IoT: What Can You Do That You Couldn’t? Heavy Construction

Not sure why, but I’m particularly fascinated by how the IoT can transform parts of the economy that have been around for more than 100 years, such as the way the Union Pacific uses it to reduce derailments — and worse.

One of those tradition-bound industries where the IoT Essential TruthWhat Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before” is starting to revolutionize both daily practices and strategy is heavy construction, both for buildings and public works.

First of all, heavy construction is inherently dangerous, so anything that can be done to manage that danger is beneficial.

Lots of very heavy machinery; many people, frequently on foot; almost impossible to coordinate all of them in the past, especially as vehicles enter and leave the site.  According to OSHA, in the US alone, 796, or 20.3% of all workers killed on the job in 2003 were killed on construction sites, primarily through falls, struck by objects, electrocution or “caught-in-between.” Of those, lack of coordination probably resulted in most of the struck by objects and “caught-in-between” deaths.

One of the most exciting developments in that regard is SAP’s demonstration program with SK Solutions, which makes anti-collision software, on a construction site in Dubai. They are capitalizing on new construction cranes and construction vehicle  that have sensors built in so their real-time location can be determined instantly. SAP and SK Solutions combine sensor-based data – such as 3-D motion control, location, load weight, equipment usage and wind speed – to avoid collisions with trucks  to enhance worker safety, improve productivity and reduce costs. The site and project managers monitor the equipment via a dashboard.

Less dramatic than collision avoidance is the way that construction companies are using real-time data from the equipment to maximize operating efficiency and reduce maintenance costs through innovations such as “predictive maintenance.”  As my Boston IoT MeetUp co-director Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors discussed at the recent Association of Equipment Management Professionals Asset Management Symposium, “instrumentation of assets” through digital plans and models, sensors, data and embedded communication devices in buildings and bridges is becoming a key differentiator in the industry. According to Rezendes:

““Everybody in tech wants to instrument your assets, inventories, operations, people and processes… They are looking at instrumenting all manner of industrial machines, equipment and more. And they’re doing it really well…. You should feel threatened, at least a little bit, by big technology companies trying to instrument your assets for you, maybe to you… I’m going to tell it to you straight: He or she who controls the intelligence–the data about those assets, inventories and areas of operation–will control that market, the customer, the regulatory environment and the supply chain. They will control you.”

What a seismic shift from the old days of heavy construction, which was largely a matter of brute force and difficult demands on operators to remain always vigilant in the midst of loud noises.  Add in the sensors that these construction crews are now embedding in bridges’ structure and in buildings to monitor a wide range of stresses and environmental conditions, and the conclusion is inescapable: every industry can and will be fundamentally altered in the coming decade as equipment and processes begin switch the requirements from brawn to brains.