Building interoperable, autonomous jobsites with the latest ISO standards for the construction industry

By Christian Luttenberger, Vice President at Hexagon Geosystems

For decades, the construction industry has relied on a patchwork of proprietary systems and file formats to manage data on job sites. While technology like machine control has led to major gains already in efficiency and accuracy, the inability to easily share and integrate data from different brands across different data formats and platforms remains a major limitation. Up until this year, there has been no standardisation or regulations that allow the technology to intercommunicate. This lack of interoperability stops machine control reaching its full potential, and therefore limits the benefits felt by contractors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and customers alike.

Overcoming disconnect through collaboration

This need for interoperability has not gone unnoticed. Since 2010, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) subgroup for machine control has been working to standardise machine characteristics, electronic systems, operation and maintenance for earth-moving and road construction machinery.1 This year, the fourth iteration of these standards dedicated specifically to improving the interoperability of worksite data exchange, is expected to be published. The new standards mark a major turning point in construction connectivity. They will provide a common, brand agnostic framework that will enable seamless communication between machinery, sensors, software and more.

For over six years, Hexagon has worked alongside industry partners to shape this fourth generation of the standards. As one of the global technology providers for the construction industry, there is a responsibility to support companies and contractors for this next level of connected construction.

The adoption of machine control in construction is increasing, but it has not yet reached its full potential. There is therefore a huge untapped opportunity to benefit from machine control, and interoperability is an important step in this. For construction professionals juggling mixed fleets from different OEMs and subcontractors, interoperability promises to improve and streamline workflows with the wider adoption of machine control technologies. This will reduce time wasted on data conversion and translation, improving efficiency, reducing error and increasing profit margins.

Mixed fleets are a given, so why isn’t interoperability?

For many in construction, autonomy is the end game. Developing a common language of data exchange makes the coordination and automation of complex workflows possible. For this, standardisation is essential so that the data can be used autonomously. However, standardisation offers value pre-full autonomy. The ability to design once, push this design to any machine and receive data about as-built production in a common format is applicable now and yields gains far beyond convenience.

For example, with the latest standards, project managers can gain more centralised oversight, with real-time access to as-built status from all connected equipment. OEMs will be able to integrate their equipment with a wider range of technology and therefore offer more flexibility to their customers. Contractors will see increased profit margins thanks to more efficient resource management, better error correction that avoids costly rework, and time saving thanks to simplified data exchange.

It is unrealistic and impractical for construction companies and contractors to use a homogenous fleet. Preferences for the “right” machine control technology can come down to the individual needs of the company, the operator, and the project. Open and brand-agnostic protocols future-proof investments in job site technology, reducing reliance on specific vendors.

Strabag, a European construction company, sees enormous potential in the new standards. Martin Kriz from Strabag comments, “as a global construction firm, we operate with mixed fleets from various technology providers on our projects globally. This poses a major challenge, as each technology solution uses proprietary data formats. Open data exchange standards between machines would therefore greatly simplify workflows and integration. By enabling seamless communication between all equipment, teams can invest in the machinery and software that suits them and the project best. We also then relieve the burden on the site workers who can concentrate on core construction operations, rather than data wrangling.”

Where will the standards take us next?

The standards for earth-moving and road construction machinery represent only one piece of the puzzle. This is its fourth generation, and there will be more stages to come in the journey towards standardised automation. There are also working groups across other industry concerns like safety, communications, and sensors, all of which contribute to automation, and all of which are involved when integrating the myriad of processes in large-scale construction.

Interoperability will not just benefit construction today, but it will also encourage innovations for new applications. By reducing vendor lock-in and allowing new technology players to integrate more easily, the standards will help build the platform to develop technologies that have not yet been considered. Embracing the open exchange of experience and expertise between industry players to develop these standards means that the construction industry is well-positioned to reap the benefits of connected machine control, and ultimately, autonomy.

Christian Luttenberger is Vice President, at Hexagon’s Geosystems division. In this role, he is responsible for the Heavy Construction Business Development. 

Christian has over 24 years of experience in the heavy construction industry and holds an Engineering diploma from the Technical University of Munich.

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1 Technical Committee 127 Subcommittee 3, specifically the subgroup 15143 - Working Group for earth-moving machinery and road construction machinery worksite data exchange. Parts 1 and 2 were published in 2010 and Part 3 in 2016.

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Leica Geosystems offers complete machine control solutions comprising software, hardware, and cloud services to enable efficient, productive, and sustainable heavy construction operations.
Leica Geosystems offers complete machine control solutions comprising software, hardware, and cloud services to enable efficient, productive, and sustainable heavy...