The Internet of Things, better known in the tech world as IoT, is an undeniable force that is making its way swiftly into the construction industry. What does IoT refer to? It is the technological process of connecting any machine, tool, or system to the Internet to analyze, detect, and record the systems actions at any time from remote locations. The term IoT was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, but its popularity has grown rapidly in recent years with the advancement of technology use in the workplace and within people’s own homes. Things like Google Glass which can provide you information from the Internet in real-time to your eyeglasses, to Nest thermostats that are a central control for your home, to self-driving cars that do not need human intervention, IoT is emerging in every industry around the world. IoT is surfacing in the construction industry in 3 major ways: Machine and Tool Operations, Material and Waste Control, and Staff Monitoring.
Machine and Tool Operations
In any type of construction, the use of tools and machines are inevitable. When a tool or machine breaks or malfunctions, steps need to be taken to remove, fix, and return the machine back to the site in a timely manner. The problem with this is that a company cannot detect or foresee a machine or tool breaking down in order to plan ahead for potential job interruption. That is until IoT was incorporated into devices to track, detect, and notify a person when a problem seems to be arising. A sensor embedded in these machines or tools can take into account data from the specific equipment, compare it with thousands of models of the same product around the world, while also taking information from manufacturer statistics and recalls to determine what the issue may be.
The current alternative to IoT monitoring in the construction industry is preventative maintenance. This is the process of bringing each machine or tool in for examination before anything is actually broken or damaged. Although this does prevent unforeseen issues occurring during a job, it still takes up unnecessary time and money if there is no issues with the equipment. A statistic from ecompliance.com states that the integration of IoT innovation could show a 10% cost reduction in maintenance for construction companies yearly. That is a very large percentage of savings for any company, but especially for any corporation in the construction industry which could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment maintenance each year.
Material and Waste Control
A major factor in any construction budget is material use and waste. Human error can easily occur when it comes to counting materials, overseeing when new materials are needed or locating misplaced material. Sensors and microchips can be embedded to be able to track, order and count stock, eliminating some factors of human error. For example, anything labeled with a RFID tag (Radio Frequency Identification Device) can be counted at any time, notifying the company when numbers go below a certain point, allowing them to order more supplies before they completely run out. This saves workers time and energy that is better put towards finishing a job on time. It is also a money-saving tool because it will avoid a company ordering too much product for the specific job.
Not only does IoT data save waste for physical materials, but it can also regulate and control energy use. Sites are able to retain information on how much electrical energy they are using. If a budget is tight, companies can easily lower lighting during after-hours from a remote location to save energy and cost. Just like the Nest Thermostats, construction companies can conserve energy by monitoring and controlling peak hours and usage. A large factor of budget waste on a construction site is lack of monitoring both material, tools and energy. If a machine is left idling for long periods of time, this will waste fuel. If a light is left on over night by a worker, this wastes energy. If a large supply of flooring is miscounted and extra is ordered unnecessarily, this is a huge waste of budget. IoT seems to have noteworthy solutions to these major issues in the industry.
On constriction sites there are many times that an area is dangerous for a human to work in or that cannot be accessed easily. IoT can give instructions remotely on the conditions of an area i.e. pollution, terrain quality or toxin levels to protect the worker’s health and safety. For example, an oil company whose workers are exposed to high levels of chemicals can track and limit exposure by using wristbands that measure air quality, reducing sick leaves significantly. A company can also make use of IoT devices like Google Glass that can help workers on site maneuver through tough conditions and ensure they are taking the right path while also giving them real-time access to instruction and job details. AR (augmented reality) can be integrated directly into the windshield of vehicles to navigate workers to remote locations instructing them where to dig, cut or perform other terrain modifications.
Large corporations are already getting involved with IoT technology, however, smaller companies are slower to jump on board with the initial costs being high for the integration of these advanced technologies. With these new systems and devices emerging in the construction industry, it’s not a question of whether companies will implement them into daily use, the question is when.