The construction industry is bringing real-time information into processes that are centuries old. Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors are collecting job site data in a more affordable, efficient and effective way than previously imaginable.
Maybe you’ve heard of the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform industries, automate processes, and improve ROI. No industry is more ripe for change than construction and IoT has the potential to increase productivity, on-site safety, and operational efficiency. Through the deployment of low-power sensors, managers can improve worksite visibility at every stage of a project in real-time, from planning to construction, and even operation post-construction.
While the construction industry is changing at a glacial pace, construction companies who are adopting technology to successfully address common workplace concerns and streamline processes are benefitting from increased efficiencies and improved responsiveness to the increasing demands of the industry. Flat productivity, decreased margins, more schedule overruns and increased competition are some of the obvious reasons construction companies should consider the adoption of IoT technology and digitization. Data has now become a critical asset for business, and informed decisions can only be data-driven.
Generally, productivity, maintenance, security and safety appear to be the leading drivers of IoT adoption in the construction industry.
The construction sector is conditioned by deadlines and targets. It’s mandatory to avoid backlogs because they result in budget increases. IoT can enable more readiness and efficiency thus improving productivity. IoT leaves people with less menial work, and, instead, they’re allocated more time to interact with project owners and amongst themselves, generating new ideas to improve project delivery and customer satisfaction.
Construction requires an adequate supply of materials to ensure the smoothness of the project. However, the late supply of materials often occurs at the site due to poor scheduling caused by human error. Through IoT, the supply unit is fitted with a suitable sensor it’s possible to automatically determine the quantity and make automatic orders or raise alarms.
Power and fuel consumption will result in wastage if not actively managed, and that will impact the overall cost of the project. Through the availability of real-time information, it becomes possible to know the status of every asset, to schedule maintenance stops or refueling and turn-off idle equipment. Further, field sensors help to prevent problems from happening, which reduces warranty claims, helping the bottom line and keeping customers happy. Beyond notifications for decreasing stocks, sensors can be used to monitor materials condition like the suitability of the temperature or humidity of the item/environment, handling issues, damage and expiration. Equipment suppliers have had to evolve from just being suppliers to partners who continuously monitor and maintain equipment, leaving clients to focus on their core business.
Safety and Security
Some of the biggest challenges encountered on a construction job site are theft and safety. Human security agents are not adequate to monitor a huge site properly. Using IoT enabled tags, any material or theft of items is easily resolved as these sensors will notify the current location of the materials or item. It’s no longer necessary to send a human agent out to check out everything.
IoT allows for the creation of a digital real-time job site map together with the updated risks associated with the works and notifies every worker when getting closer to any risk or entering a dangerous environment. For example, monitoring the air quality in an enclosed space is critical for workplace safety. IoT technologies will not only prevent staff from being exposed to dangerous conditions but can also detect those conditions before or as they happen. With real-time IoT data, workers are empowered to be more predictive about job-site issues and prevent situations that could lead to a safety incident and lost time.
Handling equipment and machinery for too long may also cause workers to experience fatigue, which in turn disturbs their concentration and productivity. IoT makes it possible to monitor signs of distress like abnormal pulse rates, elevations and user location.
Below is a summary of some IoT technologies that are improving outcomes on the construction job site.
UAVs and Autonomous Vehicles
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and autonomous vehicles are gaining popularity. Monitoring and surveillance at huge construction projects which span huge spaces are being made easy through UAVs, especially drones. Further, autonomous dump trucks and excavators are being tested in various projects to limit exposure of human life to unsafe work situations. e.g. Autonomous TMA Truck, Volvo Trucks, Smart Construction by Komatsu. Manual tracking of the condition and location of critical equipment at a construction site is time-consuming and prone to human error. Fitting trackers on these critical assets brings huge convenience to the construction/project manager. IoT enabled equipment tracking allows construction companies to manage utilization, control costs and make smarter equipment decisions. Gleaning data from paperwork and spreadsheets don’t readily give managers actionable information.
Using drones to gather accurate survey maps and aerial images of a job site, as well as track progress remotely, saves on a project’s time and cost. Additionally, the aerial images can give project managers a different perspective of the project, and help spot potential issues that may not have been apparent from the ground.
Real-time tracking and cloud-based data sets help construction companies reduce theft, increase productivity and control usage costs. The beauty of IoT enabled solutions is that even the smallest companies and the shortest-term projects have found smart, wireless systems to be a cost-eﬀective option.
While robots are not yet a common sight on the construction site, bricklaying robots are already being tested e.g. Fastbrick Robotics.
Another exciting trend shaking up the construction industry involves the application of IoT in concrete curing. Here, sensors are embedded in concrete during casting, and they follow curing of concrete in real time allowing the construction manager to monitor and plan their schedules with certainty. An accurate in-situ estimation of the compressive strength of concrete provides the opportunity to optimize critical construction operations, such as formwork removal time, opening a bridge/road to traffic, pre-stressed cable tensioning time and optimization of the concrete mix design. One of the major issues during construction is managing labor and formwork costs. Knowing the maturity of concrete can make the difference between profitability and loss as it allows scheduling and cycling of formwork and optimization of labor. Sensohive Maturix, Doka Concremote and Giatec SmartRock are some of the implementations of IoT in concrete curing.
ReadyMix suppliers, cement manufacturers, consulting engineers and concrete testing labs can also rely on this IoT technology to enhance service delivery.
Waste Management and Structural Health Monitoring
Waste management is a critical consideration on a modern construction site, especially nowadays given the increased attention on the carbon footprint of the construction process. It’s also crucial to immediately clean trash on a job site to create space and reduce hazards. Trash levels have to be monitored and removed within a certain time. Proper waste disposal approaches also have to be enforced. Monitoring waste disposal bins or vehicles in a cost-effective way is now possible through IoT trackers. Failure to handle waste properly may result in penalties for the contractor from authorities. IoT is also used in structural health monitoring to detect vibrations, cracks and conditions of critical building members and civil structures during and after construction.