Construction cameras help maximize worker productivity, minimize errors, enhance client relationships
By Chandler McCormack
Everybody knows what a hammer is good for, but construction cameras can mean a lot of different things to different people. While not as ubiquitous as hammers, construction cameras are becoming a regular fixture on jobsites across the United States.
Some view them as must-have tools for scheduling and productivity. Others find them most valuable for marketing and public relations purposes.
“Today’s superintendent isn’t just a guy who swings a hammer; he’s the guy with the laptop who knows how to swing a hammer. He needs to be able to access important information in the field just like you can in the office. Our construction cameras are an important piece of that technology puzzle,” says Blake Gremillion, president of construction for D’Argent Cos., a development and construction firm based in Alexandria, La.
One of the most commonly cited benefits of having a construction time-lapse camera is that it can reduce the number of visits to the jobsite required to bring a project to completion.
A well-placed construction camera with a well-designed dashboard allows viewers to view a jobsite from any mobile device, zoom in as needed for a closer look, retrieve images from any date and time, and peruse a time-lapse history at any given point in time.
Today’s high-resolution, time-lapse construction cameras are designed to meet the specific needs of the industry they serve. Unlike a security camera, which provides a constant video stream, construction cameras provide high-quality photos at resolutions that are magnitudes greater than that of video and can also provide high-definition, time-lapse movies of those same projects.
Gremillion is among a growing number of project managers who rely extensively on construction cameras to manage the day-to-day operations on projects across the country.
D’Argent bought its first construction time-lapse camera four years ago when the company was expanding and trying to make a name for itself in a new industry with a new client.
“Our use of construction cameras started with a new client in the oil and gas industry — our first — and we wanted to impress them. That project just kept leading to more and more work because they were impressed with us and the ability to go online and look at the project anytime,” explains Gremillion.
Today, D’Argent owns five construction time-lapse cameras that it deploys on a variety of projects. Sometimes the owner pays for the camera. Sometimes D’Argent foots the bill, such as when faced with an accelerated project schedule.
Time is money
Pat Cowan is senior vice president for KZ DevCo, a California-based real estate development company that specializes in single-tenant, build-to-suit developments for national tenants, including CVS, Dollar General and Starbucks. His team uses construction time-lapse cameras to maximize productivity and minimize travel time and expenses.
“Even though we’re a small firm, we handle an extraordinary number of projects. We’ve completed well over 200 in the last 20 years. Having people in the field is a significant expense for us, and it’s not always necessary,” says Cowan. “For example, right now we have three projects under construction in Hawaii. It does not take many trips to Hawaii to pay for the construction camera.”
Beyond their use by project managers and construction teams, the construction cameras are an important part of KZ DevCo’s executive-level reporting process. KZ DevCo’s leadership team can quickly scan the company’s entire portfolio of ongoing projects from a single dashboard. And the cameras provide an extra layer of client visibility into project timelines.
CVS, which is headquartered in Woonsocket, R.I., is one of KZ DevCo’s clients. “It’s great to be able to provide access to the executives in Rhode Island,” says Cowan. “It’s a level of reporting that they haven’t experienced before.”
Like Cowan, Gremillion believes the use of construction cameras is a differentiator, particularly for smaller companies. “The client can see that his construction team is going the extra mile to do things the right way, and that they’re not afraid to let the client have access to his job site. That says it all right there,” says Gremillion.
“And it does wonders for the schedule,” he adds. “You’re able to look at an app on the phone when you can’t get the guy in the field on the phone.”
Anyone with camera access can see when materials have been delivered and when key milestones have been met. Cowan believes his construction managers benefit most from the use of the cameras, particularly on remote projects such as those KZ DevCo is working on in Hawaii.
Cameras can also be useful for keeping an eye on things outside of the project manager’s control, such as delays due to weather or issues with adjacent projects such as infrastructure improvements.
“We had a project that was going really well, but there was a controversial off-site improvement to part of a highway that wasn’t going so well, but we were depending on it getting done,” recalls Cowan.
His team was confident that things were going well with their own project, so the team moved their camera to keep an eye on the highway project instead. “At times we weren’t able to get a reliable update on the progress of the [adjacent] project, but we could look at the camera and see the work physically happening,” explains Cowan.
The observer effect
Beyond the more obvious benefits, such as reduced travel to the jobsite and improved project management, many users of construction cameras report an increase in responsiveness and responsibility on the part of those being observed by the cameras.
Researchers in psychology, physics, and other sciences call this the observer effect. It refers to how the simple act of observing something affects the behavior of whatever is being observed, whether it’s subatomic particles or construction projects.
Real-time, 24/7 access to the construction camera also creates a sense of cohesiveness that can be lacking when team members are separated by geography and time on the project.
“If you’re on our team, but you don’t have boots on the ground on a regular basis, such as with a consulting engineer, [the camera] makes you feel more a part of the team. It helps foster pride of ownership in the work the team is doing,” says Gremillion.
Through fostering a sense of ownership, increasing engagement and accountability, and simply appealing to the basic desire to avoid negative repercussions, cameras on the jobsite can minimize errors and avoid delays.
Widespread knowledge of a jobsite camera can even help preempt some problems from happening in the first place, making projects run smoothly and adding huge value by keeping all eyes focused on having a successful project.
Gremillion recalls watching in real time as exterior block was being delivered to the jobsite. “We were able to catch that it was the wrong color. It turned out to be an error from the manufacturer, but that would have been extremely expensive to replace had it been installed that way.”
Construction cameras are also useful for investigating more nefarious incidents such as theft or safety violations.
“We have used the cameras as an extra means for security and safety,” says Kelly Cantley, director of business development for The Bozzuto Group based in Greenbelt, Md. “If we have a theft or any other issue on the jobsite, we immediately go to the tape to see who was on-site and to question them.”
A diversified residential real estate company, The Bozzuto Group provides a variety of real estate services throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including the development of mixed-use, multifamily projects. Cantley is most enthused about her company’s use of construction cameras to enhance its relationships with existing customers, as well as to gain new ones.
The Bozzuto Group provides camera access to field teams, operations, marketing and the executive team — along with providing limited access to clients. The company also shares construction time-lapse videos via social media for viewing by prospective renters or buyers.
“Currently we have multiple cameras on a large $80 million project where the owner is three states away from the project. There have been multiple times where the owner is unable to make it down to the project progress meeting. Instead of only being able to describe progress over our call, we are able to utilize a web conference and have him understand and see the progress of the building,” says Cantley.
For first-time users of construction cameras, Cantley stresses the importance of getting the camera placement right from day one, particularly if they want to use an overlay function to detect changes on the jobsite.
“An overlay only works if you keep the camera in one spot. And don’t skimp on resolution,” she adds. The construction cameras used by The Bozzuto Group are 6 megapixel, solar-powered and provide wireless construction webcam transmission. The purchase price of a construction camera similar to the ones used by The Bozzuto Group start at approximately $4,000 per camera.
“Our cameras pay for themselves rather quickly because we’re able to avoid going to the site as often,” says KZ DevCo’s Cowan.
“We are able to pull up the camera while we’re reviewing what’s happening on the site with the contractors who are there,” continues Cowan. “We’re also able to give executives real-time status by providing a link to the camera… along with a detailed report of what you can’t see on the camera. That’s a level of excellence that they don’t get from everyone.”
Chandler McCormack is the co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based OxBlue Corp., a leading provider of construction camera systems used by construction professionals and project owners since 2001 to monitor and manage jobsites around the world.