The IoT Can Improve Safety and Profitability of Inherently Dangerous Job Sites

You may remember I wrote several months ago about a collaboration between SAP and SK Solutions in Dubai (interesting factoid: Dubai is home to almost 25% of the world’s cranes [assume most of the rest nest at Sand Hill, LOL], and they are increasingly huge, and that makes them difficult to choreograph.

I’m returning to the subject today, with a slightly broader emphasis on how the IoT might manage a range of dangerous job sites, such as mining and off-shore oil rigs, allowing us to do now that we couldn’t do before, one of my IoT Essential Truths.

I’m driven in part by home-town preoccupation with Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics, and the inevitable questions that raises on the part of those still smarting from our totally-botched handling of the last big construction project in these parts, the infamous “Big Dig” tunnel and highway project.

I’m one of those incurable optimists who think that part of ensuring that the Olympics would have a positive “legacy” (another big pre-occupation in these parts) would be to transform the city and state into the leading example of large-scale Internet of Things implementation.

There are a couple of lessons from SAP and SK Solutions’ collaboration in Dubai that would be relevant here:

    • The system is real-time: the only way the Boston Olympic sites could be finished in time would be through maximizing efficiency every day. Think how hard that is with a major construction project: as with “for want of a nail the kingdom was lost,” the sensitive interdependence between every truck and subcontractor on the site — many of which might be too small to invest in automation themselves — is critical. If information about one sub being late isn’t shared, in real-time, with all the other players, the delays — and potential collisions — will only pile up. The system includes an auto-pilot that makes immediate adjustments to eliminate operator errors. By contrast, historical data that’s only analyzed after the fact won’t be helpful, because there’s no do-overs, no 2025 Olympics!
    • The data is shared: that’s another key IoT Essential Truth.  “Decision-makers using SK Solutions on a daily basis span the entire organization. Besides health and safety officers, people responsible for logistics, human resources, operations and maintenance are among the typical users.”  The more former information silos share the data, the more likely they are to find synergistic solutions.
    • The system is inclusive, both in terms of data collection and benefits: SK Solutions’ Founder and Inventor Séverin Kezeu, came up with his collision-avoidance software pre-IoT, but when the IoT became practical he partnered with SAP, Cisco, and Honeywell to integrate and slice and dice the data yielded by the sensors they installed on cranes and vehicles and other sources.  For example, the height of these cranes makes them vulnerable to sudden weather changes, so weather data such as wind speed and direction must be factored in, as well as the “machinery’s position, movement, weight, and inertia…. The information is delivered on dashboards and mobile devices, visualized with live 3-D images with customizable views. It’s also incredibly precise.”As a result, by using SAP’s HANA platform, a system developed to reduce construction accidents also makes predictive maintenance of the cranes and other equipment, and lets the construction companies monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as asset saturation, usage rates, and collisions avoided.  McKinsey reports that construction site efficiency could improve dramatically due to better coordination: “One study found that buffers built into construction project schedules allowed for unexpected delays resulting in 70 to 80 percent idle time at the worksite.Visibility alone can allow for shorter buffers to be built into the construction process.”

Several other great IoT solutions come to mind at the same time, both relating to dangerous industries. Off-shore oil rigs and mining were treated at length in the recent McKinsey omnibus IoT forecast, “The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype:”

  • off-shore rigs: “Much of the data collected by these sensors [30,000 on some rigs] today is used to monitor discrete machines or systems. Individual equipment manufacturers collect performance data from their own machines and the data can be used to schedule maintenance. Interoperability would significantly improve performance by combining sensor data from different machines and systems to provide decision makers with an integrated view of performance across an entire factory or oil rig. Our research shows that more than half of the potential issues that can be identified by predictive analysis in such environments require data from multiple IoT systems. Oil and gas experts interviewed for this research estimate that interoperability could improve the effectiveness of equipment maintenance in their industry by 100 to 200 percent.” (my emphasis). 
  • mining: “In one mining case study, using automated equipment in an underground mine increased productivity by 25 percent. A breakdown of underground mining activity indicates that teleremote hauling can increase active production time in mines by as much as nine hours every day by eliminating the need for shift changes of car operators and reducing the downtime for the blasting process. Another source of operating efficiency is the use of real-time data to manage IoT systems across different worksites, an example of the need for interoperability. In the most advanced implementations, dashboards optimized for smartphones are used to present output from sophisticated algorithms that perform complex, real-time optimizations. In one case study from the Canadian tar sands, advanced analytics raised daily production by 5 to 8 percent, by allowing managers to schedule and allocate staff and equipment more effectively. In another example, when Rio Tinto’s (one mine) crews are preparing a new site for blasting, they are collecting information on the geological formation where they are working. Operations managers can provide blasting crews with detailed information to calibrate their use of explosives better, allowing them to adjust for the characteristics of the ore in different parts of the pit.”
 In all of these cases, the safety and productivity problems — and solutions are intertwined.  As McKinsey puts it:
“Downtime, whether from repairs, breakdowns, or maintenance, can keep machinery out of use 40 percent of the time or more. The unique requirements of each job make it difficult to streamline work with simple, repeatable steps, which is how processes are optimized in other industries. Finally, worksite operations involve complex supply chains, which in mining and oil and gas often extend to remote and harsh locations.”
Could it be that the IoT will finally tame these most extreme work situations, and bring order, safety, and increased profitability?  I’m betting on it.