Quick response codes, or QR codes, are having a comeback since the pandemic, but in construction they never left. That’s because the codes excel at connecting people to information, and construction has many use cases for that.
Although the QR code arrived on construction sites only about a decade ago, it was invented in 1994 specifically for a Japanese auto parts manufacturer to help streamline production. It’s inventor recently told the New York Times he never expected it would catch-on worldwide. People in the U.S., however, were slow adopters for a couple of reasons. In the pre-smartphone era, phones without built-in support for QR codes meant people had to download, install and learn a separate QR code reader app. Many were clunky, while some were just malware.
Throughout the QR code history, construction was an anomaly. The industry’s typically cautious approach to technology didn’t apply to QR codes. Construction firms casually adopted them to link people with information, a core requirement on any project. As early as 2012, the industry was finding plenty of uses for them. From marketing to using QR codes for material and tool tracking.
How Skanska Puts QR Codes to Work
Today, the QR code is still alive and well in construction. As a project manager at Skanska USA, like many of my counterparts, I’m always looking for ways to work smarter and not harder. I needed an efficient way to track inspections and quality control items and at the same time make it easier for crews to locate and fix issues. The project, a 170,000-square-foot corporate headquarters, had over 330 rooms.
I used Procore’s Location QR Codes function to print and place a QR code on each room. The code referenced all the in-wall inspection requirements to improve accuracy of sign-off inspections. This ended up working so well that the natural next step was to add discrepancies at closeout to the QR codes.
Crews scanned the code to find out what punch list or other discrepancy items remained open. Superintendents could walk through, scanning codes at each doorway to gauge the percent complete and see what remained to be finished. This system worked far better than the old pen and paper method, and it was even outshining a BIM 360 system I had also tried.
But the process does, however, require some setup time. I also received some resistance to getting a QR code system up and running as it was new to most of the trades on site.
I believe it’s similar to a lot of practices that people are resistant to at first. It’s 10 minutes of work today to save several hours down the road. Essentially, everybody knows that time is money.
In the end, the QR codes saved about 15% just on the time needed to manage the punch list.
Location Location Location
What was the biggest time saver?
I keep going back to it, but it’s the location. When everybody’s new to a building and doesn’t know where they are, when you have a room labeled from the start, it helps with the learning curve. Maybe they don’t know exactly what hallway to go down to, but with the way things are labeled these days with rooms, they at least know it’s the second-floor northside.
Using the QR Codes also helped get everyone on the same page. Everybody eventually gets into the same process and mentality of knowing where things are.
Another thing that I really like is that you can get every issue for each room off of one code. If you go in a room, use that code, scan it, it then shows anything that’s outstanding for that room. It makes it a really easy QC check for our superintendents and field guys to know, ‘Look, the room’s ready to go.’
The long-term bonus was that once set up, we could easily and quickly adapt it to the next project.
At the end, it’s been saving us a lot of time and efficiency with the subs knowing where they need to go and when, without having to go through pages and pages of stuff.
How Construction is Using QR Codes for Pandemic Related Inspections
When COVID-19 arrived and people started dealing with the new safety issues, everyone was suddenly rediscovering QR codes. For construction though, it became just another adaptation of the technology.
Contractors took various approaches to bringing QR codes to bear on challenges arising from COVID-19. Some contractors adopted third-party systems based on QR codes for health screening at the project level. Meanwhile, others leveraged their own technologies and adapted QR codes to the new tasks.
By deploying the codes for these new pandemic challenges, companies are seeing even more uses for them in managing their workforces. Those uses include tracking who is on the jobsite, where they’re working, what they’re doing, and who’s supervising them.
Lack of user imagination is the only thing limiting QR code use cases on construction projects. In an industry driven by a strong need to link people and information, the QR code is a natural fit.