At JBKnowledge's first of four 2017 ConTech Roadshows, the presiding theme in Philadelphia on July 13 was advanced technology with practical applications for contractors looking to gain an edge in their competitive markets.

During the traveling one-day conference series, which will hit three more cities, attendees hear from tech experts about job-site productivity, software solutions, and high-tech innovations that can help construction companies be more profitable.

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) are sponsoring the events.

Every aspect of the technology talks related to productivity and efficiency. The first session was titled "Revamping Jobsite Productivity Through Tracking and Analysis Tools," presented by James Benham, JBKnowledge CEO and ConTechTrio podcast co-host. Benham began the session with a statistic that only 37 percent of a worker's time is actually spent working. Benham pointed out that productivity is a problem but also an opportunity to make more money.

Benham said, saving just five minutes for every worker on a job site is 1 percent added to the bottom line.

"We're a low-margin business of our own creation," Benham said, a mantra he repeated throughout the day.

The presentation urged contractors to invest in technological solutions and to recognize that an upfront cost may be worth it if it can be justified through savings later.

The second session, titled "Apps for Construction—Exploring Affordable Solutions, The Five Job Site Workflows and Where Mobile Fits In," was led by Rob McKinney, consultant and professional speaker also known as the ConAppGuru as well as ConTechTrio podcast co-host.

According to McKinney, 45 percent of contractors still use paper for job-site data collection. With his presentation, he aimed to reduce that. However, he had a disclaimer.

"There is no silver bullet," he said.

In general, McKinney said, there are four reasons for adopting new technology: safety, workflow efficiency, collaboration and to save money.

According to McKinney, tablets offer the ability to manage workflows in real time, save money on printing, reduce rework, and generate as-built documents.

The ConTech Roadshow rounded out the morning with "An Inside Look at How BIM Is Transforming Construction," presented by Benham and Josh Bone, BIM/VDC specialist and ConTechTrio co-host.

Bone and Benham spoke to a mindset obstacle that contractors must overcome to adopt building information modeling (BIM). Bone emphasized that the current tendency is a desire to figure out problems in the field. However, BIM helps contractors discover problems during the planning stages, saving time and money.

"BIM is all about making more informed decisions," Bone said.

After a lunch break for networking and demonstrations in the ConTech Showcase, the Roadshow continued with its fourth session, "How Drone Technology is Redefining Project Success," with James Benham.

Benham made the case for drones as assets in construction, showing that they can perform structural inspections, percent complete calculations, material pile and other volume calculations and more. He also said drones can use photogrammetry to create 3D models from existing structures.

"If this doesn't geek you out, you're dead on the inside," he said. "I think the entire profession of surveying is going to change in the next five years."

According to Benham, some drones are now automated and can take site pictures on their own.

Of course, like anything else, drones come with their own cost considerations. Benham sorted them into software, hardware, and insurance. In the United States, Benham said, there is no mandate for insurance, but in Canada, users must have $100,000 of coverage.

The fifth and final session was "Virtual Construction—Prefabrication Challenges and Lessons Learned" with Bone and two representatives from mechanical contractor H.T. Lyons. Tim Bodor is manager of virtual construction for H.T. Lyons, and Adam Cartwright is preconstruction manager for H.T. Lyons.

This session was interview format, focusing on why BIM works for H.T. Lyons. According to Bodor and Cartwright, BIM is a communication tool, and it minimizes risk.

Bodor and Cartwright presented anecdotal experiences with projects H.T. Lyons has worked on, including a building affected by 9/11 with no as-built documents, a major brewery, an industrial plant, and others.

Concluding the event, the ConTechTrio recorded a live podcast with special guest Bob Snyder, CEO at Binsky and Snyder mechanical contractors. JBKnowledge then held a reception for networking and hands-on tech demos with industry vendors, including NECA, the MCAA, Milwaukee Tool, DeWalt, eSUB, STACK Estimating and Takeoff, Plans4Less, Touchplan.io, Triax, NoteVault and more.

JBKnowledge plans to visit three more U.S. cities with the ConTech Roadshow: Chicago on Aug. 22, Dallas on Oct. 24, and Oakland, Calif., on a date and location to be announced. Learn more at http://jbknowledge.com/roadshow.