The Internet of Things in construction: what are the pros and cons?
A labourer on your job site has stayed two hours over his normal shift to cover for a buddy. He’s stressed and tired – his heart rate is up and his alertness is reduced. It is an accident waiting to happen. Fortunately, your company has invested in Internet of Things solutions for construction. An automatic alert is sent from the device he is wearing to the shift manager who can quickly pinpoint his exact location and intervene.
This is just one of the many potential use cases of the Internet of Things (IoT) in construction – one of the most promising innovations in construction technology of the past decade. Already some USD $8 billion has been invested in IoT in construction worldwide, making this a very promising market indeed.
What is IoT in construction, how is it being used, and what is its potential?
What is IoT in construction?
IoT in construction involves the use of internet-connected sensors which are placed around job sites or worn by labourers. IoT devices for construction are able to collect certain kinds of data about activity, performance and conditions on the building site and send this to a central dashboard where the data is analysed to help inform decisions.
Traditionally, most internet-connected devices have been computers and mobile phones. However, a huge variety of sensors can now easily and cheaply be upgraded with a chip (like a SIM card), hence the term ‘Internet of Things’. From wristbands that monitor heart rate to temperature sensors to vibration monitors, it is now possible to connect these devices to a central database, meaning many more aspects of your sites can be monitored in ‘real time’. And this has huge implications for safety, security, productivity, and cost reduction.
Learn more: Read about AI in construction
What are the potential uses of IoT construction solutions?
Countless building companies around the world have already begun using IoT in construction in some form or another. Here are just some of the ways that the technology can be used:
- Improving safe working practices
As with the example at the beginning of this article, wearable IoT devices have real potential for improving safety on building sites. If all staff on a job site wear a wrist band or clip-on device, data about their movements and activity can be used to discover any risky behaviour.
Take the example of a New York construction firm who supplied workers with clip-on IoT devices. The device would send an automatic alert to the company’s site safety manager whenever the device physically dropped by three foot or more (the idea being to immediately notify health and safety of any falls). The manager noticed that one worker appeared to be repeatedly falling and went to investigate. As it turned out he was jumping into a pit, rather than using the ladder provided. He was naturally reminded of the dangers of his behaviour!
Besides improving safety on-site, this kind of data could additionally be used to renegotiate insurance premiums too.
- Improve resource management
How many hours get wasted on building sites searching for materials? How many litres of fuel get burnt by idle engines? How much time do labourers spend underemployed when they could be sent to support other tasks?
Using IoT devices could make significant improvements to resource management on construction sites. If all machines, staff and materials are connected to the internet with a chip, you can geolocate them immediately. The potential cost and time savings here are significant.
Take truck monitors by the IoT firm Trimble – their rugged IoT construction solutions can identify location and activity of a wide variety of vehicles and other assets.
- Better reporting and maintenance
With sensors dotted around a building site, IoT devices can continually feed back information about conditions in both completed and under-construction sites. Sensors can monitor for things like unusual vibrations on a piece of machinery that suggests it needs to be fixed. They can detect increases in humidity which can tell your inspection teams about damp issues. Or in the case of IoT building construction company Pillar, devices can even help prevent fires.
At PlanRadar, this is an area we are particularly excited about. Our app already functions as an IoT device for construction by providing real-time ticketing information for site problems to maintenance teams. But with improvements in IoT sensors, this could be achieved even faster.
IoT in construction is already delivering real benefits to companies in the industry. It is helping to:
- Improve health and safety in the construction industry
- Reduce insurance premiums
- Cut waste and theft
- Encourage more proactive (and therefore cost-efficient) maintenance
- Improve resource management
Nevertheless, there are certain hurdles and issues that need to be addressed before more widespread adoption of this technology.
Obstacles to the Internet of Things in construction
Although IoT devices for construction are already in use on many building sites around the world, there are several obstacles to more widespread adoption.
First and foremost, there are certain safety and privacy issues to overcome. If a malicious actor found a way to hack into a company’s IoT database, it could be a real goldmine of sensitive information. A list of where all your machinery is currently located or where expensive materials are stored could be a boon to organised criminals. Related to this are concerns about tracking the physical movement of workers. Many may object on privacy grounds, as could labour organisations.
While most IoT devices are relatively cheap, many job site owners will need convincing that they are worth the investment. Especially on smaller sites where you can conduct all checks in just a couple of minutes, it might seem unnecessary to spend money on sensors and learn to use a dashboard when it can continue being done manually. For the time being, it is likely that IoT construction solutions will mainly be used on large building and civil engineering projects.
Finally, like any technology, sensors are only as good as the way they are deployed. There is little sense in spending money on, say, moisture sensors, when the biggest risk on a site is heat. Sensors need to be placed and chosen strategically – many construction firms will have to follow a big learning curve before being able to truly benefit from these tools. Simply placing IoT sensors around a site won’t solve issues on its own.
The future of IoT in construction
The Internet of Things is one of the most exciting new innovations in construction technology. Consultants at McKinsey reckon it could have a global economic impact of nearly $1 trillion on worksites worldwide by 2025, which indicates it is likely to become an increasingly common feature in the industry. With the sheer variety of applications and some serious benefits, IoT in construction is definitely one to watch.
PlanRadar was founded in 2013 and provides innovative mobile-first software solutions to the construction and real estate industries. Our app is available on all iOS, Android and Windows devices and has helped more than 7,000 customers in over 44 countries to digitise their workflow.