3 practical ways to improve ready-mixed concrete workflows in construction
Updated: Dec 27, 2022
We have hundreds of conversations with companies around the world in the construction sector, and we recently won the Exponential Changemakers startup competition organized by Progreso X. All these activities help us confirm immediate opportunities around ready-mixed concrete management. In this post, we discuss 3 practical ways in which your digital transformation strategy can enable efficient concrete management. This post targets both construction companies and concrete/cement providers.
A quick overview of the ready-mixed concrete management process
Managing ready-mixed concrete (RMC) involves many different steps: (i) for the concrete company these include producing RMC, transporting it, and delivering it; (ii) for construction companies these may include inspection upon reception, following quality procedures with the delivery information or checking RMC quality with external labs and guarantee RMC quality respects thresholds established by regulation, and of course pouring the concrete on site.
RMC offers many advantages over concrete mixed on-site: thanks to RMC performance has been substantially improved in construction. However, supply chain management also becomes more complex. Failure to deliver RMC on time can result in construction project delays, especially if the maximum time for concrete hardening is exceeded, and delivered concrete becomes useless. From the constructor's point of view, regulations impose strict quality control procedures and these typically result in time-consuming manual data management processes, inefficiency, and lack of productivity.
A key observation is that most of these steps described are part of repetitive workflows. This observation is essential to understand your path to digital transformation. You can exploit workflow repetitiveness, investing in procedures to improve the efficiency of those processes. Let us discuss some examples:
RMC truck drivers still report the details of their trips on paper in many cases. Then supervisors need to manually process all that information manually to dump this information on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or a similar format. In some cases, this may keep these supervisors busy with administrative tasks for up to 50% of their time, preventing them from focusing on other relevant tasks such as overseeing quality procedures or ensuring safe operations. This may happen hundreds of times per day.
Upon RMC delivery, site managers usually realize an initial inspection of the RMC and sign delivery notes (again on paper) if the initial concrete inspection is successful. Usually, at the end of the day, they have to digitize this data manually, by entering the delivery note information in a spreadsheet or any other digital tool, very often beyond working hours and sometimes not being able to do it because of a lack of time. This usually results in some data required by the quality department being late or missing.
After RMC delivery, safety regulations require constructors to control the quality of this RMC. Typically, for every X m3 of RMC, you need to send samples to an external lab to analyze their quality. Results are usually sent back after 7, 28, and 56 days (all this depends on each country's regulation), and then constructors need to inspect these results one by one to make sure they meet regulations requirements individually and in groups when required by those regulations.
Recommendation 1. Improve RMC truck drivers and transportation control
Go paperless. Do not use ink to keep relevant information about your business because that makes your organization much more inefficient, it consumes time from your resources and it is a mechanism prone to introducing manual errors because it requires you to copy information in a digital format manually later on. Free the time of your supervisors by removing manual administrative tasks without added value and allowing them to focus on other relevant aspects, such as inspecting operations and avoiding accidents. There exist different form-based tools for digital data collection in the market, like Beawre Collect.
Then automate processes. This data is valuable if it is connected with the rest of your procedures. Do you need to calculate payments to drivers or bonuses based on the number of trips or kilometers? Are you doing that on an Excel spreadsheet? How long does your team spend on this task? Automate this process. Make sure that as soon as drivers provide data, this data is automatically processed, transformed, aggregated, and stored in the final data storage so that the next person in the organization or system can consume the results. Again, there are many tools in the market for process automation. We would recommend you choose one focused on construction sectors as it will adapt better to the needs of the actors in construction, like Beawre Automate.
Recommendation 2. Improve the concrete reception process
Again go paperless using a form-based app. Promote a change of culture in your organization so that on-site inspection results are not checklists on a piece of paper, that need to be manually logged in a spreadsheet later on in the day, week... or maybe never. Make sure that you use digital tools that allow you not only to record inspection results but also to specify in a user-friendly way and from a mobile device where a specific concrete delivery is going to be used in your project. This is very relevant as it can help you manage those cases where results from the external labs indicate the quality of concrete was insufficient and rework is required. You need to be able to unequivocally identify where materials were used to reduce the negative impact caused by negative lab results.
Recommendation 3. Improve the lab results processing
Public regulations may ask to send 3 to 5 samples of concrete for lab analysis every 100m3 of poured concrete depending on the type you use. Labs will send the results after 7 days, 28, 56, etc, typically in PDF files. A quality technician will need to spend hours, downloading those PDFs, looking for the relevant information, and writing it down in an Excel spreadsheet, to then check if those values are acceptable according to the norm. Depending on the regulation, you will need to group those results in batches of 3-4 results that correspond to concrete received over the same period of time and check that the variance of results is acceptable, meaning that it is within certain thresholds. This is time-consuming and it should not require human interpretation and evaluation. Therefore, again, it can be fully automated. You can improve the use of the time of your resources so that they use it for top-gain activities instead of administrative tasks with which organizations very often misuse the time of highly qualified workers.
Bottom-up digital transformation
Digital tools are not a goal per se but a means to a goal. Tools need to be useful for those working on-site and need to solve actual problems stopping them from being more efficient or making their lives better.
Efficient digital data collection and manual and repetitive tasks automation are most probably two of the most effective mechanisms to solve many of the challenges most construction sites face in their daily operations.
Make sure you explore data automation opportunities following a bottom-up approach, discussing with your site managers and quality departments to detect the most painful processes and find digital tools that help them improve their daily performance and deliver more with less effort.