Forum focuses on advances in the construction industry

About 300 students learned about new technology in construction from industry representatives during the 2022 CONTECH Forum Thursday at East Carolina University’s Main Campus Student Center.

Perry Redman, corporate pipeline accounts manager for Caterpillar, speaks during the forum.

Sponsored by the Department of Construction Management, the event drew speakers from national and international companies from as far as away Florida and Texas.

“For close to 40 years, the technology trend was not that fast,” said Dr. George Wang, chair of the Department of Construction Management. “For the last five years, it’s been very fast.”

That’s the reason behind the forum. The event’s guest speakers exposed the students to emerging technologies in the construction industry, technology that may not be new to the students, but the application of which is.

Laser scanning, drones, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and total station digital layout were among the topics discussed during the four-hour forum.

Matt Chance, a member of the Construction Management Advisory Board and the chief operating officer of Advanced Exterior Systems, graduated from ECU in 1988. His son graduated from ECU, and his daughter is a nursing student at ECU.

“I love East Carolina. I love Greenville. I love eastern North Carolina,” Chance said. “I always appreciate the opportunity to come back and engage with the program and engage with the students.”

He told students to listen and ask questions of the presenters.

“We’re here to help you dip into all this technology that you may not have dipped into,” he said. “You’re going to see and be exposed to some of the tools you’re going to use in your careers in construction and construction management. … There’s some really cool stuff.”

Mike Gracey, field services manager at Sto Corp., told the students about prefabricated assemblies and automation.

“Some look at prefab as the future,” he told them. “We look at prefab as now.”

Perry Redman, corporate pipeline accounts manager for Caterpillar, said the most important aspect of new technology in the construction industry is safety.

“The things we’re doing to increase safety are so critical,” he said.

He pointed to technology such as 360-degree camera views on equipment that allow an operator to see everything, not just what is out of the front window.

“If you can improve situational awareness, you can improve safety on the ground,” Redman said.

Students attend the Department of Construction Management CONTECH Forum.

He told the students about sensors that can automatically stop vehicles or equipment if, for example, a seatbelt is disconnected or perhaps an operator falls asleep in the cab, thus improving safety. Some equipment is even autonomous and can be operated remotely without a person in the cab.

Redman also said that today’s construction equipment includes technology that gathers data on the machine’s operation.

“The machines can collect so much data,” he said. “We’re using that data to get the maximum performance out of the machine. That data can be used to improve efficiency on the job site, and we all want the maximum productivity we can get at the job site.”

Redman said ECU students can take the new technology to another level.

“This is really exciting,” he said. “I’m excited to see what you’re going to be able to do with it.”

Sophomore construction management major Colin Mayo was among the students who attended the event.

“I wanted to see the new technology, and the field is growing,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about what’s new and what’s coming. … Being a part of the growth of it and seeing the remote stuff come into play in operations is cool.”

Shea Vore is a senior construction management major.

“It’s cool technology, and it’s kind of new. It’s just starting,” he said.

Scheduled to graduate in May, Vore said he was looking forward to working with technology in either the homebuilding or land development sectors.

“It makes our lives a lot easier — for sure,” he said. “It makes things a lot safer and a lot more efficient, and you can get the job done better.”

Other presenters at the CONTECH Forum included Cody Whitelock of Barnhill Contracting; Kyle Apple and Shawn Potwardowski of Brasfield and Gorrie; Richard Mountcastle and Jason Woolverton of Precision Walls, Inc.; and Johnny Maghzal of Togal.

About 300 students attended Thursday’s forum.