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IoT should be a key focus for the construction industry

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Only one in four construction executives think the Internet of Things (IoT) will disrupt their industry, according to GlobalData’s Emerging Technology Trends Survey 2020. By comparison, over half of oil and gas industry executives identified IoT as a disruptive theme for their industry.

These results are surprising. IoT technologies such as sensors, wearables and integration with building information modelling (BIM), have the potential to improve safety, productivity and therefore profit margins. In 2019 the average profit margin from 20 specialist construction contractors was 2.4%, down from 3.5% in 2018, according to The Construction Index. Budget and overrun management is paramount to ensure margins do not decrease further.

Wearables improve safety and productivity

Wearables incorporating GPS technology can help managers monitor their workforce and protect against injury. For example, Australian company SmartCap Technologies has developed a hard hat that tracks workers’ micro-sleep and fatigue levels. The wearable sends sound and vibration alerts to the worker, encouraging them to take breaks. This reduces fatigue-related safety incidents and helps with productivity.

Reactec has developed the HAVWEAR wearable monitor to assess and manage hand arm vibration (HAV) risks. The monitor informs the wearer of exposure and displays their risk in realtime. Reactec has also responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, releasing wearable SAFE-DISTANCE, which ensures workers are social distancing, containing a proximity alert warning system.

While implementation is currently low, the 'Thematic Research: Wearable Tech in Construction' report by GlobalData has predicted uptake of wearables is likely to increase as the benefits of wearable tech becomes clearer to construction companies.

Open BIM enables more informed collaboration, resulting in better quality builds. Credit (all images): Reid Brewin Architectes

Having a piece of software that uses a non-proprietary-based data exchange means the files can be easily shared.

Sensors monitor machine efficiency and maintenance

Smart asset monitoring is at the forefront of IoT in the construction industry. Suppliers of construction machinery and equipment are advocates of IoT, with many implementing sensors to monitor machine hours, fuel consumption, and predictive maintenance.

US corporation Caterpillar is a frontrunner, IoT-enabling its construction equipment and heavy machinery. Its Cat Connect technologies create connected machines that improve efficiency, help managers increase utilisation of their machinery and reduce downtime.

Caterpillar recently renewed its partnership with CalAmp, an IoT and data intelligence company for telematics products. The partnership will advance and streamline IoT technologies for Caterpillar products, bringing intelligence to the ‘edge’. Edge computing allows computation and analytics to be completed nearer the data source or device.

BIM and IoT

BIM can be valuable, especially when hosted in the cloud, giving multiple stakeholders access to project progress. This becomes more powerful when real-time data is incorporated.

Integrating BIM with IoT data from sensor nodes allows real-time analytics to be applied to the model. It demonstrates operational efficiencies, such as machine run-times, giving a more complete picture of project progress and more accurate projections of likely project overruns.

BIM and IoT integration are still in development stages, which is a possible reason for its potential being downplayed by industry executives. The construction industry has been traditionally slow to implement new technologies and the cost of investing can prevent firms from engaging with emerging tech.

However, in an industry impacted by overruns and declining margins, an appreciation of IoT potential should be a key focus. IoT will continue to disrupt the construction industry, particularly as edge computing develops and improves data processing channels.