MIT celebrates 100 years of innovation in Cambridge

Recently, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology celebrated the 100th anniversary of its move from the original MIT campus in Copley Square in Boston across the Charles River to Cambridge. The elaborate day-long ceremony was complete with fireworks, music, artistic performances, mobile art sculptures, robots and a quirky procession (over land and water) that pitted 30 teams against each other to see who could come up with the best parade contraption based on creativity, speed and MIT spirit.

But the eccentric party was about paying tribute to MIT’s spirit of innovation and invention as much as it was about recognizing its campus move across the Charles River back in 1916. But most importantly, the celebration was also an opportunity for school officials, alumni, students, inventors and citizens of the surrounding communities to recognize the incredible impact this prestigious institution has had on the region. And the world.

To acknowledge this historic milestone for MIT, in this post we celebrate one of the most groundbreaking inventions in construction, which was first conceived and tested on MIT’s Cambridge campus — reinforced concrete.

A stronger idea

Arguably, MIT’s most enduring construction invention was its development of reinforced concrete, which is concrete embedded with wire mesh andiStock_000017471545_Medium
steel bars to dramatically increase its strength. In fact, reinforced concrete was first tested and implemented on the MIT Cambridge campus during the construction of some of its earliest buildings, which means the campus itself was an active and operational incubator for ingenuity and ideation.

Before MIT inventors conceived this brilliant idea, buildings relied on masonry-bearing arches with steel infill that couldn’t hold much weight, relegating buildings to only five stories in height.

“Reinforced concrete changed all that,” said Gary Tondorf-Dick, program manager for Facilities’ Campus Planning, Engineering and Construction Group. “MIT architects and engineers were basically leading the design of this new type of concrete. It was perfected in the implementation of these buildings. It evolved in the 1920s and 1930s and was architecturally reinforced in the 1950s and 1960s. It was all designed here.”

This one invention helped open the door to the high rises and skyscrapers we see in cities throughout the world today. And the reality is that reinforced concrete hasn’t evolved or been improved much since the original concept was unveiled, which is yet another tribute to the thoughtful and innovative solutions that have been shared by the MIT community.

“MIT is about innovation and it’s a campus built for innovations,” said Tondorf-Dick. “There’s a whole series of MIT innovations that involve construction and the evolution, design and engineering of future construction materials that will change the industry.”

Look for more construction innovations coming out of MIT, including green incandescent light bulbs that conserve energy through “light recycling” and vacuum insulated glass that provides the thermal performance of modern double-glazed windows with the same thickness as a single pane of traditional glass. Stay tuned, and congratulations MIT!

This post was written by Suffolk Construction’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Dan Antonellis, who can be reached at dantonellis@suffolk.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn here and follow him on Twitter at @DanAntonellis.

Three ways virtual reality could improve safety trainings

In honor of OSHA’s 2016 Safety Week, part two of our series on virtual reality in the construction industry focuses on, what else, safety. Click here to check out the first post in our series.

Professional Man Wearing Virtual Reality Headset

With all of the new virtual reality headsets hitting the marketplace these days, it’s easy to write off VR as child’s play. But the truth is that the magic of gaming has the potential to transform a number of industries, including construction. And safety is one of the most applicable use cases for anyone considering investing in this burgeoning technology. Imagine if a construction worker could be transported from the training room to the jobsite simply by putting on a headset. They could actually see a hoist tipping or feel themselves losing balance while walking across raised beams.

Being immersed in these dangerous scenes would no doubt plant a seed of caution in the worker’s mind before they even step on site. VR could encourage them to make thoughtful decisions virtually before they make a mistake in reality.

Due to weather conditions and other variables, a VR simulation could never depict a construction site 100 percent accurately. But virtual simulators have proven to be an effective training ground for police, Marines and pilots. A study conducted by the Navy found that student pilots using Microsoft’s Flight Simulator were 54 percent more likely to score above-average in real life flight tests.

Similarly, the latest virtual reality technologies could take construction industry safety trainings to the next level. While the critical but basic tenants of trainings would not change, such as tutorials, safety orientations, qualifications, etc., VR could raise the bar on the kinds of training companies could provide their workers to keep them and others safe. Here are some practical examples of how VR could augment traditional safety trainings:

  1. Workers inside the VR jobsite could be presented with a scenario in which they have to point out all the possible hidden dangers in front of them, such as live wires, misplaced ladders or a worker cutting a small piece of steel with his protective goggles on top of his hardhat and not over his eyes.
  2. If a real accident occurs on the job, it could be recreated virtually to teach workers how to avoid the same mistake twice. Only an animated avatar would suffer the consequences of unsafe acts on the jobsite. One example could be a worker setting up a swing stage. One side of the swing stage slips down and strikes his left shoulder causing a minor abrasion. Experiencing this in VR would teach workers how to avoid making this same mistake on a real project site.
  3. VR could also become a much more effective platform for teaching workers how to safely perform their daily duties in a virtual environment. This could include navigating confined spaces, safely setting up ladders, welding or preventing fires from breaking out on the job.
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Can you spot the safety infractions in this virtual construction scene? (Image courtesy of Inge Knudsen)

But the training room is not the only place VR can be valuable. VR could also be used to conduct safety inspections that are closely tied to scheduling. For example, the safety precautions for a specific task, such as erecting concrete precast planks, could be simulated weeks in advance before it is performed on the job so that everything is in place once construction begins.

While this is a tantalizing use case that could become a mainstay in the future, training is still the most practical and immediate use for VR when it comes to construction safety. Most people learn by doing, so oftentimes the most effective trainings drive home safety through real onsite scenarios and case studies. Using virtual reality to create a dynamic and lasting visual cue for construction workers would make all the difference in classroom safety trainings. Being immersed in dangerous situations virtually would surely cause workers to pause before engaging in an unsafe activity on a project site. And sometimes that short pause can be the difference between getting hurt — or worse — and staying safe.

This post was written by Suffolk Northeast’s Project Administrator Lindsay Davis. If you have questions, she can be reached at ldavis@suffolk.com. Suffolk National Safety Director Gary Cunningham and Suffolk Content Writer Justin Rice contributed to this post.

From cars to construction: Automobile technologies could make your job site safer

By now you have surely driven in cars that illuminate your side view mirror when someone is in your blind spot, vibrate your steering wheel when you stray out of your lane and beep when you’re about to back up over your trash can. Your car might even have cruise control functions that automatically regulate your speed and braking based on how close you are to other vehicles. Cars use a combination of cameras and sensors to determine how far an object is from your bumper. The sensor is constantly analyzing the camera’s video feed in real time and alerts you with a vibration, beep or flashing light when you are too close to something.

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Cameras and sensors that work in concert could help make construction sites more safe.

If having this technology in your car has become novel, maybe it’s time to incorporate it on your construction site. While cameras and sensors are mostly used on job sites for security, these car technologies could monitor a whole range of things to maintain quality, efficiency and safety. But let’s focus on safety for now since one in five worker fatalities occur in construction. Cameras and sensors strategically placed on buildings, vehicles and vests, gloves and hard hats could help minimize the Fatal Four:

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Cameras and sensors could keep construction workers out of harm’s way by alerting the worker and the excavator operator that danger looms.

  1. Falls: Sensors could warn a worker if they are about to walk into a hole or sense when a guardrail is broken or missing. It could let someone know when a ladder is being used too far from the work that needs to be done so somebody doesn’t overreach and fall. Workers could also be reminded when they should be tied off and that they shouldn’t jump across scaffolding.
  2. Electrocutions: Sensors could tell electricians when an unsafe electric current is running through scaffolding near them or if there’s a live wire on site. They could notify someone if an electrical panel was ajar or if wire nuts or electrical tape aren’t appropriately adhered. Sensors and backup cams could also alert a crane operator when they are working too close to power lines.
  3. Struck by object: Wearable technology that uses sensors and cameras could vibrate when the worker is in the path of a moving object or vehicle. They could even cut the ignition switch if that vehicle was about to hit something or someone. This technology could also alert a crane or excavator operator when someone or something was in their blindspot. Sensors can also make sure cranes and other machinery are safely grounded.
  4. Caught in/between objects: This technology could automatically turn off a scissor lift that was about to trap someone against a ceiling. They could also alert someone if they are between two objects that could potentially pin them.

At the same time, 360-degree cameras with sensors could be mounted to a safety manager’s hardhat to literally give them eyes in the back of their head. The sensors would not only alert them if something outside their periphery was amiss or dangerous, but they would have the ability to record and survey the site to review later.

Still not convinced that this is ready for primetime? Well, the biggest proof point that these car technologies can be incorporated into wearable technologies for construction is Toyota’s Project BLAID. Worn over the shoulders, this device for blind people uses cameras and sensors to detect objects in the user’s surroundings the same way cars do. BLAID has speakers and vibration motors that help users locate bathrooms, escalators, stairs and doors. Given the fact that Toyota successfully migrated these cameras and sensors from cars to wearables, it’s easy to imagine how this technology could be used on a construction worker to help make the job site safer.

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Upbrella turns conventional construction on its head

Ever since you started building, you’ve erected buildings from the ground up. Whether it was your first set of Legos or your first high-rise tower, you basically started at the bottom and worked towards the top. It’s hard to imagine that bedrock of conventional construction being turned on its head. It’s hard to imagine reversing that order by installing the roof first, and then erecting the rest of the structure later. It seems crazy. Well, it’s not.

Montreal-based Upbrella Construction is taking exactly that top down approach to building. And their patented system doesn’t just represent a new way of thinking, it’s also safer and more efficient than traditional construction.

Under my Upbrella

Growing up in Montreal, Upbrella Construction founder Joey Larouche was one of those kids building Legos from the ground up. But after working as a mechanical engineer that developed lifts for heavy machinery on automobile assembly lines, he realized those principles could be applied to construction.

“I like to come up with ideas that are simple, can be used very widely in the world and are extremely different from what was being done before,” Larouche told us. “That’s the way I do business.”

So how does Upbrella actually work?

Here’s the high-level explanation: The foundation and first floor of the building are built conventionally. Then the roof is temporarily perched on the columns of that first floor, so it can be raised by a special lifting system as additional floors are constructed. The synchronized lifting system — which features customized hydraulic cylinders similar to elevators — is also used to hoist the individual floors into place

Before a new floor is lifted, its steel structural beams and decking are assembled on top of the previously poured concrete floor. The new floor is then hoisted to its final height so columns can be installed underneath it. Once the floor is raised and resting on its permanent columns, the concrete is poured and cured. It takes less than an hour to lift the floor and roof so that the crew can continue working. The process is repeated until the building’s desired number of floors are completed.

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Watch: High-tech timber erected at UMass

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High-tech wood panels known as cross-laminated timber (CLT) are replacing concrete slabs on the UMass Design Building. Featuring three to nine layers of lumber glued together, CLTs are like plywood on steroids. (Courtesy ReTHINKWood)

In October we wrote about a revolutionary project using “mass timber” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Now that it is actually being erected, the Suffolk Construction team managing the project invited us to the job site to interview the folks responsible for this first-of-its-kind structure.

Arriving on a perfectly sunny day, it was hard to miss the building rising from the campus. Massive large timber columns, beams and panels form a structural frame that is strikingly solid and beautiful. The “high-tech wood” is light, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. It’s not your typical composite material. You can actually see the grains in the columns that will ultimately be left exposed inside the 86,000-square-foot UMass Design Building.

Don’t forget to reread our original post to learn more about this innovative building and the wood construction movement …

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Remote-control vehicles keep construction workers out of harm’s way

indexRemember the remote-control truck you had as a kid? You could barge into the sand box, toggle your way back out, crash unexpectedly and reverse just as quickly, all while staying out of harm’s way. Today, construction workers have the option to use remote-control equipment from outside the cab, so they can do dangerous work more safely and efficiently.

The latest advancement in these wireless technologies is a collaboration between Caterpillar and TORC Robotics known as RemoteTask. Made available for purchase in North America this month, the remote-control system operates several Cat machines from up to 1,000 feet away.

RemoteTask provides a health benefit by giving workers the opportunity to stand up and walk around, rather than sitting in a vehicle’s cab for hours on end. But the biggest benefit is that it can prevent injuries by removing the operator from the machine while keeping control in their hands.

It’s important to note that remote-control vehicles could give operators a false sense of safety. But there are several types of accidents that would be less damaging to the operator if the driver is not in the cab. The most common hazard is toppling over while working around trenches or on a steep slope. There’s also the danger of a load-bearing wall falling on a vehicle working in a trench or inside a room. Falling debris, materials or infrastructure such as concrete slabs or steel beams could also crush the cab, killing or badly injuring the driver.

Approximately 100 employees are fatally injured and approximately 95,000 employees are injured every year while operating powered industrial trucks according to OSHA. 

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New York’s tallest modular, micro-apartment building meets Manhattan’s housing needs

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Carmel Place is located at 335 East 25th Street in the Kips Bay neighborhood of New York City.

Modular construction is by no means new to New York City. Neither are small apartment units (see: 90-square foot apartment)But Carmel Place is proof that modular and micro-unit construction can be successfully rolled into one building in the middle of Manhattan.

The $17 million, nine-story structure slated to open in February will be the city’s tallest modular building and first apartment complex comprised entirely of micro unitsBut unlike older buildings with funky apartment layouts wrapped around airshafts and dumbwaitersthe Monadnock Development project maximizes the efficiency of its tiny quarters by being the first micro building in the city built with modern design in mind.

“And by modern design I mean having simple things like an adequate amount of electrical outlets in the room,” Tobias Oriwol of Monadnock Construction told us, “or big, clean walls to put a TV on and space for a queen-size bed or dining room table. Our units are small but comfortable and easily furnishable, which is something that is unique in the city.”

The 55-unit project formally known as My Micro NY will offer market-rate rents ranging from $2,650 to $3,150 for apartments with an average of 304-square-feet.

A 750-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in New York City currently rents for approximately $3,400.

Courtesy nARCHITECTS/Ledaean

Micro units in Carmel Place feature a living space, kitchen and bathroom. Twenty-five of the units come furnished, complete with a Murphy bed. (Photo courtesy nARCHITECTS/Ledaean)

Designed by nARCHITECTS, the building has several common areas such as a gym, small lounge, community room, shared roof terrace, bicycle and tenant storage and an outdoor garden. Most of the floor plans in Carmel Place feature about 240-square-feet of open living space as well as a 30-square-foot bathroom and 30-square-foot vestibule. Twenty-five units come furnished complete with the Murphy bed-sofa combo seen below.

“Much of the project focuses on livability of a space despite size limitations,” nARCHITECTS Designer Tony Saba-Shiber told us via email, “and maximizing usable area through intelligent and efficient design.”

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