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Construction productivity? There’s an app for that

First published in the September 2020 issue of Quarry Management

Construction is becoming more influenced by technologies within the gaming industry. So, who better to take Volvo Construction Equipment’s (Volvo CE) connected solutions into the future than Carina Mclane – a relative newcomer to construction but an expert in visionary app development. 

Efficiency is about more than just powerful products. Machine software is playing an increasingly important role in analysing and finding areas of improvement out on the job site – and using such data to adapt and advance machines and operations for the future. This is why Volvo CE have a dedicated and diverse team of experts, from within construction and other industries, who are working to fuse together the two worlds of conventional construction and high-tech app development.

‘We’ve barely scratched the surface of how apps can help us be more productive,’ said Carina Mclane, senior software developer for Intelligent Machine Platforms at Volvo CE. ‘The more connected and aware the apps are, the more they can understand our behaviour and feed back to the user. These technologies have a huge role to play in analysing how we work today and how we can drive construction efficiency tomorrow. The trick is to make the apps simple, engaging and user-friendly, so that everyone wants to use them.’ 

Since joining Volvo CE just over a year ago, Ms Mclane has been engaged in developing Operator Coaching. It is a new app which forms part of the Load Assist family and is now available in select markets across the world. The latest upgrade gives operators of Volvo’s L110H to L260H wheel loaders real-time information so that they can better understand how their actions influence output. A bit like chasing a top score on a computer game, the new feature allows operators to set targets and objectives for continual performance improvement. 

Operator Coaching is just one example of how gaming trends are influencing the world of construction. The Volvo team are also working on a number of new and improved applications, all designed to help boost construction productivity. For Ms Mclane, whose previous expertise has been as a virtual and augmented reality lead within the Creative Technologies cluster at the University of the West of England in the UK, the move into construction has been a steep learning curve. 

‘When I first joined Volvo CE, it was quite a challenge to adapt to an entirely new industry,’ she said. ‘But I’ve since been surprised by how far ahead construction is in employing emerging technologies. It’s the mix of high tech and low tech that is the challenge. Construction is so advanced in areas such as automation, but a lot of the processes for app development are just not there yet, so it’s been fascinating to explore ways to bridge that gap.’ 

She explained that a lot of teamwork is required to turn a great idea into a release-worthy product, so together with product experts they spend time asking questions such as ‘are they addressing the right issues for operators out in the field?’, ‘are the algorithms correlated with industry standard operator training?’ and, most importantly, ‘are they easy to use?’. 

‘I love seeing how people respond to using the apps we develop,’ said Ms Mclane. ‘For example, it was great how even very experienced and proficient operators were seeing the advantages of Operator Coaching. They said it helped them to see their behaviour reflected back in a non-judgemental way, to analyse their productivity from a pure efficiency standpoint and then to suggest areas of improvement that they would never have considered before.’ 

Ms Mclane is also keen to highlight how app development can be a great career choice for both men and women. While traditionally quite male-dominated, she says the sector is incredibly rewarding for anyone who has tenacity, curiosity and a desire to take on a good challenge. 

‘I’ve always been interested in the combination of a great visual and the functional architecture behind it,’ said Ms Mclane, who returned to her birthplace of Eskilstuna, Sweden, when she joined Volvo CE in 2019. ‘This is what makes app development so rewarding. It is the combination of not only developing innovative functionality, but packaging it with both looks and user experience in mind. 

‘One of the biggest rewards of the past year has been to sit in the driving seat of a wheel loader and see the connection between this big yellow machine and this little, seemingly insignificant, app. It’s something intangible but incredibly special when it all comes together.’

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