The Internet of Things (IoT) is still a relatively new concept in the construction industry. Although managers and executives are just now starting to dig deeper into the technology, IoT has already been helping other industries for many years now. Construction is one of the best applications of IoT technology and companies are just scratching the surface on what it can do for the industry.
The Internet has come a long way since the 'mainframe' days and has undergone multiple phases of technological growth since then.
The first phase was about defense research (DARPA) with the creation of a limited but safe network with few participants for almost two decades between the 60s and 80s. The second phase in the 90s focused on the development of key open protocols which could enable the use of services such as browsers, which proved to be a pivotal step for the technology as it entered the next phase. After the year 2000 through to today, we have been experiencing the third phase of the Internet. The third phase has been characterized by the rapid growth of powerful applications such as mobile technology, cloud computing, video, and multi-sided platforms to name a few.
This brings us to the next phase, which we are still in the process of entering. The new fourth phase of the Internet is all about Artificial Intelligence (AI), IoT, and Blockchain technologies. This new chapter involves a hyper-connected network full of both people and things, and essentially places more power in the hands of smart devices and machines which are able to operate without any human involvement.
By combining human intelligence with controlled, yet fully-automated technology, we can enter a new era of global productivity capable of improving virtually every single part of the economy.
Which Construction Problems Can IoT Help Solve?
As great as IoT sounds, you might be wondering exactly how it can help construction. There are many ways IoT can help, but let's dive in to a few of the major examples.
Nothing in construction is more important than the safety of on-site staff. Despite many efforts to improve safety measures across the industry, construction continues to struggle with this and still has one of the higher fatal injury rates globally. Safer equipment, best practices, gear, and documentation can help, but there's only so far these efforts can go.
The industry needs much more visibility into safety issues, and the only way to achieve that increased level of visibility is with technology.
IoT can provide incredible real-time insights using connected wearables and sensors. Wearables can track the worker's physical well-being using embedded biometric technology, while external sensors can monitor the jobsite environment ensuring workers are not exposed to any hazardous substances or dangerous environmental conditions.
Productivity and Profitability
According to recent studies by PMI, only around 50% of construction projects are completed on time and only 56% are within budget. Construction plans are increasing in their complexity, making it harder to predict delivery timelines and project costs. To ensure that all resources are used efficiently during construction, managers need to find new ways to monitor their teams and manage materials.
Using IoT, managers are able to gather real-time data about the progress of the job to identify issues and optimize the crew's day-to-day operations. This steady stream of real-time data can help managers with their decision-making on multiple fronts across resource allocation, task planning, reporting, etc. IoT can help teams improve communication, make informed decisions, and also enable real-time asset tracking.
Skilled Labour Shortage
It's blatantly obvious that construction faces a pretty daunting labour challenge both now and in the years ahead. The pool of available skilled talent continues to shrink as older workers leave the workforce and the pipeline of younger generations entering construction is dwindling.
Although automated devices are not able to fully substitute for a skilled worker, they can at least handle specialized functions to offset the gap left by this shortage. IoT-powered automated robots can be controlled by field teams and assigned to handle more repeatable, mundane tasks, allowing human workers to focus on the more challenging aspects of the construction process.
Construction businesses are required to recycle waste and dispose of debris. Managers need to document waste disposal, determine best practices for recycling, and track fuel costs for logistics operations, among other waste management responsibilities.
IoT solutions can help managers monitor on-site trash levels, calculate the most efficient routes for waste collectors to reduce disposal costs, and gather real-time waste management data to optimize jobsite operations. IoT allows managers to make sure no waste is left on-site, identify reasons for trash pileup, and reduce operating costs.
Construction IoT Examples
In theory, IoT seems great! But time to cut the fluff. How is IoT being used in construction today? Let's give you some real world examples of some great IoT solutions being used today:
LifeBand by Smart Cap
SmartCap's LifeBand is a wearable device that can be installed in any existing hardhat. Once embedded, the LifeBand monitors the alertness and fatigue levels of an equipment operator to manage risks and eliminate microsleep on-site.
HoloLens by Microsoft
Microsoft's HoloLens allows users to overlay 3D building plans over a jobsite. Managers get to see how things will work before anything is built and identify incompatibilities far in advance.
AAVM by Hyundai
Hyundai's All Around View Monitoring (AAVM) system provides a 360-degree view of any piece of heavy equipment as well as its immediate surroundings. Companies can monitor the operation of the equipment as well as receive alerts when cameras detect the presence of people or objects nearby.
BlackBerry Radar by BlackBerry
The BlackBerry Radar system is a great tool for real-time equipment monitoring and reporting.
IoT technology is the next major technology trend for construction, right after cloud technology and workflow automation. Humans working together with intelligent, automated devices on-site can help construction address problems in the areas of safety, productivity, profitability, labour shortages, and waste management.
We are just seeing the first few glimpses of what the future holds for IoT in construction. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see how this unfolds!
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