According to a 2015 study by McKinsey, construction was the second least digitized industry. The global productivity growth in this industry was a scant 1%. For comparison, productivity growth in the manufacturing industry stood at 3.6%. However, the situation has changed significantly since then.
Explosive growth of internet connectivity, widespread usage of mobile devices by the workforce, and the availability of easy-to-use and sophisticated mobility solutions have galvanized the adoption of internet-enabled sensors and devices in the construction industry.
Large construction contractors are leveraging IoT devices to harvest low-hanging fruit like optimization of machine hours, management of preventive thefts and maintenances, minimization of fuel consumption, reduction of idle time, and so on. On the other hand, mid-tier and small contractors, who operate with small profit margins of roughly 1 percent and routinely deal with a particularly transient workforce, have digitalization at the bottom of their priority list.
Although the adoption of IoT technology has been sluggish across the industry, leading construction businesses have been using IoT technologies for quite some time, albeit under different names. For instance, they use a variety of sensors to monitor construction activities at the job site, and know this technology by the name of telematics. Likewise, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is used to optimize equipment usage and life.
IoT simply integrates all of these previously siloed and disparate technologies into one seamless platform.
The product of such integration is that instead of installing multiple devices to monitor different aspects of a job site construction activity, it is now possible to combine multiple technologies into one enhanced device.
VR and AR
Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are providing construction managers with unprecedented insights into their projects. They provide full view of the project site in particularly risky conditions such as unstable buildings, caves, underwater locations, underground areas, sites with potential exposure to hazardous materials, and so on. Sensors, combined with AR/VR technology, provide them views of job sites that were hitherto unimaginable.
By using these technologies, construction managers can approach their projects without risking the precious lives of their workers.
Drones offer a trifecta of benefits to construction businesses.
Firstly, they have become easily accessible, because of which they make great candidates for performing real-time surveys of project sites. They provide aerial views and 3D imaging, which grant a near-perfect vision of the entire project site. Secondly, they can enter challenging and hazardous spots and provide a closer and more accurate mapping of those regions, thereby boosting worker safety and survey time. Last but not least, drones introduce an element of ‘awe’ into the operations of construction businesses. This makes them an excellent marketing tool, as customers – both individual and commercial customers – shower them with adulation.
Seamless Data Accessibility
All the drones, robots, sensors, VR/AR technologies, and other technologies are only as relevant as the data they provide to the decision-makers at the construction sites. This is where the increasing mobility adoption proves rewarding. Construction managers and workers don’t have to drive an hour back to the office, climb down ten floors to their trailers, or call up other department personnel to access relevant details of a project. They can fetch all the details pertinent to the project at hand on their own smartphones or those provided by their employers.
It is estimated that poor management of project details and documents adds roughly 5 percent to the total project costs. In an industry with profit margins in the range of 1 percent, this is outrageous. Mobility and proper management thereof, has the potential to bring down this unnecessary cost.
Remote Site Walks
This is another ingenious application of a cutting-edge technology that is guaranteed to generate a lot of good will among customers.
When the project sites are located in faraway locations, most clients visit the sites once in a few weeks or even once in a few months. Therefore, miscommunications or the limited communication between construction businesses and clients can result in rework or serious misunderstandings that can derail the project or lead to an unsatisfactory experience.
This time, augmented reality or virtual reality can be used to provide real-time 3D streams of job sites from a 3D camera. Customers can be updated about the status and ground realities of the project whenever they want, in the most innovative way. This way, any misunderstandings can be eliminated before they blow up into full blown disputes.
This is just one of the many brilliant ways AR/VR technologies can be used in the construction industry.
Produce Superior Results
A small army of sensors can continue to provide crucial real-time, worksite data throughout the project’s duration to construction workers and managers. This data can enable them to produce better quality construction jobs. For instance, real-time weather data obtained from environmental sensors can be used to adjust the concrete composition or pouring process to increase the lifespan of the concrete structure. Likewise, wearable technology can monitor workers’ heart rates, temperatures, locations, other vital signs, near misses with mishaps, and so on to markedly improve worker safety during the current project as well as in the future projects.
It is a welcome development that leading construction businesses are already adopting IoT technologies. However, this adoption is presently limited to achieving the benefits that can best be described as barely scraping the surface of what’s possible. There is tremendous potential for IoT applications in the construction industry and new technologies are becoming accessible at a rapid rate. The fact that this is one of the slowest industries as far as technology adoption is concerned, it offers fantastic opportunities for the pioneers who adopt these technologies before their competitors.