Technology is rapidly altering every aspect of our lives, and the construction industry is no exception. The Internet of Things, in particular, is being widely adopted, including in the construction industry. But what is the Internet of Things? And why is it so useful to the construction industry?
An Introduction to the IoT
The IoT or Internet of Things refers to the increased level of connectedness between everyday devices. It includes smartphones and wearable devices. It also includes the sensors reporting to your smartphone if a window in your house is open and reporting the energy usage of appliances in your home to your utility provider. The internet connection turns every device into a “smart” device, and the massive web of data is a new layer to the internet.
The current estimated number of IoT connected devices is 27 billion. By 2030, that number is expected to hit 125 billion. And many of these new internet connected devices are in factories and on construction sites. The construction industry refers to the IoT as telematics.
How the Internet of Things Is Used by the Construction Industry
The IoT or telematics gives up to date information on equipment and its performance. You know where your trucks and each load of supplies are. You can assess the state of your equipment as it reports tire pressure, operating temperatures, and idling speeds. The IoT is increasingly important in keeping workers safe and tracking their performance. Let’s look at some of the ways the IoT is being implemented.
Any machine connected to the IoT could theoretically be controlled remotely. This is invaluable when the machinery will need to work in areas where it is dangerous for people to be. Given that workplace injuries are fairly common in the construction industry, that’s reason enough to try to roll out remote operations. It would dramatically reduce the thousand or so worker fatalities in construction each year in the U.S. alone.
Wearable tech items are any item that can be worn on the body while providing information about the user through the internet. Wearable devices can detect dangerous conditions and inform the user or the appropriate authorities. Furthermore, wearable smart glasses could let workers access instructions in a hands-free mode.
This would improve performance by giving them the information they need when they need it, and they wouldn’t have to risk juggling tools, a user manual and the items they’re trying to repair. Augmented reality visors could warn people of potential dangers, too.
Keeping Track of Assets
One of the biggest benefits of the IoT is the ability to keep track of assets like equipment and supplies. You can locate valuable tools quickly and easily if misplaced, and you reduce the odds of it being stolen. RFID and sensors on equipment and tools allow you to know where everything is, allowing you to better allocate resources and help them all work more efficiently.
RFID or radio frequency identification relies on tags that send data through radio waves. These tags are notable for lowering costs and efficiency. You can monitor the level of various supplies and their locations almost instantly via RFID. When inventory is low, the system can detect this and tell management to order more. This reduces downtime since you won’t end up with people idle for want of materials.
RFID simplifies the check in and check out of tools. It allows managers to keep track of tools, too. You can track who has the tools and for how long. A side benefit is reducing the rate at which tools go missing.
RFID is increasingly used in inspection logs and infrastructure identification. For example, RFID makes it easier to find buried infrastructure when it needs to be repaired or replaced.
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Sensors are now a key part of the IoT at construction sites. Sensors monitor everything from pressure levels to humidity to temperature to vibration levels. Sensors report when abnormal or dangerous levels are detected. This increases the odds someone can make a change before equipment is irrevocably damaged or someone is hurt. Furthermore, the data from sensors makes it possible to flag potential problems and perform preventative maintenance as required.
Building Information Model
Building information modeling or BIM allows businesses to create 3D models of the building. However, it does far more than this. The entire building’s structure and systems are mapped out for collaborative designs, and as anything is changed by the designers or construction crews, every other part of the plan is simultaneously changed.
Changes to HVAC or plumbing are reported to every other area, allowing problems to be spotted before it causes major issues. Furthermore, BIM allows many design problems to be spotted before the design plan is even finalized. This increases the efficiency of the design process while reducing the cost of construction.
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The BIM data helps to build owners, too, once construction is complete. It gives them exact data on where every feature is located. It gives them valuable information for predictive maintenance. And it may give the owners data that may simplify management of the facility.
There’s no limit to what the IoT may become. There is certainly growing demand for smart buildings since it can improve residents’ comfort, save energy and lower operating costs. This will drive further adoption of IoT because construction companies must use it simply to stay in business.
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