The world is rapidly changing as new technologies sweep in and change the landscape of our society, economy, home, and workplace.
The Internet of Things has become far more accessible as the internet has become more available to people. The cost of connecting is decreasing, and many devices now have Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors built right into them.
But what is the Internet of Things, and how what role does it play in the construction industry?
Read on to find out how the Internet of Things is influencing today’s construction industry in remarkable ways.
What is the Internet of Things?
In simple terms, the Internet of Things (IoT) is the process of turning everyday objects, devices, and machines into “smart” objects that are connected to the internet. Some of these items include cellphones, washing machines, lamps, wearable devices, thermostats, and so many more things. The possibilities are almost endless, and the tech world is continually coming up with new ways to use the IoT.
It’s estimated that there are currently 27 billion IoT connected devices globally, a number that is expected to increase to 125 billion by 2030.
The Internet of Things is often used in factory work and construction to streamline processes, reduce waste, increase safety, and ultimately save money and time. In the construction industry, the IoT is sometimes referred to as telematics.
How is the Internet of Things Used in the Construction Industry?
The IoT, or telematics, allows people to keep up to date on important assessment information about their equipment such as speed of idling, tire pressure, and GPS tracking. It also helps keep workplaces and workers safe, aids in performance, helps workers envision a project and problem-solve, and it can help give instructions for an on the job task.
To better understand IoT and construction industry, here are some practical ways that this technology is entering the construction zone.
Any machine that can be connected to the web can be given instruction remotely. This can be a valuable option when machinery needs to function in places that might be hazardous to humans due to pollution or other risks.
The use of remote operations can also keep humans from working with particularly dangerous equipment. Construction workplace injuries are fairly common. According to OSHA, there were 4,674 worker fatalities in the United States in 2017, 20.7% of which were in construction.
Remotely operated machinery has the potential to help reduce the risk that workers face on the worksite.
Wearable technology and devices have a very important place in the construction industry. “Wearable tech items” refer to any item that can be worn on the body that helps provide information to the user through connectivity.
Some examples of this technology might sensors that monitor the worker’s bodies and the surrounding environment to help ensure the safety of the worker.
Additionally, there are wearable smart glasses that can help workers access instruction manuals in a hands-free mode while on the job site. The work instructions have the potential to improve performance and provide details that can help them complete a task.
Workers may also use augmented reality visors that let them know if there is a change in the environment or if there is a possible danger present.
Augmented reality technology has opened the door to other ideas like the DAQRI Smart Helmet which is a wearable device that is used for industrial fabrication. The DAQRI Smart Helmet was designed to help builders, engineers, and designers use 3D recreations of their ideas right on the job site.
Keeping Track of Equipment, Supplies, and Levels
The Internet of Things is largely beneficial to the construction industry because it can send on the minute information on construction equipment, tools, and workers. Wasted time can burn through funding, but RFID and sensors installed on the equipment and tools can greatly reduce the time and cost of a job by making things work much more efficiently.
Here are some construction site technologies that are becoming more and more common in the construction industry.
A Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a tag that sends data through radio waves. It has become more and more valuable in construction because it can help with efficiency and lowered costs.
RFID technology has been around since World War II when friend or foe (IFF) systems using radar and transponders were used for aircraft identification. Today, RFID technology has been used for E-ZPass and microchips in pets.
In construction, it’s used a number of helpful ways:
One way it is used is to keep track of shipment materials. If something has low inventory, the system can detect that and notify an employee that they need to reorder the item or items. This greatly reduces downtime waiting for materials to come in to complete a job.
RFID technology is also useful because it can help keep track of tools. Tools often go missing on a job site -- so much so that at times it seems like they just disappear. With RFID, a construction company can create a system where employees must check in and check out tools and equipment. This keeps track of who has the tools and how long they’ve been used.
Other things that can be put into an RFID system are building and inspection logs, fleet management, buried infrastructure like water/sewage pipes, and telecom cables and electrical cables. By using RFID, buried infrastructure can be easily located if they need to be repaired or replaced.
The use of sensors is another key part of the IoT on the construction site.
Heavy construction equipment is now being equipped with sensors to keep track of things like temperature fluctuations, abnormal patterns, fuel or liquid levels, humidity, pressure, gas, and more.
If something abnormal or unsafe is detected, workers can be alerted to make a change before equipment fails or someone is in danger. In other words, sensors on equipment flag potential issues as part of a preventative maintenance plan. It’s far better to manage equipment before it reaches a critical breaking point.
Building Information Modeling
Building information modeling (BIM) is another feature of IoT that is becoming increasingly more integral to the process of building and construction.
To put it simply, BIM gives businesses the ability to create 3D models of a building. But it’s really more than that, because it holds all of the buildings structures and systems in an integrated and responsive design.
The idea of BIM was first introduced when Douglas Engelbart, a computer and internet pioneer, wrote, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” He wrote, “By ‘augmenting human intellect’ we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems.” Douglas Engelbert knew that man’s personal limitations would keep them from achieving greater heights.
Historically, building planning was comprised of complicated written plans that were difficult to update even if changes were necessary. Instead, BIM is a digital 3D model that includes the building’s structure and systems for collaborative designs.
If one part of the design is changed, any other part of the plan that would be impacted is also simultaneously changed. Instead of looking at each system -- architecture, engineering, plumbing, heating, electrical, structural, and so on as separate sets of drawings, these systems work together in one cohesive plan.
One of the most intriguing elements of BIM is that it can help reduce errors in the process of building because many problems can be spotted before a design plan is even put in place. This also improves efficiency and lowers the cost of construction.
Not only does this help with the immediate design plans, but it also helps architects, contractors, and structural engineers work together more easily. Their designs can work together since they each have a visual representation of their elements working alongside the others’.
Additionally, once the building is in place, these plans are still very helpful to the building’s owner. Building owners will have valuable information about predictive maintenance, management of the facility, and they’ll have an exact idea of where every feature is located in the building.
To make it even more compelling, BIM is not limited only to building structures. It can also be used in any type of construction including roads, bridges, utilities, architecture, and more.
What’s in Store for the Future of the Internet of Things?
As awareness of the capability and needs for IoT grows, so will the funding for design and development of new technologies.
In terms of this type of technology is capable of, the sky is the limit. There is a growing demand for smart buildings -- buildings that are designed to use automated processes that can automatically control things like heating, air conditioning, and lighting. Smart buildings help with routine maintenance and can identify potential problems in a system. They’re also very helpful for reducing energy waste and are valued for their lowered environmental impact.
New technologies are currently being developed to help streamline the construction process and offer safety to individual workers. Some of these new technologies include improved models of the DAQRI Helmet and Drones to help better understand and create a construction design.
While IoT has had a fairly slow start in the construction industry, many are realizing that in order to stay competitive, it’s necessary that construction companies see the need to adopt new and innovative technologies into their business plans.