The cute public relations slogan cooked up by the city of Las Vegas would have us believe that "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Being kind of contrary, I brought back a ton of notes from the World of Concrete show in January to pass on to PB&E readers.
You got the first installment in the March 5 edition's cover story. I thought it made sense for that article to focus primarily on the concrete industry and the Northwest presence at the show. World of Concrete is a wide-ranging exhibition, however. I didn't go there expecting to come home with much to tell dirt work contractors about it, but that's what happened.
All of the major manufacturers of positioning systems for construction equipment had displays at the show, and I visited the Topcon, Leica and Trimble booths. I also attended press briefings by the former two and came away very impressed by the strides being made in this exciting field.
Perhaps the most enlightening presentation I heard was by Ray O'Connor, president and CEO of Topcon Positioning Systems. His message to contractors was clear: Get up to speed on the latest technology, or you will get left behind.
Because he's in the technology business, O'Connor obviously has a lot to gain if contractors heed his words, but his message rings true whether you choose his company's products or a competitor's.
"Make no mistake, precise positioning technology will be at the forefront of construction developments in the coming years," O'Connor said.
The revolution of the industry will be the "total solution and how we integrate all these various technologies into creating that solution," he added. "The key to the total solution package is software. If you think about it, GPS is just a sensor — like optical, imaging, inertial, etc. It is one part of the solution. Software is the driver, the difference-maker, the technology change-merchant."
He said that more people in the industry are realizing "construction is really a manufacturing business; roads, buildings, bridges, highways, pipelines — all are 'manufactured.'" Not only that, but "every job is a custom manufacturing business, one that shapes the planet just like a sculptor shapes clay. Only in the construction business, the sculpting tools used are bulldozers, motor graders, excavators, pavers, and other machines to change the very face of the earth."
Large contractors in the industry already are embracing this burgeoning technology and understand the importance of software breakthroughs and integration. Now, according to O'Connor, smaller contractors need to join the positioning revolution if they want to continue getting work.
O'Connor gave this bottom-line prediction: "Within five years, there's no doubt that any major construction in the world will use this technology and equipment. In order to compete, they'll have no choice. This is not a pipe dream, pie-in-the-sky thinking, or some hair-brained notion about what might be. It's here, right now, and the technology will continue to drive dramatic changes in the construction industry."
Machines from China
One of the first things I noticed as my cab drove me to the Las Vegas Convention Center was a large display of unfamiliar yellow and red construction equipment parked outside in the Silver Lot. As soon as I got the chance, I walked over to take a look and learned the exhibitor was Sany Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. of Changsha, Hunan Province, China.
I wasn't surprised so much by the mere presence of a Chinese manufacturer at the show. What struck me was the broad range of machines Sany had on display. The line went way beyond concrete equipment — batch plants, mixer trucks, placing booms, and various concrete pumps — to include excavators, motor graders, asphalt pavers, vibratory rollers, drilling rigs, mobile container cranes, and even a hydraulic lattice-boom crawler crane.
Plywood from Asia
I also attended a briefing by APA - The Engineered Wood Association, which recently completed a study of Asian plywood concrete-forming panels being imported into the United States.
Fourteen non-trademarked panels from various Asian manufacturers were tested at the APA Research Center in Tacoma to benchmark their performance compared to APA-trademarked plywood. According to APA, the Asian products exhibited substandard glue performance, and load capacity.
Though the sample tested was too small to be conclusive, APA felt confident to announce, "These results indicate that substitution of offshore plywood for North American plywood may lead to inferior structural and bond durability performance with a higher level of formaldehyde emission."
Be sure to save the date for the next World of Concrete, Jan. 22-25, 2008; seminars Jan. 21–25. Visit www.worldofconcrete.com for details.