This summer I worked with C. W. Matthews Contracting, a major transportation contractor located in Marietta, Georgia. The internship was structured in such a way that each participant rotated throughout each division of the company. This gave me the chance to work on a wide range of projects, from estimating take offs to traffic shifts on I-75 south bound.
One of the companies largest projects are the I-75 Managed Lanes near McDonough, Georgia. The scale of this project provided a vast array of opportunities for new experiences. For instance, I worked with a crew constructing an enhanced swell drainage system. Through this project I was able to practice reading grade stakes and interacted with the construction equipment used to alter the terrain. On another day I was able to participate in a traffic shift to the newly constructed travel lanes. The traffic shift incorporated both engineering and safety regulations. It was valuable to learn the complex process of redirecting traffic on one of the nations busiest interstates.
C.W.M. is also doing work on I-75 on the north side of Atlanta, constructing and improving ramps at the Rocky Face and Red Bud Rd. Exits. I was able to work alongside an engineer on the concrete ramp pours for a week. On this project I saw the placement of forms, the installation of the concrete paving machine, and assisted the crew in the paving process.
At the end of the internship I worked alongside a master scheduler and compiled quantity data to create completion reports for the company. These reports were designed to help both the management and the foreman understand production and performance, as well as forecast the future of each project.
What results did you achieve on the project(s), and what impact did they have on the company?
On the Managed Lanes I helped construct the enhanced swell and redirect traffic to the newly constructed travel lanes. When working on the enhanced swell, I relayed grades to the backhoe operator while assisting the other laborers in moving dirt and GAB into place. Since I understood the grading process, I was able to communicate the system to the laborers. By helping some of the newer workers understand the grades, more people were able to notice and call out errors. In turn, the quality of the work was increased.
On the Red Bud Rd. Project I worked alongside laborers for three consecutive concrete pours. The most valuable impact of the experience revealed itself, however, a week after the last pour I worked on. The company noticed that they were having to order nearly 10 CY more of concrete per pour than estimated. The immediate concern was that the grades were wrong. However, since I was part of the estimating and construction process, my experiences led me to believe the issue was not the result of the poor grading. In turn, I manufactured spreadsheets that compared varying hypothetical grading errors to the extra concrete needing to be ordered. It was clear that even substantial grading errors would only account for a fraction of the excess concrete. Thus, my work on the concrete ramps helped me lead the company in the right direction to correct for the concrete “shortage”.
Finally, the master scheduler and I were able to complete reports on each of the company’s projects. Information regarding the pipe work, grading, asphalt, and structures work was included in each report. The data was collected using time sheets and diaries provided by the foreman. The quantity reports used, however, often did not provide and accurate picture of the project. While some of the reports may have been inaccurate, they revealed the limitations of the current method of tracking quantities and progress on projects.
What real-life technical or business skills did you learn during the internship?
The structure of the internship allowed me to learn a diverse set of construction skills. For instance, one week I worked with the equipment division of the company. I road with mechanics and lowboys and gained knowledge in an area of construction most students have no opportunity to experience. I also learned various grading processes, how to lay asphalt, how to operate an asphalt plant, the nature of bridge and concrete work, and the scheduling and projection work done “behind the scenes.”
While all of the tangible skills will be profitable in my future, the communication skills I gained from working with such a diverse set of people, from management to laborers, will be priceless. I even got to work with a professional engineer who was from Bosnia and had traveled to the States to be with his family. I welcomed his unique perspective and wisdom on construction (and life in general). Interactions such as these taught me more about business and human relations than I ever could have imagined.
What did you learn in this internship that will affect your life in a positive way?
The many technical skill involved with construction, such as concrete work and scheduling, will be valuable to my career. However, the wisdom I received from each of the mentors I worked under will provide the most benefit to my life. The experiences I had with each of my mentors cannot be gained from any course or technical training. This internship taught me so much about the technical side of construction, but most importantly, it taught me human relations side of the industry.
Where do you think technology will make the biggest impact in construction in the next few years, and how will it do that?
As I witnessed in the internship, GPS has played a major role in accelerating the construction process. It assists with grading and tracking equipment. I am certain that the GPS technology will only improve as time progresses.
However, I see a place for route management and systems technologies to enter into the construction market. Concrete and asphalt quantities are still tracked, at some point in the construction project, by paper receipts. Additionally, the material deliveries are still scheduled and managed by a human operator. When I was working with the master scheduler, it quickly became evident that accurate materials tracking is difficult with in the current system (ticket collection and foreman time sheets for quantities). There are too many outlets for human error. Even just loosing a few concrete tickets results in a misunderstanding of the state of completion of a project.
Furthermore, when working with asphalt crews and plants, I noticed that the haulers often arrived in waves. This meant that the both the crew and plant could be overwhelmed at one time and waiting for work at another.
The two issues, quantity tracking and hauling efficiency, could be vastly improved upon by technology already being implemented in other markets. In turn, I believe that systems technologies will play a major role in the future of the construction industry. These technologies will save both time and money by enhancing hauling efficiency and providing detailed information regarding the location and history of transported materials. Accurate record keeping has always played a major role in the construction industry. Accurate data will assist not only in the construction process, but also help contractors understand their strengths and weaknesses in production. Schedulers will be able to better plan and forecast the future of projects.
While route management and systems technologies may seem an odd choice for the technology with the biggest impact on construction, I believe that the current limitations of the industry can be amended by such advancements.