The Internet Of Things & The Construction Industry

Image from: http://www.internet-of-things-research.eu/about_iot.htm

Tech enthusiasts have been throwing around an intriguingly ambiguous term lately to describe how technology interfaces with everyday living: The Internet of Things. If you haven’t heard about The Internet of Things, it simply is a way to describe how we interact with digital information that has been embedded into our physical world. Still sound unclear? Think of street lights as an example. Echelon Corporation has developed street lights that adjust themselves and provide an appropriate level of lighting based on information gathered by sensors that tell the time of day, the season, and even the weather. Cities using this system have saved up to 40% in energy costs. Famed theoretical physicist (famous even outside of theoretical physicist circles!) Michio Kaku describes The Internet of Things by comparing it to electricity – it’s everywhere and no where at the same time. We don’t really think about it anymore. It’s just there.

So what does this have to do with construction? A lot. The Internet of Things describes a process that will ultimately enhance our ability to work better, smarter and more efficiently.

Take a 3-D printer. Already a pretty amazing machine because it prints materials like metal and certain types of tools. Now imagine it could also sense when materials are needed and will build them automatically? For example, you end the workday missing a critical piece of aluminum hardware but you start the following morning with a brand new part courtesy of the work your 3D printer did overnight. You could find some efficiency in that process, couldn’t you? Well, that’s just one way to envision how The Internet of Things could change the way things are done on the jobsite.

The modern jobsite looks very different from jobsites of the past and it will continue to evolve as The Internet of Things grows. We’ve become accustomed to constant connectivity, having made ourselves accessible via email, phone, text and other mobile technologies that keep everyone on the jobsite connected. Now with that connectivity imagined and realized through The Internet of Things, it’s not just the people on the jobsite – it’s everything.

HVAC systems in smart buildings are an easily recognizable example of The Internet of Things and how it is used in buildings today. Utilized after construction is finished, these smart cloud-based systems regulate a building both for comfort and efficiency, which means there’s very little overhead involved with their day-to-day management saving both time and money.

We’re already seeing the advantages in completed buildings, and it won’t be long until we start to reap the benefits during the construction stage. A few examples of what we might soon see in the field:

  • Smart Structure’s SmartPile® technology is an example in action that uses wireless sensors embedded within concrete foundation piles to ensure the quality and integrity of a structure. These sensors can provide load and event monitoring for the project’s construction both during and after its completion.

  • Tools and machinery embedded with sensors will ‘know’ when they are in need of repair, will alert users and potentially schedule their own service appointments before mechanical failure.

  • The BIM and IPD process will be integrated seamlessly into supply management and ordering systems. These systems will know when supplies and materials – even laborers – are needed, and will ensure that everything, and everybody, is onsite at the exact right time.

As The Internet of Things becomes both ‘no where and everywhere’ as Michio Kaku predicts, it won’t just be the people on the project communicating with each other. It will be the entire jobsite, people, materials and machinery alike.

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