California State University, Long Beach
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Automating The Labor Industry

Published: June 1, 2015

Civil Engineering and Construction Engineering Management’s Tariq Shehab combines his study into the heavy civil construction and the role of automation in this labor intensive industry with a gift for invention to benefit an ailing national infrastructure.

“The role of automation in construction today is to deliver a better product with better quality and less cost,” said Shehab, a member of the university since 2004. “When we talk about automation in construction, the first priority is quality, the second is time and the third is cost.”

All three considerations loom over the American national infrastructure which was graded by the American Society of Civil Engineers with only a “D.” “You can’t improve the infrastructure without an accurate idea of its condition. Without current, up-to-the-minute information, how could anyone take action? Auto Detect gives what is needed at a fraction of the price.”

Auto-Detect is a computerized program which Shehab co-patented in 2008 that detects and classifies defects in sewer pipes automatically. By using this system, it is possible to determine conditions of pipes at a fraction of the current cost,” he added. “Usually, cities and counties wait until problems happen before they do anything. This system could minimize the cost which encourages the city or county determine the problem before it gets bigger.

“There are too many problems with our infrastructure today and the problem is really huge when it comes to water and sewage pipes,” he added. “Estimates of inspection and repair costs are high. If Auto-Detect can help to save on inspection costs, this would leave more to be spent on actual repair jobs. “

Another Shehab achievement monitors how much soil is excavated daily from a construction site.

“This program captures images of earth movement and tells the contractor how many cubic yards of earth have been excavated in whatever time period, whether it is an hour, a day or a week,” he said. “The beauty of the system is that it doesn’t require human intervention. Basically, a camera is mounted overlooking a construction site that records information within a predetermined period of time. The images are sent to a system which analyzes the images. After calculating quantity, the information is sent to all involved parties. The system not only eases the lives of inspectors and contractors, it forms a common ground for the industry as a whole. The owner, contractor and sub-contractor all benefit.”

The system is responsive enough to tell contractors and sub-contractors if there is something wrong with their operations, he said. “The system doesn’t need to wait for long to tell if there is something wrong. It reports immediately. It doesn’t even need to wait until the end of the shift. Say productivity is depressed for any reason. The system would highlight the decrease immediately. Next shift is too late to deal with the problem properly,” he added.

Shehab also is interested in “value engineering,” and “conceptual cost estimating,” and their implementation in heavy civil construction projects.

“’Value Engineering,’ as defined, is reducing cost, while maintaining or improving quality,” he explained. “Currently, engineers must review any design. They see if something could be changed while maintaining quality and reducing cost. This is done manually when someone personally reviews blueprints. It can take hours, days and weeks while that person goes over every little line. My system provides the same results but without human intervention. Engineers are spared tremendous number of hours looking for problems because the system directs them to blueprint and/or detail number so and so. There they will find the problem.”

Shehab also developed intelligent cost estimating systems. These systems predict the cost of heavy civil projects at very early stage of their planning phases. They assure allocation of adequate budgets for successful completion and assists in maximization of limited resources.