'The ultimate driver to change is the increase in productivity and driving costs down'

Ray O'Connor, President and CEO of Topcon Positioning Group on the future challenges facing the construction industry

22nd February, 2018
Ray O'Connor, President and CEO of Topcon Positioning Group

What's your name?

Ray O’Connor

What’s your current job?

President and CEO of Topcon Positioning Group

How long have you held the position?

Since 2002

Can you describe your daily work routine?

Topcon Positioning Group now has operations in more than 50 locations, in 15 countries on five continents, so I’m traveling and in constant communications with people across a span of time zones. It depends on what my schedule demands are for the day and where I am in the world.

What is your professional background?

I studied at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), and then travelled to the U.S. and worked for several companies before joining Topcon America, a division of Japan-based Topcon Corporation, in 1993. I joined a team of 40 people in the U.S. and was focused on growing Topcon’s laser business. Today I lead Topcon Positioning Group and we have nearly 2000 employees focused on the positioning business primarily for the construction, geospatial and agricultural Sectors.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

I try to spend it with family. My wife and I have three grown children and a new granddaughter and I still have family living in Ireland and in the U.K., who I see frequently. And I play golf. I developed a passion for the game growing up in Ireland and it’s still going strong today!

Tell us something very few people know about you?

As a young lad in Ireland, for some reason, the nickname of Hammer was bestowed on me. Actually, I liked it and I think it has a lot to do with my determination to succeed and help others to do so. And like the old Simon & Garfunkel lyric, I’d certainly prefer to be the hammer than the nail!

What in your opinion are the barriers that must be overcome to ensure the construction industry can effectively catch up with technical innovation and Digitisation?

The resistance to adopt technology has been a barrier from the beginning and we’ve been pushing the message of automation and digitisation for a lifetime it seems. But we’re seeing a positive change that’s coming from working with big equipment manufacturers, the OEMs, who are putting our equipment on in the factory and the users see the ROI and are looking at the benefits of automating the entire workflow for the job site. We’re seeing a massive acceleration in automation demand in the after-market as a result, of really the mainstream tipping point for the industry. There is now a pressure from the marketplace toward 3D design and digitisation.

With this demand, and mandates in place for greater accountability and standards, we have to help build a holistic workflow, and this will help create the “catch up.” One of the ways we’re doing this is by working with Bentley Systems on what we call “constructioneering” … automating the digital construction process through surveying, engineering design, constructible model development, and as-built data collection within a connected data environment to improve construction execution and reduce project costs.

In fact, the first Constructioneering Academy with Bentley Systems, an intitiative to provide for construction industry professionals to learn best practices in constructioneering, was just launched in the U.S. in February.There are certainly barriers, but there are many solutions we’re pushing to the forefront.

What changes do you envisage for the sector in Ireland over the next five Years?

Ultimately, we’re all facing growing infrastructure demands and the future of the business depends on driving automation and continuously moving toward digitisation.

The ultimate driver to change is the increase in productivity and driving costs down. There’s no way anyone is going to invest in technology unless the overall ROI benefit exists. At the end of the day, the fundamental issue is when you turn over an asset to the owner, whether that’s a building, a road, a bridge, the owner has to maintain and operate it for the life cycle so there is value being created by accurate data, or the “digital twin” of the finished project.

Obviously the IoT platform is going to allow for a tremendous amount of capabilities. From our standpoint, we’ve gone from collecting greater and greater amounts of data — from collecting say one point per second to 1.5 million points per second with survey instruments, measured down to sub-centimetre and millimetre-level accuracy in real time — to coupling that data with sensors. There will be a massive amount of data that will be able to be processed in order to do things that we couldn’t dream of doing yesterday.

Another change coming — a challenge that must be faced in Ireland as elsewhere — is shortages in labour and preparing professionals for meeting growing infrastructure demands. The number of people getting into the construction workforce continues to drop so we have to see how we can get the younger generation into the industry, and importantly, once they’re in, how do we take someone who is new to the job and be able to get them up to speed more quickly? The way we’re going to be able to do that begins with technology. This is one reason why programs like the one at the Dublin Institute of Technology are so important. They are teaching the value of digital construction and putting that technology literally in the hands of the students.

Topcon are the gold sponsors of the Digital Construction Summit. This event will take place on the 7th March in Croke Park. To register for tickets for the summit visit www.digitalconstruction.ie

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