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5 Ways Internet of Things is Changing the Construction Industry

Updated on November 24, 2016

Multiple industries including healthcare, transportation and manufacturing use the Internet of Things solutions to cut operating costs, boost productivity and streamline business processes. Construction, an industry that will be worth $ 10.3 billion by 2020, is no exception. If you consider developing an IoT product for construction companies, here’s a list of possible directions for your project.

  • Smart Building Information Modelling (BIM). Autodesk, a company that makes software for manufacturing, construction and media industries, describes BIM as the process of refining design, operation and engineering information – as well as making it accessible for infrastructure and construction companies. Using BIM software, construction developers can create 3D models of future buildings, estimate project costs and increase business efficiency by as much as 30%. What if they could create virtual building models based on IoT-generated data? By installing surveillance cameras, beacons, smart meters and temperature sensors in existing buildings, construction companies can gain a better insight into space utilization, energy consumption and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems usage. The technology has been successfully implemented by the Autodesk team who installed sensors all across their office in Toronto (Digital 210 King project) and developed a detailed model of the building which combines mechanical, plumping, electrical and architectural data;
  • Green building. The construction industry consumes 50% of all non-renewable resources, creates 40% of all solid waste and is responsible for 46% of greenhouse gas emissions. Developers need a whole new approach to designing, constructing and operating high-performance buildings – and that’s where IoT comes in handy. Thanks to sensor data, construction companies can estimate the required amount of building materials during the BIM stage and thus reduce waste. They could also implant Embedded Data Collectors (EDC) into concrete to measure its mechanical properties. Even more opportunities arise once a building is put into operation. The Edge, the famous Amsterdam office building, uses 28 thousand humidity, temperature, light and motion sensors and super-efficient LED panels. The mesh panels installed in the building’s atrium let stale air out through the roof at regular intervals. Thanks to the mono-pitched rood, the building is filled with light even on a dull day. Using sensor-generated data, the Edge automatically detects unoccupied rooms, switches the lights off and sets heating to minimum. Office workers can also manage settings through a dedicated mobile app. As a result, the Edge uses 70% less electricity than an ordinary office building;

  • Increased construction site safety. According to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration report, one out of ten construction workers are injured every year. Thomas Grandmaison, construction casualty leader at American International Group, claims the wearable technology has the potential to change things for the better. Using complex IoT solutions than incorporate wearable devices, Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing, the AIG tech team can track employees in real time and predict the exact moment when a construction worker lifts too much weight or is about to lose balance. The DAQRI Augmented Reality helmet collects workplace data through smart sensors and 360 ° cameras and visualizes it in 4D. The Redpoint Safety solution enables construction site managers to plant sensors in potentially dangerous zones and receive notifications when employees enter them. The system also features smart vests that start glowing red when placed in a dangerous area. This year wearables (including smart watch, activity trackers and VR/AR glasses) will sell 77 million units worldwide (up from 20 million units in 2014);

  • Effective building materials management. During the construction of the Leadenhall Building in London Laing O'Rourke attached RFID tags to building components in order to avoid downtime and track materials through supply chains. RFID data can also be leveraged for automatic product replenishment;
  • Predictive maintenance. The world’s leading original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) including Caterpillar and General Electric install sensors, GPS trackers and cameras on construction equipment to detect abnormal activity, prevent machine failure and replace unstable parts in advance. Another example comes from Atlas Copco, an OEM from Sweden. The company partnered with Cybercom to develop a touchscreen application integrated with soil compactors, asphalt rollers and other machines within the Dynapac road construction equipment line. Atlas Copco also uses Vodafone M2M services to monitor air compressors’ performance at customer sites around the globe. The Internet of Things also facilities the adoption of the Equipment as a Service (EaaS) model, enabling small construction companies to lease expensive machinery and receive high-quality service.

IoT in construction: common challenges and ways to overcome them

Let’s get back to the Edge building – and Deloitte, its main tenant. The company rents 1 thousand desks in the building and employs 2.5 thousand local workers.

The question is, how do they share the available places?

As I’ve mentioned above, the whole Edge ecosystem is managed through a dedicated mobile app. Once an employee arrives to work, the building management system accesses the employee’s profile through the app, checks his schedule and finds a vacant desk for him. Thus, the desks are only used when needed. Also, Deloitte employees have an incredible opportunity to meet colleagues from other departments, share their experience and make new friends.

Buildings and the entire construction industry won’t become smart until all participants and parts of the system – including the estate, developers, suppliers and building occupants – are seamlessly integrated with each other.

IoT security is another problem. A couple of weeks ago Dyn, a US Internet performance management company that controls a great share of the DNS infrastructure, faced a terrible security attack involving an army of hacked Wi-Fi routers, surveillance cameras and other connected gadgets. A cyberattack of this type could potentially disable vital operating and security systems in a smart building.

There will be 6.4 billion IoT devices worldwide by the end of this year. At the moment, very few gadgets encrypt data, require strong passwords and are built with security in mind.

If you want to build a smart solution for the construction industry, make sure to create Proof of Concept, conduct security testing and develop reliable software for your product.

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