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How the construction industry is using IoT and sensor technology

The internet of things and sensor-based technology can be used to create huge advantages on construction sites related to worker safety, cost reduction and predictive maintenance. This technology collects massive amounts of data and can provide different types of analysis: descriptive, relaying the current conditions of a specific piece of equipment or environment; predictive, to forecast the occurrence of potential malfunctions or safety risks; and prescriptive, to provide ways to optimize the workflow and avoid delays and errors.

Predictive maintenance

Equipment fitted with sensors can generate valuable data about elements of a construction project such as temperature, weight capacity, light and chemicals. This information can be used to influence decisions made regarding maintenance scheduling and overall safety of a construction site in terms of fire safety, worker capacity, energy use and general wear and tear.

IoT and sensor technology in construction

Source: Christopher Burns, Unsplash

Managing the specialized machinery necessary for a project is often one of the most significant costs faced by firms in the construction industry, so maintaining these assets is vital to avoiding critical errors and expensive repairs or replacements. Timing maintenance to ensure that it can occur without affecting current projects and when it is necessary for the equipment to continue functioning optimally is a complicated balancing act.

Using sensor-based predictive and preventative maintenance technology enables operators to conduct maintenance on a piece of equipment in the sweet spot: when necessary, but before it has broken down, reducing costs dramatically in terms of the depth of the repair necessary as well as avoiding delays in the project timeline.

This technology not only monitors the condition of the equipment, but can communicate with operators regarding its exact status and alert them when maintenance is due. Sensors can also alert operators as to when conditions are operating at a level in which maintenance may become necessary, such as if a certain area is too hot for a specific type of equipment. Operators can then take the steps necessary to reduce the temperature or pause the activity until conditions cool down, avoiding any maintenance at all.

Internet of things

Many of these sensors and maintenance mechanisms rely on IoT technology – “things” or equipment with network connectivity, enabling them to collect, exchange and communicate data. In addition to sensor-equipped appliances, jobsite employees can personally use IoT-enabled devices such as wearable accessories. Biometric wearables can monitor a worker’s heart rate, temperature and other vital signs, and alert safety managers if she is experiencing exhaustion or overheating.

Weight-bearing sensors can track workers in the field to ensure they are aware of jobsite hazards and injury risks. A team at MIT is working on a connected safety shoe with sensored soles designed to alert workers if they lift a load above the recommended weight, and will keep the alert on until the weight has been reduced to a safe volume.

Virtual and augmented reality

AR/VR technology allows project managers to have detailed insights into the project from end to end and approach the project knowing all the facts. Applications like sensors allow the construction team to detect errors or necessary maintenance on equipment before they can impact the project on a greater scale, which cuts repair and labor costs.

Using AR/VR in construction can drastically improve safety. In risky conditions, such as underwater or below ground, getting a full view of the field before entering and being made aware of potentially hazardous conditions and substances present on site is vital. In some cases, the technology also enables the ability to remotely operate robotic tools, allowing workers to achieve a high level of precision without risking their safety.

Drones are another increasingly accessible application of new technology, used to conduct real-time site surveys and track project progress. Aerial access and mapping capabilities, as well as 3D imaging, benefit worker safety and reduce survey time. The “cool factor” of drones also has the secondary benefit to contractors as a marketing tool.

The costs related to labor mistakes, accidents, equipment maintenance and fraud have significant effects on the bottom line of a project. Although construction is a notoriously slow-to-adopt industry in terms of widely applying cutting-edge technology, the adoption of these technologies can significantly reduce inefficiencies in these areas. More companies are responding to these innovations after understanding that costs can be reduced by shortening project timelines, lowering maintenance costs and fewer accidents, and in turn, lower insurance premiums and overall liability.

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