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Comparing Different Delivery Methods of Contextual Work Instructions for Construction Laborers

Project Team

Martin Fischer, Rui Liu


 Current methods of delivering work instructions to construction laborers do not quickly respond to changes of contexts and cannot convey contextual information in a timely manner. To address this problem, this research aims to investigate and compare different delivery methods of work instructions for construction laborers. I will compare delivery methods with two criteria: dynamic and timely. A delivery method is preferable if it adequately captures dynamically changing contexts and conveys contextual information in a just-in-time manner. This research will take the following steps: (1) Formulate delivery methods for work instructions such as via paper, smartphones, tablets, and augmented reality glasses. (2) This requires engineering solutions such as developing prototypes for each selected delivery method. (3) Validate each delivery method with an industry collaborator through a case study method, in which I will make both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the delivery method.

Project Background

Research Motivation

 This Seed Proposal is based upon a 2016 Awarded Seed Research titled as “Creating More Value-adding Work Instructions for Construction Laborers”.  The previous Seed Research put forward extended criteria, which define high-quality work instructions as being more value-adding, informed of changes, attentive to construction laborers’ concerns, and just-in-time. Following these extended criteria, the high-quality work instructions could provide laborers with sufficient contextual information that is closely related to their tasks at the right time. Thereafter, the previous Seed Research provides a template, which aligns with the extended criteria, to enable construction practitioners to quickly generate high-quality work instructions. The template consists of different information sections to cover different aspects of contextual information, as shown in Figure 1.

To validate the work instruction template, the research staff of the previous Seed Research collaborated with one CIFE member, Accu-Crete, to conduct a field study for one year. One test project was a ten-level residential building. The footprint of this project is 13,508 square feet, and the gross area is 149,220 square feet. Accu-Crete was the concrete sub-contractor for this project. Figure 1 shows an example of work instruction that the research staff developed particularly for this project. As shown, the work instruction has different information sections including: “Task Description”, “Floor Plan”, “Equipment and Tools”, “Part-related Information”, “Dependency Information”, “Instructions on the Installation Process”, “Laborers’ Concerns and Protection Measures”, and “Adjustments to Variations”. Those information sections are intended to ensure that construction laborers receive sufficient contextual information. In addition, the work instructions are designed to be interactive with laborers in that laborers can indicate if they think the instructions are helpful or not by checking the green or red box, respectively. Laborers can also put feedback in the “Adjustment to Variations” section to provide information on the changes of contexts on the job site.

Throughout the field study, the research staff conducted both a qualitative and quantitative analysis. On the one hand, the author was able to collect positive opinions on the customized high-quality work instructions. On the other hand, however, the research staff had difficulty collecting quantitative metrics and asking laborers to implement the work instructions as for their daily routine. Main reasons accounting for this dilemma are listed below.

(1) Construction laborers thought it unnecessary to implement the work instructions because it can cause extra work for them;

(2) Some construction laborers cannot fully understand the written work instructions as they have varying levels of education; and most importantly

(3) The work instructions were delivered in a way that was not convenient for construction laborers to implement.


                                                                                                                            Figure 1. An Example of Work Instructions

Based on this preliminary case studies, the research staff realized the importance of applying effective delivery methods to convey contextual work instructions. Hence, the research staff will further formulate and compare different delivery methods.

Research Objectives

 This research aims to investigate and compare different delivery methods of work instructions for construction laborers. We will compare delivery methods with two criteria: dynamic and timely. A delivery method is preferable if it adequately captures dynamically changing contexts and conveys contextual information in a just-in-time manner.

Research Updates

To understand construction processes and in particular how information is communicated at the construction workface, I conducted field studies at three job sites. The first job site that I went to is a medical facility project of which DPR is the General Contractor. The second project that I went to is the Microsoft campus project of which Ruldoph and Sletton (R&S) is the General Contractor. More recently, the third project that I went to is a precast parking structure project of which Clark Pacific is the Concrete Sub-Contractor.

1 Observations of Workface Communication Processes

As I observed the communication processes at the workface, I found that the communication process for construction crews can be subdivided into three sub-processes: preparing instructions, distributing instructions, and updating instructions. Detailed descriptions of those sub-processes are shown below.

1.1 Preparing Instructions

The foreman prepares the instructions (or “work plan”) for the next day for the crew members. In addition, at the beginning of each day, each crew member should fill in a form (pre-task planning form) to indicate the major steps they will take to perform their tasks, as well as address the main safety considerations. The foreman will double check the form contents filled by those crew members, and ensure that every crew member understands what to do and how.

1.2 Distributing Instructions

To distribute instructions, the foreman will talk through the instructions to the lead man in the morning of the next day, and let him to talk to the other crew members about who should do what. In addition, the foreman will inform about what tools/equipment to bring to what area (i.e., the location to perform task), and what are the special safety requirements for the task. For a complicated task, the foreman will provide sketches to illustrate in case that the crew members cannot understand the drawings.
While talking to the crew members, the foreman will check the tablets or paper drawings to look for the detailed information. It is unusual that the crew members refer to 3D models at the construction workface.

1.3 Updating Instructions

While the crew members are doing work, the foreman will not voluntarily go to the crew members to avoid being considered as pushing them except when there will be a change on the work. Usually, instead, the crew members will come up with questions, and inform the foremen of their questions using the following methods: 1) send a text message; 2) make a phone call; 3) talk to the foreman in person. After that, the foreman will do his “research” in the field office to find detailed information to solve the crew members’ questions, if necessary.

2 First-run Study on a Parking Structure Project by Clark Pacific

To further understand workface activities, I conducted a first-run study on a parking structure project as I mentioned earlier. Clark Pacific is the Concrete Sub-Contractor for this project. I recorded workface activities using time-lapse videos. So far, I have made such recordings for four weeks. Those workface activities are mainly the installation of precast columns and shear walls. I recorded the time that each of those installation steps took, the problems that took place and the reasons accounting for the problems.

For example, for the installation of precast shear walls, I recorded steps including rigging, mobilizing the shear wall to the installation position, fitting an adjusting until all rebars can fit into holes on the ground, grouting, placing the shear wall into its installation position, installing side bracing to support the shear wall, and finally taking off rigging. The problem, for example, can be the rebars at the bottom of the precast shear wall cannot fit into the CIP holes on the ground at the job site. As a result, crew members need to adjust the rebars and lead to a waste of time for the installation.

The first-run study is underway and I will conduct a quantitative analysis based on the data that I have collected at the job site.

Original Research Proposal



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