Five Things to Demand From Your Concrete Supplier

Concrete producers can—and should—deliver vital, real-time job information via mobile apps.

BCMI Corp.’s Material Now app provides contractors with all they need to know about their concrete orders and can be used as a virtual filing cabinet that houses past ticket data. Pictured here is an order timeline for a concrete finisher.
BCMI Corp.’s Material Now app provides contractors with all they need to know about their concrete orders and can be used as a virtual filing cabinet that houses past ticket data. Pictured here is an order timeline for a concrete finisher.
BCMI Corp.

Concrete construction is a real-time industry. Contractors must make immediate decisions about project work all day long, day after day. After all, only so much time can pass before concrete hardens. Up until recently, contractors haven’t always had access to real-time tools. Without the most up-to-date information about material deliveries and project details, things can go wrong fast, increasing stress and cost.

The good news is cloud-based business management software and mobile technology are changing the way we communicate on the jobsite, so contractors can work smarter. These solutions give instant access to the most updated project information, from change orders to material-delivery statuses to incoming weather, so more informed decisions can be made about the job at hand. In fact, 77 percent of contractors use mobile technology when working on projects, according to KPMG’s 2016 Global Construction Survey[VS1] . And according to the 2017 Construction Technology Report by JBKnowledge, 77 percent of construction professionals are using smart phones on the job and more than half (53 percent) are using tablets.

Since the majority of contractors are now equipped with mobile devices, concrete suppliers should be delivering more than just concrete. Through mobile apps, producers can supply the real-time information needed to reduce costs, making projects run smoother and workdays less stressful.

“The mobile app provided by our ready-mix supplier (Irving Materials Inc.) allows me to monitor pours throughout the day and helps me to understand what upcoming work we have scheduled,” says Tim Brogan, a project executive with contractor Shiel Sexton, headquartered in Indianapolis. “I also use the app for job costing—bridging the gap of work in place versus what’s billed to date.”

Ask for these deliverables

Based on currently available technology, concrete producers can deliver the following information straight to the jobsite—or wherever the contractor is.

1.  Are loads really “on the way”?

For years, many concrete contractors have suspected that some dispatchers bend the truth when they say a load of concrete is “on the way.” Is the truck really on the road or is it still being loaded? Or perhaps it is not even scheduled?

Mobile apps are enabling concrete producers to give contractors the transparency needed for peace of mind. When producers provide customers with mobile apps to track their orders, contractors can see where trucks are at any given moment and what’s on them—including the exact mix, the amount and the age of concrete. Contractors, in turn, can prep for pours and schedule work more efficiently.

2.  Proof of work/what went wrong on the job

When concrete cracks, chips, spalls or worse, project owners demand to know why. It is up to the contractor to investigate and provide answers. Did the finisher add too much water to make the concrete easier to work with? Was too much water added to the mix at the plant or by the driver? Were weather conditions unsuitable, but the owner wanted to proceed with work anyway? These questions and more can be answered by viewing the delivery ticket, which can be accessed from anywhere and at any time via mobile device.

Producers who use metered sources, sensors and truck-tracking systems that automatically feed into cloud-based databases can make information immediately accessible in the field. The process of pulling data from the database and into the delivery ticket is automated to ensure information is available in real time. As a result, contractors can see everything about the mix including how much water has been added, from the plant to the chute, and can reject loads if they see the water-cement ratio (WCR) is too high.

“It’s nice to have an app that allows me to track deliveries and activities—and ensure the correct mix designs and quantities were ordered,” says Rich Dawson, a superintendent at Shiel Sexton. “These apps keep me from having to take the time to call sales reps or batch plants to find information.”

Contractors also can easily determine the age of concrete online through ticket time stamps. For example, depending on the additives used, the lifecycle of fresh concrete is typically three hours maximum. Through recorded status updates on each ticket, contractors know when each truck was loaded and how long the concrete has been on the truck. They can leverage that information to ensure they are unloading the oldest trucks first and rejecting loads that are too old—and look up old tickets to review time stamps on previous jobs.

Additionally, producers can digitally attach weather stamps to each ticket based on information from the nearest weather station. For instance, BCMI Corp.’s Material Now app logs the windspeed, temperature, rainfall and humidity at the time of the pour (all of which can affect surface cracking). The weather stamp validates that information by providing the distance to the weather station from which the data was collected. The app is available to contractors through various concrete producers.

Some mobile apps allow contractors to show proof (and quality) of work, by using smart phones or tablets to take pictures at the jobsite and attach those images to delivery tickets. These stay with the corresponding tickets and can be accessed as needed.

3. On-demand project status and details

Imagine using a mobile app to view a history of all your jobs and being able to cross-check those jobs against invoices to ensure all work has been logged and invoiced. Concrete suppliers equipped with the right technology can provide that information.

When concrete contractors use mobile apps to access job orders and the associated delivery tickets (current, past and future), they have a virtual filing cabinet in their pocket that they can pull out at a moment’s notice. They can review details from completed jobs, view a summary of the day’s work and see what’s scheduled for the next day. Producers also can email daily or weekly work summary reports in PDF form.

Mobile apps are also useful for scheduling future jobs. They can be set up to send project status alerts reminding users of upcoming concrete deliveries as well as “will call” orders that need to be changed to “active” status—which can be done through the app.  Contractors who confirm job orders to active status with ample notice enable producers to better schedule trucks, which ultimately results in contractors receiving better service.

4.  Alternatives to calling a dispatcher

Although dispatchers are always a phone call away, alternatives should be available to make placing and updating orders more convenient for contractors who are always on the move. Mobile apps give contractors 24/7 access to their job orders, allowing them to make changes even when the dispatch office is closed. This is especially helpful for contractors whose “office” hours do not match dispatch hours, or when morning deliveries need to be put on hold or sped up due to an approaching storm or other unforeseen jobsite issue.

5.  Up-to-date account and ticket data

Cash flow is a serious issue for many small-business contractors who get paid only after work is completed. Most producers give their customers a credit line, which allows contractors to pay for orders once they get paid. However, when the credit limit is reached, the contractor is restricted from starting new job orders until sufficient credit is restored.

Contractors equipped with mobile apps can manage their accounts and track what they owe. They can make bank transfers via the app when they see they are approaching their credit limit. This ensures material deliveries—and projects—are not delayed.

No More Communication Delays

With the technology available on mobile devices, there is no excuse for delays in any part of the communication chain. Pertinent information should be available on cell phones and tablets via cloud-based business management software, so contractors can handle their day-to-day responsibilities quickly and accurately.

Nowadays, every contractor should be able to say to their producer: “I want to know where the next truck is and what’s in it. I want details of work that’s been done and what’s next for tomorrow. And I want that digital file cabinet so I can view all my job orders and tickets!”

Modern materials producers who value strong customer relationships are providing these tools as a standard service. Those who don’t are facing contractors’ growing demands for technology—and seeing their customers gravitate toward producers who make life easier with mobile tools.