IoT, or the Internet of Things, is woven through nearly every aspect of our lives. Smartphones, appliances, and other devices make life easier to manage by networking with one another through the internet.
IoT is slowly making its way into industrial sectors as well. Can IoT in the construction industry help to reduce costs in the long term?
Wearable Technologies and Cost Projection
Cost projection is as much art as science and requires years of experience and research even to begin. Estimate too low, and you end up paying to work. If your projection is too high, companies won’t be as interested in working with you.
Add the fact that upwards of 98% of large construction projects have cost overruns of up to 30%, and you’ve got a problem to solve.
Wearable technologies connected to a central network can help prevent costly delays. Trackable sensors on vests, helmets, or other wearable equipment can determine if workers are using their time efficiently and identify trouble spots that you can later address.
There is a downside to this technology, with some workers’ rights representatives arguing that it infringes on an individual’s right to privacy. Amazon tested out some wearable devices that tracked everything from hand movements to how often a worker used the restroom. Other applications include devices that beep and light up if workers violate social distancing rules.
The lesson is that there is a delicate balance between optimizing workplace efficiency and treating your employees like children that need to be tracked and micromanaged to prevent cost overruns. Wearables can help prevent problems and help reduce costs in the long run, but only if you don’t alienate your entire crew in the process.
Remote Monitoring and Preventive Maintenance
Your fleet is the lifeblood of your construction business. A breakdown can throw a wrench in your carefully designed schedule and make it more likely that you’ll miss your deadlines.
Preventive maintenance is a valuable tool for keeping your fleet running, but it requires everyone’s participation. Even then, there’s the potential to overlook something. Adding IoT to the mix removes all the guesswork and can, over time, even help predict when problems will occur before a piece of equipment even starts showing signs.
These sensors can also monitor equipment used to ensure each piece is running optimally and isn’t wasting time and money sitting idle. At the same time, its operator waits for the opportunity to work. Idle equipment may also violate local or state emissions laws, further increasing costs by saddling you with expensive fines.
Remote monitoring and preventive maintenance will help keep your fleet running smoothly while improving productivity and reducing costs in the long run.
Asset Tracking to Reduce Theft
Material and equipment theft on construction sites is one of the biggest costs in the industry. Experts estimate that these thefts cost the industry upwards of $400 million annually in the United States alone. To add insult to injury, most of these thefts fall below insurance deductibles, so you find yourself on the hook for the loss and the cost of replacement.
This is perhaps one of the best applications for IoT when it comes to reducing costs. A fully digital inventory management system means it’s effortless to check out equipment and return it at the end of the day without the need for human interaction or interference. You’ll also know where each piece of equipment is at all times, and you can pull up this information with the click of a button.
Additionally, if something does go missing, those IoT sensors make it easier to recover. You can create systems that send an alert if something gets started or starts moving when it isn’t supposed to or if something leaves the perimeter of your job site after work hours.
Some systems can even connect to passing Wi-Fi networks and send a location ping or sync to orbiting GPS satellites to give you real-time location information so you can reclaim it.
Tracking for Resource Management
A lot of different components and resources go into completing even the smallest construction project. Tracking each resource might seem like borderline micromanagement, but if you’re concerned about reducing construction costs, it can be a valuable tool. IoT makes that job a lot easier. You just need to look at the logistics industry for examples.
An IoT-equipped warehouse can track every piece of inventory in real-time through the use of RFID tags. Scanners identify each piece and tell a central computer when it moves, where it moves, and when it leaves the warehouse.
This reduces losses caused by theft and shrinkage and works to optimize worksite efficiency and productivity by preventing team members from searching high and low for the equipment they need to complete their jobs.
This does represent an investment, especially if you haven’t already started to adopt IoT or similar technologies, but in the long run, once it starts saving you money, the tech ends up paying for itself.
IoT for Work Site Safety
Despite advances in the field, the construction industry is still one of the most dangerous places to work. People new to a career in construction aren’t the only culprits here. Even experienced construction workers can find themselves fatigued on the job, making simple mistakes they’d otherwise never make simply because of exhaustion.
Others become comfortable in how they do things — even if it’s against existing safety procedures — and create the risk for more on-the-job accidents.
Whatever the case, wearable technologies can help improve worksite safety and prevent accidents or fatalities. These incidents aren’t just tragic for those involved — they can make it impossible to meet deadlines and cause excessive cost overruns.
These wearable devices can do everything from detecting excessive fatigue levels in the wearer to determining if they’ve been involved in a fall. The technology isn’t perfect — it might detect a fall if someone skips a couple of steps or the last few rungs of a ladder — but it’s an incredible tool for improving workplace safety and one that’s largely being ignored in the current state of the industry.
Using Technology to Predict the Future
It’s not a crystal ball, but IoT and its accompanying systems can rather effectively predict the future — at least when it comes to things like job site safety and preventive maintenance. These devices can feed all of the information they collect back to a central data hub. This is too much info for the average human worker to sort through and process promptly, which is where AI and machine learning come in.
The more information you give to an AI or a machine learning system, the smarter it becomes. With enough information, it can sort through all the information your IoT network creates and use it to create predictive models for everything from vehicle maintenance to on-the-job accidents.
It takes time to reach the point of being able to make accurate predictions, but once you’ve reached that threshold, as long as you continue to feed new information into the system, it can help you make informed decisions moving forward.
The Future of IoT in Construction
The Internet of Things is just starting to make its way into the construction industry. Still, early adopters indicate it will continue to be a valuable tool for many years to come.