The coronavirus crisis has increased the pace of IoT adoption in the construction industry. Far-reaching changes are being implemented and many of them are likely to remain in place even after the outbreak is contained. It is time for the reimagination of our job sites, an opportunity to rethink how people work and interact with all stakeholders. In most cases construction is deemed an essential service and work has to continue in these difficult times albeit with stringent safety requirements in place.
Forward-looking organizations are still able to keep on delivering tangible social and economic benefits to clients through harnessing emerging new technologies like IoT. Remote meetings, virtual inspections, and integration of social distancing safety devices are some of the technology-based solutions being adopted enabling work to proceed safely. IoT solutions enable contractors to follow safety guidelines to protect workers as well as allow remote stakeholders to be up to date on a project’s progress.
As Covid19 recedes and economies open, contractors will face an industry that has been radically changed by both public health and economic effects of the pandemic. This new reality will demand more connections between the job site and the office. Some office workers may have to keep on working from home. Stakeholders need up-to-date information all the time for project success. The need for shared data and digital connectivity for engineers, architects, site supervisors, project managers, project owners, and regulators is becoming the norm.
Inspectors and regulators have to be open to the use of IoT technology for virtual inspections to avoid unnecessary project delays. Offsite inspectors can schedule and review work remotely if the contractor can fully document progress, and this speeds up projects through the elimination of physical site visits. Virtual reality technology can be used to take virtual walkthroughs so stakeholders can interact with the job site and get up-to-date imagery of work in progress.
IoT devices allow for real-time tracking, monitoring, and measurement on the job site thus opening unlimited possibilities for applying AI and improving outcomes for contractors. Below are some ways that COVID19 is accelerating IoT adoption in the construction industry:
Social Distancing & Contact Tracing
Social distancing and contact tracing are meant to help improve worker safety on job sites. An IoT device is mounted to a hardhat and communicates with other ‘things’ within its range to detect close contact interactions. The system can monitor, collect interaction data, and alert when workers come within proximity to each other. Edge or cloud AI can be deployed and used to generate actionable insights. Moreover, thermal cameras can be used to capture heat profiles that are shared with an AI agent that can work as a virtual safety inspector and determine the distance between any two workers. Bluetooth-based tracking technology for assets and individuals has also been adapted to provide contact tracing of workers in places such as construction sites, hospitals, and factories.
Project Monitoring and Inspection
Ideally, engineers and technicians should avoid traveling and visiting factories, remote areas, or crowded places as this may compromise density and social distancing. Further, many of the major safety changes on construction sites will add to the time it takes to complete projects hence the need to increase efforts to improve productivity. An onsite agent can use a 360-degree camera to capture photos and videos for real-time sharing with the team and regulators. Given the current challenges of latency when it comes to virtual reality technology, streaming using inexpensive tools like Facetime, Skype, Google Duo, and Microsoft Teams is a good start.
IoT, through the use of special sensors installed in machinery, and augmented reality, through overlays in the real world and remote guidance provision by experts, can help organizations considering predictive maintenance to reduce downtime.
A reduction in physical visits to the job site by experts helps to protect the health and safety of employees while it improves workplace efficiencies at various levels.
Work From Home
The coronavirus has brought major changes to the construction’s back offices as well. Many office employees have had to work from home relying on technology like video conferencing, emailing, and texting to stay in touch.
Companies are fast realizing that mobile forms with photos and videos efficiently document the job site while improving communication, and eliminating waste. The project status information is shared more accurately, effectively, and efficiently than when project managers are assigned to do it physically.
An enhanced focus on worker safety is helping accelerate the industry’s move to offsite construction methods. Contractors are gradually pushing fabrication off-site and forcing manufacturers to expand their range of prefabricated subassemblies. The assembly-line efficiency and controlled environment of factory production can save on labor costs and shorten project schedules.
We are seeing companies reduce the amount of time they are in the field. In some cases, higher inventory levels are being favored and the emphasis is being placed on supply chain resiliency over efficiency. IoT technologies are being used to monitor off-site production, track and trace assets as well as monitor storage conditions of inventory.
Cleaner and Safer Job Sites
Drones equipped with IoT devices are being deployed to monitor job sites, use thermal/infrared cameras to measure body temperature during work, and spray disinfectants. All this happens whilst relaying information to stakeholders to allow for fast decision making. Sites are currently being allowed to reopen only if they have solid plans to reduce density, maintain physical distancing, and promote good hygiene. Hand washing stations that are automated, monitored, and cleaned on demand are not unusual. Additionally, ideas around ozone cleaning and temperature checks installed in restrooms are gaining popularity.
Construction industry players must now accelerate efforts to adopt IoT technologies and leverage real-time monitoring, data collection and allow for rapid response to any project challenges. The WHO believes that outbreaks like COVID19 may never go away completely but come in waves so now is the time to critically assess job sites and identify areas where technology can be utilized to support remote employees, protect the health of field employees, avoid job site closures and maintain project budgets and progress.