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Infrastructure Outlook: Cloud-Based CMT Makes Social Distancing and Remote Work Possible

Scott Grumski on April 9, 2020 - in Articles, Column, COVID-19

The majority of U.S. states consider construction and building material suppliers essential. This means many testing labs are still open. It has also created two problems for those in the industry: How do you follow CDC social distancing guidelines at a busy testing lab? And how do stakeholders access test results from home to keep business moving? Moving some or all the CMT workflow to a cloud-based platform can help answer both of these questions – and fast.

Practical Social Distancing in the Lab

Labs and technicians are figuring out how to adjust workflows in a way that abides by social distancing guidelines. This is tricky.

Every step of the construction materials testing workflow involves a handoff of some sort. Let’s take concrete cylinders as an example:

  • Taking a concrete sample in the field and casting cylinders
  • Passing the cylinder from truck to the lab
  • Stripping the mold and marking the cylinder with a specimen ID
  • Pulling the cylinders from the curing room or tank
  • Loading the cylinder into a compression testing machine
  • Running the test – on a machine that might not have been cleaned in between technician shifts
  • Writing down the results and passing the paperwork to an administrator, who then passes it to the next person

A lab’s biggest concern used to be the potential for human error that exists at nearly every step of this workflow. But now, the issue is even graver. It’s the potential for human transmission of COVID-19.

Accessing CMT Data Remotely

Beyond the testing lab are the engineers, project owners, DOTs and other stakeholders who need the testing data to move their project forward. In light of COVID-19, these businesses are either shutting down or, if they’re able, working from home. But those working remotely still have a few hurdles to overcome.

If their CMT workflow relies on paper and filing cabinets – or even flat file Excel worksheets – they now have a big problem. Even if they can access the server from home over VPN, the process is now much slower and full of new failure points.

Given these issues, it’s no surprise that many labs are worried about their ability to follow the CDC’s social distancing guidelines at work, and many project stakeholders are worried about their ability to get the data they need to keep projects moving forward.

The only way to solve both problems is by migrating a portion of the CMT workflow to the cloud.

It seems like a big step to take in the middle of a crisis – a full automation transformation. But in reality, all it takes is one cloud-based CMT platform.

This platform helps you carry out the entire process, from specimen ID to data analysis, with the smallest number of technicians and/or administrators. Furthermore, you get a database of results that can be accessed remotely by your designated stakeholders.

As a result, you can effectively:

  • Limit technician interaction

With the support of a CMT platform, specimens can be marked with barcodes instead of handwritten labels. These barcodes tie more information about the specimen back to its ID, which is stored in the cloud database. Technicians only have to apply a barcode label to the specimen, and the next technician can get all the information he or she needs by scanning it (or reading the machine-printed, human-readable information, if a scanner isn’t being used). This removes the need to double-check handwriting. Each individual can follow their own process at least six feet away from anyone else.

  • Limit the time technicians have to spend at the test machine

When a testing interface is linked to a CMT platform, the machine knows what specimen its testing because it has been preloaded with the associated information in the cloud database. The technician doesn’t need to spend time double-checking IDs and verifying the specimen test setup. Plus, if the machine is automatic, the technician only has to worry about touching one button to get the test started. An automatic machine preloaded with specimen details and sample associations will configure and run the test itself.

  • Remove manual data transfer

After the test runs, technicians don’t need to manually record the results or transfer the data to the next person. With a cloud-based CMT platform, the machine (manual or automatic) can automatically transfer results to the cloud database and any interface to interact with and report on that data (like ForneyTools – skip to the bottom for more info on this – or a LIMS or QC system).

  • Provide remote access to testing data

With a cloud-based platform, results are synced across integrated systems. This means project stakeholders don’t have to worry about out of date Excel files. Plus, cloud platforms make it easy to control access to test data. Your designated users can access the platform and get the data they need. There’s no need to share raw, read-only files or provide remote access into a LIMS or ERP.

For the engineers that have to validate and put their name to results, for project managers and accountants collecting data to make decisions and for anyone working remotely or social distancing at work, cloud-based platforms offer a way to access what’s happening at the break machine, without having to actually be there.

Migrating to the cloud has been a topic of discussion in the industry for a while. But most of that talk centers around the fact that many industries have already made the shift, while construction has lagged behind. The coronavirus pandemic changed things almost overnight. It has forced many firms into a virtual and distributed workspace, whether they have the infrastructure or not.

A good cloud platform provider can have you migrated to the cloud very quickly. And if you’re worried about integrating with your LIMS, don’t. The best providers will include a way around this. ForneyVault provides an online interface that enables you to access your data without a LIMS.

In this time of social distancing and remote work, everyone is trying to figure out how to maintain operations and preserve jobs. Cloud-based CMT platforms help make this possible–but it’s not a band-aid solution. It’s an investment that will continue to pay dividends in the future. Because once this crisis is over, your workflows will be better shielded from human error, your data will be more secure and your results will be easier to verify.

Scott Grumski

About Scott Grumski

Scott Grumski is vice president of Platform Development for Forney LP; email: sgrumski@forneyonline.com.

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