Tell Us When and Where
ConstructionCAM delivers customized camera and lighting solutions across U.S.
Mark D. Carroll is a tinkerer. From the time he was a young boy, he was taking things apart to see how they worked. So it’s only natural that his company, ConstructionCAM, was born out of his curiosity to make something new. ConstructionCAM, based in Crown Point, Indiana, offers solar-powered mobile trailers that provide live construction cameras, LED lights, Wi-Fi and time-lapse videos for job site security and progress management.
The firm manufactures trailers for a wide variety of customers, from building developers whose investors want to see the progress of a project to general contractors who want to monitor their construction sites. ConstructionCAM also designs trailers with cameras and lighting systems to accommodate pipeline companies that need to monitor remote pipeline sites.
“Customers use our camera trailers for security, progress management and for safety. Some use them purely for public relations purposes,” Mark says. “They want to get the buzz out about a project and provide a live feed of it on a website so people can see progress in real time.”
Before Geeks Were Cool
An offspring of the generation that grew up with the onset of Microsoft and Apple, Mark began tinkering with computers when he was 12. Self-taught in computer technology, he joined BMW Constructors (now BMWC Constructors) doing field IT and accounting in 1989. “In the days before the internet, I figured out how to write a program to use a modem to connect a $65 million job site to the main office. This enabled the transfer of on-site timesheets for 300-plus tradesmen so a teamster didn’t have to drive a stack of 5.25-inch floppy disks 80 miles each way back to the office daily. From there I knew what I wanted to do with my career,” he says.
In 1993, he started an IT consulting company and a year later worked for Prudential as an IT business analyst, migrating a 600-person claims payer office from a mainframe system to personal computers using Microsoft software. He was invited to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, to meet Bill Gates as part of a team sharing experiences and visions for the future.
After consulting for various IT companies to bring Microsoft technologies to clients, he started a company, Digital Solutions Incorporated, to provide IT consulting for the construction industry, making a name for automating commercial construction processes.
While working on a project for a company in Chicago to develop a program for reading CAD drawings, Mark’s customer mentioned a need he had for a high-rise building project downtown. “They wanted to be able to see the job site to show investors the progress of the project,” he recalls. Mark took a laptop computer, hooked up a USB camera to it and went from door to door in the building across the street until he found a tenant willing to put a phone line in his apartment and fit the camera inside the window. Word of his inventive approach got around, and business grew.
Then one day in 2000 a customer called with a unique problem. He had a project on 180 acres in the middle of a cornfield. His investors wanted to see progress on the job site and he wanted to protect his property from theft. But the remote location wasn’t anywhere near a power source.
Working in his garage, Mark took a 5-by-8-foot cargo trailer and added a mast that extended 30 feet into the air. He then added solar panels to power lights and camera equipment. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. Within a year, Mark and his team moved from the garage into an office space, and his consulting firm made way for a new company. “We filed for a patent for various parts and pieces of the trailer, as well as the whole concept itself, and settled on the name ConstructionCAM for the business. That said it all. It was very simple, and people remembered the name,” he says.
Today, ConstructionCAM has a manufacturing and assembly facility in Crown Point, which is “where the magic happens,” Mark says. That’s where custom cameras, lighting and communications equipment are added to meet customer needs.
As Founder and CEO, Mark runs a lean staff of engineers, fabricators, assemblers, sales and management team members. When larger contracts require additional staff, he has a pool of people to call on to help put orders together and get the trailers out the door.
“I was doing IT consulting in the corporate world for years, and it boggles my mind how many people our biggest competitors have,” Mark says. “When I started my own company, I decided to give people autonomy to do what they do without a middle manager or micromanagement. Trust your people and let them do what they do.”
The trailers work exclusively with cameras manufactured by Axis Communications, a Swedish manufacturer of AXIS network cameras for security and video surveillance industries. “We’ve written our own proprietary code to control the AXIS cameras from our data center and to capture pictures and video and detect motion. Our interface makes it very simple for customers to log in and get four options: view the latest image, get a live camera feed, access archives or create a time-lapse video. It’s easy for them to operate it on their own: click, click and it’s done,” Mark says.
“Our motto is: Tell us when and where, and we’ll do the rest.” Mark D. Carroll, Founder and CEO, ConstructionCAM
No ‘COOKIE CUTTER’ Approach
ConstructionCAM’s ability to customize each trailer sets the firm apart. It rents, leases and sells equipment depending on the customer’s need. The firm offers a standard model trailer, but will customize design and equipment for the customer. “Our motto is: Tell us when and where, and we’ll do the rest,” Mark says.
The company works to determine the customer’s objective, taking into consideration where the equipment will be located. “A trailer in Florida or California will get more sun than one going to Wisconsin,” Mark says. “We figure out how many sun hours the location gets per day and then design the solar and battery backup around that.”
One of its recent customized trailers was for the police department in Vicksburg, Mississippi, which needed two trailers for special events, such as parades, festivals and the county fair. “They needed something they could quickly deploy to local events to monitor what’s going on. Whether they are in a command center, an office or a car, they can control the cameras,” says Mark’s son, Kyle Carroll, a Senior Engineer who has been working with his father since he was 15.
“A lot of companies sell products that are standard so you can get them in and out the door quickly. We’re always willing to do something custom. Anything you need, we’ll come up with a way to do it,” adds Kyle, who is certified in AutoCAD.
The customization of a hazardous material (hazmat) truck for Shelby County, Ohio, is another example of the firm’s ability to provide specific customer solutions. “They needed a 25-foot to 35-foot tower on the truck. Within a couple of weeks, we had installed a camera and lights on the back of the truck and permanently mounted the tower to the bumper so they can see images from the camera while they sit in the truck or remotely,” Kyle says.
“There’s a lot of freedom here. If you have an idea, we’re going to see if it works,” he continues. “I’ve been at other companies where you’re told ‘this is the way it is done.’ Here, an idea is an idea. If you have it, let’s try it.”
Another company, ALL-COMM Technologies, Inc. in Massachusetts, uses ConstructionCAM trailers to monitor national conventions and sporting events. “They provide security for major events, such as the Boston Marathon. Without our trailers, they would have to find poles to mount cameras and get power to them. Our trailers can be quickly deployed and ready to go,” Mark notes.
ConstructionCAM’s desire to go above and beyond for its customers is a key reason for the firm’s success. Mark shares the story about building his first trailer for Simon Property Group, one of the largest mall developers in the country. “Their person called and said they needed the camera trailers very quickly for a major mall in Houston. He gave me the specs, and we built the trailer in two days,” he says. Then Mark hauled it to Texas, driving straight through the night to get it to the construction site. The client was pleasantly surprised when he called to check on progress of the ConstructionCAM trailer, and Mark told him to pull up the job site on his computer. “We’ve had his business ever since,” he adds.
The company is currently providing construction cameras to the Digital Crossroads of America Data Center in Hammond, Indiana, a $40 million, 105,000-square-foot data center for companies that need a lot of processing power. “It will be one of the largest data centers in the U.S., and our camera trailers are on it so everyone can watch its construction progress,” Mark adds.
Closer to home, ConstructionCAM does pro bono work for the city of Crown Point, where Mark lives and works, and recently provided cameras to track construction progress of the local YMCA. The firm also provided a camera trailer that showed time-lapse progress of the Sparta Dome, a sports and event center in Crown Point, so the community could keep up with progress when it was under construction.
With the evolution of LED lights, Mark and his team began offering lighting with the trailers, as well as a REESE hitch light—and a new division, ConstructionLIGHTS, was born in 2015.
ConstructionLIGHTS’ mobile light tower systems feature a light tower mounted on a ConstructionCAM trailer for its power source, proving a cost-effective alternative to standard diesel light plants. The mini light tower slides into a REESE hitch normally used to attach a trailer or bike rack on the back of a car or truck. The solar-powered light plants can run 60 hours on a full charge and eliminate the need for generators or fuel. “It’s a quick and easy way to get portable lighting to a site, and it’s useful for so many markets, including the construction industry, first responders and recreation,” Mark says.
He has patented and trademarked the light tower and the REESE hitch light tower, and demand for the product has skyrocketed.
The company has also introduced aerial drone photography services for commercial and residential real estate, construction and inspection services in northwest Indiana and the surrounding areas. “Residential realtors use aerial photos to help distinguish their listings. Commercial realtors can showcase local amenities, construction companies can feature their projects to contractors, owners and investors and farmers can use drone photography to measure crop density and growth,” Mark notes.
Mark thinks back to his first trailer put out in that cornfield almost 20 years ago. “It was scary looking, but form follows function,” he laughs. “It solved the problem. As time went on, we refined the design. Our whole goal, from starting the camera trailers to our light towers, has always been quality. People sometimes choose a cheaper route, and then five years later, the equipment is in the back of their shop in a heap and rusted. I literally have the third trailer we ever built 17 years ago still in our rental fleet and it’s being used today.”
As far as the future goes, Mark says his ultimate goal is to stay a family-run business that continues to meet customer needs nationwide.
“You have to stay innovative. I don’t care if you think it’s a dumb idea; bring it to the table. Put it together with another idea, then it could become a great idea,” he says.
Mark adds, “Our goal is to bring solutions to customers. We’re partnering today with other companies to develop solutions that don’t even exist right now. A lot of these solutions are in the lighting and access control industry, so stay tuned.”
The company is currently in negotiations with a major national equipment rental company to handle the rental of its camera and light trailers. “The idea came to be because some companies are spending thousands of dollars per month on diesel fuel for each light plant and realize it’s time for a green solution like our solar LED light trailers,” Mark says. “They are huge in the rental equipment world, so it promises to be a huge game changer for us.”