IoT has drastically impacted industries, ranging from health care to agriculture. Now it's changing the construction industry, too.
The internet of things (IoT) has drastically impacted industries ranging from health care to agriculture. It’s changing how people do things on construction sites, too. Here’s a look at some real-life applications of IoT in construction that should get people thinking about new ways to introduce technology into the workflow.
Reducing Accidents and Hazards
The construction sector poses inherent dangers, but workers minimize them by wearing the proper safety gear and receiving specialized training. Site crews have donned hard hats, steel-toed boots, safety glasses, and earplugs for decades. It’s now becoming common for them to use IoT wearables, too.
Some of these gadgets track physiological changes, alerting workers that they need to drink more water or take a break to avoid becoming overly fatigued. If a piece of equipment has sensors that sync with a worker’s wearables, the user could get warnings of approaching vehicles, giving them time to make way.
In one study, participants wearing waist belts with vibrating motors to alert them of dangers achieved up to 95% accuracy in identifying different construction site hazards.
Solutions also exist that combine IoT sensors with location information and real-time videos. They help workers become more aware of their surroundings, providing details about nearby hazardous chemicals or physical dangers related to worksites.
Engineers and designers who work on construction wearable projects must make the products durable and resilient, and resistant to dirt, dust, moisture, and other environmental aspects that are unavoidable on worksites.
Improving Project Visibility
Thanks to computer-aided design (CAD), people can move beyond physical plans and drawings and bring them into a digital environment that allows making 2D or 3D models of assemblies, structures, and more. One emerging example of CAD and the IoT merging is in virtual reality (VR) headsets. They support engineers’ workflows by enabling rapid renderings that save money and time.
In the construction sector, building information modeling (BIM) provides similar assistance. Project managers can assess virtual scaffolding configurations before instructing teams to assemble them, or let clients see computerized versions of proposed construction before it happens.
BIM facilitates improved communication and collaboration between everyone involved. Parties help plan entire projects before breaking ground, often suggesting better ways to get the job done and seeing how their roles contribute to overall success.
CAD and the IoT were not always widely used together in engineering and related sectors. That’s changing now, and there’s a similar transition happening with BIM and the IoT. One option available is to import IoT sensor data to populate BIM content. If the sensor shows current energy consumption, construction managers could use those statistics to determine the best ways to make meaningful improvements, ruling out the ones unlikely to work well.
Making Construction Equipment Give Better Returns on Investment
A construction project’s outcome largely depends on the availability of the resources needed to complete it. A lack of money could delay the progress, but so could equipment that breaks down, becomes misplaced, or gets stolen. Using the IoT in construction prevents such catastrophes. Managers can even receive real-time data across multiple sites.
If a team leader uses an IoT solution for asset tracking that includes a geofencing feature, they could set virtual boundaries for tools or equipment. Such features prevent someone from accidentally leaving with something after finishing a shift or intentionally misusing equipment by taking it off-site. The IoT can also show how often or how long a person uses equipment, making it easier to track trends and justify the costs of renting or purchasing it.
Relying on the IoT for the predictive maintenance of construction equipment can also aid in resource management by alerting people to abnormalities before they cause machine failures. Sensors collect details about temperature, fluid levels, vibrations, and more, allowing managers to address signs of trouble more efficiently than they could otherwise.
Relatedly, if an equipment operator notices something strange and reports it to a manager, that person can immediately investigate the problem by looking closely at the relevant data.
Allowing Better Monitoring
Construction projects require the precise coordination of dozens or hundreds of workers. Since many of them only arrive to address certain needs, it’s often challenging to oversee all the happenings at a site and ensure that people perform tasks to specifications. Fortunately, the IoT can help authorized parties supervise the activities, even if not watching them in-person.
Options like smart security cameras and drones can send live feeds to a centralized portal, allowing people to see them as required. A 2019 research paper explored the concept of context-aware construction sites equipped with sensors, embedded intelligence, actuators and displays that collectively create a “digital skin.” These elements work together to communicate with other connected devices on the job site to provide data in real-time. The system is context aware since it provides relevant information based on the user’s task.
Many of the technologies identified in the research paper support enhanced monitoring. A connected hardhat identifies the wearer and lets supervisors track their movements during a shift. Smart containers facilitate following incoming or outgoing goods and ensuring proper handling.
The IoT in construction can also provide vital information that prevents unwanted complications. Some IoT companies market solutions that collect concrete-curing data, for example. Project managers can assess that to guide other workforce decisions. Consider, for instance, if a crew arrives to perform a job that requires concrete to cure fully first. Having real-time data about the curing avoids having those workers come at the wrong time, wasting time and money.
The IoT in Construction Will Continue Gaining Momentum
The above examples highlight how the IoT can tackle some of the construction industry’s longstanding challenges. If you’re currently involved in similar projects or believe you may work on them soon, remember to stay abreast of the most likely obstacles that construction crews face and determine how your engineering expertise could help overcome them.
Could you help develop a solution offering superior battery life, better long-range communication capabilities, or more durable components? The construction sector has demanding requirements that other industries may not. Thus, taking the time to communicate with potential users before developing products for them will help avoid pitfalls.
Similarly, stay in contact with those individuals at all stages of the design and engineering processes. They’ll probably have valuable feedback that could make the resulting products more relevant and helpful to the people who use them every day.
This article was originally published on Embedded.
Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist who enjoys discovering how the IoT is impacting different industries. Emily is editor in chief of Revolutionized – an online magazine exploring trends in science, technology and industry. Subscribe to her newsletter to keep up with the latest.