjusted its business so employees can work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. One proactive step the company took early on, Brown notes, was to form a task force to address its employees’ health and safety concerns.
Safety is paramount at PCL and prior to the outbreak, the company already had a very robust safety program in place. “Encouraging employees to use and wear personal protective equipment was not hard, since they were already accustomed to it,” Brown says.
Safety checks and balances are a part of the firm’s culture, but during COVID-19, PCL took an extra step by encouraging employees to take precautions during their off-hours as well. “We put together information on what to do outside of work and when you get home, [such as] putting your clothes straight in the washing machine,” he describes.
These precautions have paid off as the company has had very few instances of employees contracting COVID-19. “We’ve had a single-digit number of cases, so it’s been pretty amazing,” Brown says.
PCL is still waiting to see what long-term impacts COVID-19 will have on construction going forward. “A lot of our clients are wanting to understand how this is going to affect prices and schedules,” he states. “We’re in an industry that has a lot of labor, so the challenge right now is ensuring we follow all social distancing guidelines, but still move forward with projects.”
PCL’s research department is looking into what the company should do next during these complicated times. “The main focus is to keep us thriving through the use of technology to make our industry and business better,” he says.
Although COVID-19 has brought its share of challenges to PCL, the company says it has maintained its leadership status in certain areas, including solar projects in Canada, as well as the United States and Australia.
“We continue to push the development of renewable energy,” Brown says, noting that it employs engineers and designers in-house that are focused on facilitating efficient operations.
Brown sees a strong future ahead for PCL, but notes that the company does not aim to be the biggest in its industry. “We just want to be the most respected with a great reputation,” he says. “Volume is not what we chase.”
PCL will do that by “making sure we execute everything right,” he continues. “It’s about making sure we excel on our projects, don’t bite off more than we can chew and have the capacity to do it.”
PCL has controlled growth, even during challenging recessions. “By maintaining our presence in multiple markets, our sectors can balance each other out,” Brown says. “If one sector is struggling, another may be thriving.”
Bryant also sees more technology adoption ahead for PCL, as the company adds more capabilities to Job Site Insights. “We’re adding sound and vibration sensors later this year,” he says.
The company will also add sensors that can detect CO2 and other volatile gases, as well as provide information about local weather. “Most big cities grab their weather from a local airport,” he says. “But the weather downtown or at a jobsite is going to be different.”
This can be helpful particularly for contractors that are pouring concrete and want to avoid a downpour of rain. “Understanding the conditions at the job site is important,” he says. “We also have several add-on products that we’re going to integrate into the workplace.”
PCL is looking to add on additional complimentary field-based products as part of the Job Site Insights ecosystem, such as Job Site Resourcing, a product designed to help enable logistical planning around scheduling the movement and delivery of site materials and equipment.
Additionally, PCL has built and has been testing at its Industrial facility in Edmonton a product for safely entering the jobsite efficiently. Other groundbreaking products are planned using artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance both safety and quality in the field. All of these products will complement the Job Site Insights platform turning it into a very robust construction risk management ecosystem.
“The key to the Job Site Insights ecosystem is the consolidation of data into a simple, centralized pane of glass for our field staff to use efficiently,” notes Bryant. All the product work seamlessly together. It’s a fun time to be involved with technology in construction.