From coast to coast and border to border, the roads in the United States keep us connected to one another and to the services we need, like hospitals, doctor offices, and schools. Roads support our communities, enable the delivery of goods and services to our cities and towns, and connect us to our families and loved ones. The Worldwide Economic Forum recently predicted that only $79 trillion will be invested in infrastructure spending by 2040, but $97 trillion is needed to keep up with the world demand. Use of technology in road construction can help companies build roads more efficiently, better enabling them to keep up with demand.
Mike Dysert, Senior Project Manager for Johansen Construction Company in Buckley, Washington, is on the frontline of innovation in the road and highway construction. In this edition of Behind the Build, we learn more about Mike’s experience at Johansen Construction Company and how they use technology on the jobsite.
Tell us about your company – what makes Johansen special?
Johansen Construction Company is a leading heavy civil contractor in Washington state. They have been in business for 14 years, and I’ve been with them for almost 13. It’s a family-focused company that puts its employees first. Even though the company is small, it has an aggressive growth strategy. People come to Johansen hoping to join a team and grow their careers. It represents good career advancement opportunities for new hires.
We also do a lot of fun things as a company, and I think that attracts many of our employees to work and stay. For instance, we host an annual All Hands Safety event every year, where we shut down all our jobs and come together to give out shirts, raffle off prizes, all while learning how to improve safety. Most years we can fit in a round of golf afterwards. We also encourage our employees to participate in a chili cook-off where they can enter a homemade chili into a competition and the company donates gift baskets for first, second and third place winners on our jobsites. We also hold regular BBQ’s, Christmas parties, and we celebrate important project milestones.
What projects are you currently working on?
We’re working on the Sound Transits T100 Tacoma Link Light Rail, a 2.5-mile link light rail extension through downtown Tacoma. Johansen is working on the underground utilities, storm sewer, and water infrastructure. We’re bypassing a lot of existing systems and with the unknown existing utilities it makes it a very technical project.
We’re also working on a project in Sammamish, Washington. We’re constructing a three-span bridge over Issaquah Creek, along with four new roundabouts and some large mechanically-stabilized earthen walls, about 35 feet tall. It’s a two-year project involving stream mitigation because we’re going to widen the Issaquah Creek and improve the fish habitat.
Watch drone footage from the project:
Finally, we’re working on a hospital project for Valley Medical Center. It’s an expansion of the hospital and involves utilities, excavation, and grading work.
What makes road and highway projects uniquely challenging?
Through the course of history, people develop and expand infrastructure as time goes on. Most road and highway projects are manipulating something that was already constructed. All of those unknown conditions that maybe were put into place prior on previous projects can create unique uncertainty.
How has technology changed how road and highway and other infrastructure projects are built?
Technology has changed how people communicate, we can get information much faster using improved systems.
It’s been hard to find skilled labor because kids have been told that a career in technology is the only way to be successful. Now that there’s a lot of technology in construction, it’s easier to market our workplace environment as an advanced career path.
Johansen is currently leveraging technology in a way that can advance productivity, track issues, and improve document control. We’re also using technology to build 3D models and store location information for existing utilities.
What’s one technology product or feature that you could not live or go a day without at this point?
I think there’s probably several. Right now, our company is 100% digitally based. We don’t do anything paper wise anymore, and PlanGrid helped us with that.
Really, the essence of PlanGrid is to be able to organize the updates as we get them and to keep our staff out in the field up to date. I’ll give you an example of what I mean by that. So I’ve been on some very large projects in the past that have had just a ton of changes.
When I was a foreman, I would have to turn in my plan set every night, and they would have office staff work around the clock at night and update my plans. I would show up the next day and get the plans, and they would be completely different. Now we can beam that information in real-time to everyone the most up to date information, with no delay.
As a “construction technologist,” what makes you excited about the future of construction?
Technology is going to change how we do business. First and foremost, technology can be used to improve safety on the job, and I’m excited about that. Second, it will also help us bring in the Millennial generation into our workforce. Accepting change is something that I have to continue to work on. It’s essential for keeping our competitive edge.