Posted by Ricardo J. Rodríguez - 28 April, 2022
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A series that explores the tech trends poised to disrupt the construction industry, culminating in an exclusive virtual event where Master Builders Solutions’ Global Digital Insights Strategist, Ricardo J Rodríguez, and construction tech experts will discuss how these main trends will shape the construction businesses worldwide. Please follow the link below should you wish to learn more and confirm your attendance.
Internet of Things (IoT) devices are changing the construction industry dramatically
There’s much buzz around web-connected devices within the construction industry, referred to as “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices. The term Internet of things defines how physical devices, through sensors and software, can connect and exchange information with either other devices or systems connected to a network, predominately the internet. Some of this technology has already improved efficiency and reduced costs for quite some time. Forbes notes that many companies have introduced IoT platforms for monitoring assets and increasing operational efficiency. For example, Bosch has introduced a subscription-based IoT platform for industrial use to reduce energy waste. Cisco’s smart city solutions have led to Dubai’s more efficient water management system. Organizations like the Chinese construction giant Broad Group have experimented with drones to speed up construction projects.
These changes will be far-reaching and significantly affect how projects are managed and executed. We already see increased sensors in construction sites to help monitor and optimize physical processes. There is also a trend of 3D printing in the sector, giving project owners more control over their assets and increasing operational efficiency. These trends will continue to gain momentum in the coming years. Initially, disruption will likely come in the form of new advancements in sensor technology that are currently being implemented. They can support a great deal of innovation while reducing costs and risks for stakeholders.
The powerful combination of sensors and smart devices has changed how we track and monitor a construction project. IoT and connected devices bring measurable added value for those focused on concrete construction and application. The possibilities are endless once the industry agrees on real-time data gathering and sharing protocols. We will likely see these elements increasingly converge and support digital maturity growth and project tracking during the next few years.
Embedded Sensors & Monitoring Equipment
Think of the Internet of Things (IoT) as an ecosystem where many devices and sensors connected by the internet enable intelligent communication. These sensors measure, collect and transmit data. This data is then analyzed and used to make smart decisions. The future of construction lies in integrating all existing technologies with newer ones. This integration will help business owners to improve project efficiency and quality.
There are several ways embedded sensors will impact today’s construction practices: construction planning, concrete curing & hardening monitoring, structural health monitoring, real-time equipment tracking, and predictive analytics. Sensors embedded in concrete poured for bridge decks, highway shoulders, and other projects are now becoming commonplace, providing real-time information to contractors on the strength of the concrete and its temperature. These sensors can tell when concrete has reached the point where it’s safe to remove forms or when it’s strong enough to handle the traffic. For instance, it is now possible to determine that a concrete batch is ready for delivery before leaving the batching plant using sensors and mobile apps. Monitoring concrete curing, hardening, and temperature and embedding different types of both wired & wireless sensors allow for data to be collected, giving stakeholders a snapshot of real-world conditions. Sensors can even collect data on the weather conditions surrounding the job site. For example, wind speeds could be monitored so managers could determine if a crane should be shut down for the day due to high winds.
The construction industry is a mammoth market ripe for innovation and disruption by connected devices. A substantial increase in the adoption of these devices from project owners and general contractors will consequently allow for further skilled trade workers across the value chain. With these innovations, the construction sector can become more connected, optimizing processes and reducing costs and risks. While it’s true that technology has been a part of the construction industry for decades (smartphones, drones, GPS), we are now seeing these technologies connect, providing us with new data and insights that will help us build faster, cheaper, and safer. There are a few crucial areas where IoT & Connected devices will empower and address long-standing industry challenges. Let’s take a look at some of them below:
Comprehensive Site & Project Management - The Internet of Things (IoT) has already changed how we live our lives. We are more connected than ever before from smart homes, connected cars, wearable devices, etc. So why not connect the construction industry? The IoT is an expansive ecosystem of connected devices that can collect and share data. The data collected by these devices can be used to improve safety, increase productivity and even reduce costs—making them invaluable for organizations worldwide. Integrating IoT management, location sensors, and automation into site management processes helps ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Site Plan Safety -The devices can also ensure that the equipment is being used correctly and safely. These devices also provide quicker response times during emergencies and real-time feedback for risk-avoidance purposes. For instance, if an employee forgets to wear their hard hat or safety goggles, they could be sent a reminder by the connected device. If they still don’t comply with the protocol, they can receive a warning that can later be converted into fines or disciplinary actions. These devices could also be attached to certain types of equipment. For example, suppose a crane operator forgot to engage its brakes before leaving the controls. In that case, the connected device could sound an alarm or send a message alerting the worker to stop and fix the problem before continuing his work.
Productivity / Progress Monitoring - The IoT can also be used for productivity and progress monitoring. For example, all the laborers working on one particular construction project on-site could wear smart bracelets that will report their activity level back to the central hub. There might be different levels of activity based on how busy they are working, who they’re working with, what tools they’re using, etc. The hub could aggregate all of this data over cloud services and provide them to each stakeholder at the right time. Additionally, with an IoT device installed on one of your cranes, you can automatically track its movement around a site during a job, keeping you updated on how it’s performing as you monitor its progress. You can also use this information to decide when to have the crane move from one location to another or make adjustments if it’s not running at peak efficiency or where it needs to go next. As more resources are saved by having these IoT devices monitor their overall operations, they will help to save even more money and resources.
Remote Resource, Equipment, and Staff Management - As technology has continued to advance quickly in recent years, more devices have become connected and able to interact with each other in a way that wasn’t possible years ago. So what does this have to do with the construction industry? It means that contractors can now use connected devices for several different things on their sites. Sensors can be used for monitoring conditions at a location or even movement from equipment and vehicles. This information is then transmitted back to the contractor in real-time via an application on their smartphone or tablet device, making it easier than ever before to access it when needed most (i.e., during emergencies). Some of the added benefits include operating equipment remotely, better management of resources and equipment, and more efficient use of materials because they’ll last longer (less waste) and produce less pollution.
Predictive Maintenance - Predictive maintenance involves aggregating all the available data points and modeling potential risk assessments, warranty, repair, and replacement scenarios. It gives the ability to provide any construction site or facility with the ability to monitor and manage its infrastructure. We can better anticipate problems before they happen by monitoring for anomalous behavior such as unusual temperature or rainfall patterns. This data type helps us make more intelligent site maintenance and development decisions. When new construction projects are underway, we can identify where resources are being stressed by considering weather forecasts, real-time “equipment-health,” and historical information about construction schedules for the project area. With smart buildings and connected equipment, we can remotely manage equipment so that breakdowns or malfunctions don’t occur when they shouldn’t.
Structured Data at the Core
We see many aspects of the Internet of Things integrated into our daily lives. Construction companies will soon see these benefits incorporated into their projects. However, while making projects more efficient, reducing risks, and improving productivity are great goals, the structured data environment required to achieve these benefits is challenging. Not all construction companies are new to the idea of big data, but many have only just begun effectively grasping it. There are several significant challenges to consider, which tend to hinder the ability of construction businesses to lead in this realm:
- Construction industry workforce doesn’t tend to attract many skilled data scientists and technologists within their organizations.
- Adopting emerging technology and various data tools can be complicated, especially for an organization without internal expertise that focuses exclusively on its core business/product.
- Lack of access to reliable data from physical world machines and equipment that have not been accessible via software interfaces makes effective reporting and analytics – a requirement for making data-driven decisions – substantially limited.
- A cultural and leadership shift is needed at the executive stakeholder level fully supports and acknowledges that construction operations are not exempt from being impacted by a digital-first market.
The IoT revolution is changing construction. As it expands, each stakeholder—e.g., designers, owners, contractors, and end-users—will have the ability to benefit from improved processes and greater efficiencies. It all depends on how interested that stakeholder may be in investing in new technology. Regardless of one’s level of interest, there will inevitably be more sensors being added to construction sites in the coming years.
As the Internet of Things in construction sites become more and more advanced, it is clear that there are opportunities to increase efficiencies, improve asset management and provide insights on workflow. Many companies are already benefiting from these advancements, and we expect that IoT for construction will become a significant consideration for many architectural, engineering, construction, and project management firms.
The key message here is that the construction industry is very ready for the IoT revolution and that it is here to stay. Internet-of-things sensors are a great way to optimize for efficiency and savings. The future of Internet-of-Things focuses primarily on data collection, analysis, and using this information for decision-making. Construction companies will be able to do everything from design to maintenance with intelligent machines at their side. Collaboration between all stakeholders will be more challenging than ever but will provide truly unprecedented results if done correctly. So what do you think? Are you excited about the future of the Internet of Things? Please let me know in the comments below!