Technology in the construction sector is advancing rapidly, with solutions such as building information modeling (BIM) that let design teams foresee and correct problems before any on-site work is started.

Another development, 360° photo documentation, also provides great functionality by streamlining and improving the photo documentation process on the construction site.

According to Todd Wynne, construction technology manager at Rogers-O’Brien Construction in Dallas, Texas, 360° photo capture provides ease of use and time savings compared to taking photos manually. Wynne’s team now uses 360° cameras on 60 per cent of projects, which range from mixed use residential to hospitals to data centres.

“Data centres and hospitals are probably two of the most complex types of buildings you can build,” Wynne said. “With all the utilities and infrastructure that’s behind the walls and above the ceilings and below the floors, that’s where 360° photos are very valuable.”

Documenting utilities while walls are open is invaluable, Wynne said, by creating a comprehensive record of all work done.

“Right before we close up all the walls, we like to photo document everything to show the utilities, the plumbing, the electrical, the insulation, everything inside the walls,” he noted. “If an inspector came back out, and wanted to make sure we put putty pads on the electrical boxes, for example, or check that we put in the proper insulation, we don’t have to do any kind of destructive quality control.”

The process is quick and simple, Wynne noted, compared to manually taking and organising photos, which was the previous method. People would go out and take the photos, which would be stored on the camera, and then those people would bring the device back to the job site office, plug in a cable and download those onto the computer, file them into a folder structure on a server, or try to hyperlink to a specific plan drawing.

360° photo applications like those from software firm HoloBuilder streamline that process by linking the mobile app with a web-based app, so photos are organised automatically.

“We have a mobile companion app on our iPads, on our phones in the field and we essentially can link the photo straight to the plan where we’re standing,” Wynne said.  

The hardware required is minimal; users just need the camera and protective case, tripod, and tablet or phone for the mobile app.

After lots of trial and error, Wynne determined that placing the camera at about four feet off the floor delivers the best photos.

“You set that in the centre of the room, then walk out of the room, so that you’re not in the photos,” Wynne said. “The camera broadcasts its own the Wi-Fi signal, so that’s how we’re connecting the device to a tablet or phone. Then using the companion app we select where we are, it triggers the camera to snap the photo, and embeds that in that location on the plan.”

The process is simple and can easily be handled by an intern or less-experienced employees.

Wynne said his teams create a photo record of the job site, which enables all stakeholders – the owner, architect, engineer and everyone down the line – to monitor progress on a daily basis without making site visits.

Stakeholders are collaborating more using the virtual job walk, Wynne added.

“They’re taking screenshots and snapshots and then marking them up saying, ‘Hey, is this grout supposed to be this color?’” he said. “It’s democratized the job walking into a digital collaborative world that we’ve never experienced before.”