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IoT enters the construction zone

After decades of lagging digitization, the construction industry has entered a new digital era, and IoT is playing an integral role in the transformation. The heightened demand for new construction is helping drive this interest, as firms look for ways to do more with less in an industry that is challenged by worker shortages, tight margins and traditionally low productivity rates. Against this backdrop, contractors have turned to new digital technologies to help improve operations and performance.

Challenges of the traditional jobsite

While contractors have been making strides in evaluating and implementing IoT technologies over the past few years, it will take some time for them to become mainstream in an industry that has been doing things the same way for decades. Even today, it’s not unusual to see supervisors walking around the site to locate workers or equipment, using air horns to signal an emergency or relying on paper logs and other point methods to document and share important project information. These processes are inefficient, ineffective and hinder a contractor’s ability to aggregate and use project data, which becomes compounded across the firm’s project portfolio.

One of the reasons manual processes persist is that, until recently, it has been difficult to develop platform systems that can overcome the rigors of the challenging, constantly changing work site. In addition to contending with remote locations, heavy building materials and the scarcity of power, traditional IT networks have had difficulty meeting the scale and flexibility requirements of an active construction site, which may require connection to thousands of devices and the need for long-range communication. As a result, technology development has largely focused on specific functions (e.g., payroll, estimating) or specific assets (e.g., equipment, tools), which only connect parts of a project.

IoT changes the game

A new type of communication platform technology was needed to overcome these barriers. Fortunately, record outside investment in construction tech startups has fueled innovation, and a group of forward-thinking contractors and solutions providers have been working together to develop robust systems that are transforming the way the industry approaches, manages and executes projects.

By focusing on developing the network, or communication platform, that harnesses and sends data from all the resources on site using IoT devices, emerging technologies are filling an unmet need and providing critical visibility into construction processes and projects. With the ability to handle hundreds or thousands of IoT devices at high densities, these IoT offerings are helping contractors keep track of — and better manage — the many moving parts on a jobsite: people, equipment, tools, information, safety incidents and more. Combined with intelligent cloud software, this unprecedented visibility and real-time data insights are available to stakeholders off site as well.

Wearable devices, equipment sensors and more are replacing anecdotes and assumptions with objective data, showing how workers and machines interact in real time and helping identify and eliminate waste. This is important since the average construction worker spends about 20% of her time waiting for materials, equipment or information, according to a study by the Department of Construction Science and Management at Clemson University. By gathering information from multiple sensors, contractors can see how hoist elevators are being used on site — how long they’re being used and how long workers are waiting for them — so firms can minimize downtime by better managing resources or increasing availability by installing more elevators.

IoT is also having a big impact in making jobsites safer by detecting and documenting worker falls and other site hazards and helping to quantify safety behaviors on site. By identifying trends and providing real-time insights, technology is helping turn safety and risk management from a historical look back and lagging indicators exercise to one focused on real-time behavioral modification, rapid response and predicting — and in time, preventing — safety and risk-related issues.

Taking IoT to the next level

Thanks to new IoT platforms, construction is entering the age of digital transformation, which has the potential to radically change the way the industry operates today. By providing critical visibility into what’s happening throughout and across jobsites, contractors can create safer workplaces and better use resources to keep projects on track and on budget. IoT technologies are already impacting contractors and project teams on site, helping them manage and respond to situations in real time. But the best is yet to come. As technologies and services evolve, more data is collected and more resources are put in place to support it, and contractors discover new ways to solve business problems, the value of IoT platforms will only increase.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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