Building a case for the Internet of Things in the construction sector
As the cost of adopting Internet of Things technology continues to fall, the business case for doing so keeps getting stronger
Companies can ensure their assets are at the right building site for the right job, with IoT
For the construction sector, it’s reaching a tipping point where the relatively low investment needed to implement Internet of Things (IoT) has an exponentially greater return. By using IoT, building firms can ensure their people and assets are as productive as possible, while safeguarding workers and meeting all compliance requirements.
Construction companies have heavy machinery like generators, cranes, concrete mixers, pounders, excavators or earth movers. Each asset can represent many thousands worth of investment so, naturally, construction companies want to be able to use that equipment as efficiently as possible. IoT can help to optimise resources and prevent project delays, while staying on the right side of regulations.
Some companies put basic tracking devices into their assets today, but that’s mainly to prevent theft. IoT, on the other hand, offers so much more than just traceability. By installing sensors on an excavator or generator and connecting it to the company’s planning and workflow systems, companies can ensure their assets are at the right building site for the right job. Having the right assets where they’re needed increases productivity. If a company has a new job that’s about to start groundwork, it can schedule an excavator to be there for a set number of days to dig the foundations.
IoT can also relay details about the health of a company’s heavy machinery. Fitting an IoT sensor for condition-based monitoring means the company gets a warning if their machines have a part that needs repair, or if it’s in danger of breaking down. This feature means the company can arrange preventative maintenance, avoiding a situation where equipment stops working in the middle of an important project. The knock-on effect would mean delays as the company has to source replacement machinery from somewhere else, along with the time and expense needed to transport it from one site to another.
A construction company’s profit is tied up in how close or better it comes to completing a job on schedule; time is money in a very real sense. Handing over a job ahead of deadline usually means a bonus for the builder, whereas any delay to finishing a project the agreed timeframe could incur penalties.
Certification is hugely important in the construction business, and this is closely tied to site safety. Every construction company should only have people working on site who are qualified and certified to do their specific jobs. There also needs to be the right ratio of medically trained staff in place, whether that’s in first aid or higher-level paramedic. If there are chemicals on site, there needs to be people on site who are qualified to handle them.
IoT can help with this, such as by fitting chemical containers with an IoT sensor to detect for possible leaks which could be a safety hazard. Having equipment that’s properly maintained, as noted above, also has a safety benefit because it reduces the risk of accidents on site.
IoT sensors are just part of a solution for worker safety. For example, a company could ask every worker to have their smartphones with them at all times on site. An app on the device could record when they arrive on site and check their qualifications to do the work. Alternatively, firms could have Bluetooth tags available, working with site based gateways, for monitoring both people and assets.
Each site also needs to check their subcontractors’ insurance every time they start a new job. Having to carry out these kinds of checks on building sites today usually requires paperwork and manual records. But that takes a lot of time and effort for companies to maintain those records and keep them up to date. Automating compliance and checking has a big benefit for productivity, by ensuring the company knows that its people are in the right place, and that their qualifications are in order.
IoT sensors for construction equipment are coming down in price. They are not a large investment when compared with the value of the asset, and more importantly, the knowledge and information it can now provide. The true value of IoT for construction companies is in integrating them with their project management tools and site management.
It is important to say that IoT for construction companies is not an off-the-shelf purchase. There will always be a level of integration required to suit the particular requirements of every business. A construction firm’s main elements are assets, people and process. To get the benefits of IoT and make real productivity gains, building companies need to pull the levers on all three. IoT enables them to do just that.
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