How IoT can transform the construction industry
Construction has a productivity problem. Many projects run overtime, over budget, and the industry is slower than others at adapting to change. And it’s costing companies billions.
Large projects are taking up to 20% longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80% over budget, according to research from McKinsey.
But how can this be changed? Other industries, such as manufacturing, have turned to the Internet of Things (IoT) and other new technologies to help unlock productivity growth ― and it also could be the key for construction.
Much has been made about how IoT can make our homes, industries, and even entire cities “smart”. We are likely to see the emergence of intelligent tools, such as drills, which change their speed in response to data picked up by sensors on the drill bit. But this is not the advancement that will have the biggest impact on the construction industry. What will disrupt the sector is how IoT can help improve the maintenance and repair of machinery and construction vehicles.
Repair and maintenance is something that has a big effect on the industry. Andrew Wendling, Technology Enabled Solutions Deployment Manager for Caterpillar, Inc, notes that proper equipment maintenance is one of the best ways companies can get the most out of their investment, enabling businesses to control costs and service intervals, lengthen equipment life, minimise downtime, and add resale value. While Roberto Bogdanoff, Director, Key Accounts Customer Solutions Americas at Volvo Construction Equipment, adds that equipment downtime can sometimes lead to the shutdown of an entire production site, costing thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars. Explaining the key to proper maintenance, Bogdanoff comments, “If you repair a pin and bushing when the wear starts, this repair may cost around $1,000 and take four hours for the repair. But if you don’t repair on time and the bushing wears out completely, damaging the bore, then the repair cost would be around $5,000 and would take, in some cases, 16 hours. You do the math.”
On a construction site, IoT allows companies to tackle this problem head on. IoT can help track assets as the move around the site, or indeed to a different site, ensuring that they never get lost or stolen, which can be an issue on large-scale construction sites, causing delays and dampening productivity. In relation to equipment monitoring and repair, sensors can enable machinery to detect and communicate maintenance requirements, send automated alerts for preventive maintenance, compile usage and maintenance data, and increase efficiency by remotely monitoring fuel consumption. In essence, it helps businesses ensure that their vehicles and machinery can be in use for the maximum possible time, which, in turn, boosts on-site productivity.
But for this technology to truly disrupt the industry, it needs to be backed by reliable connectivity. If an IoT device loses connectivity and cannot send data in real time, it loses its ability to track assets or vehicles and, more fundamentally, provide insights into preventative maintenance. For instance, if a company uses EE for connectivity but the provider experiences a large scale black-out, as happened in 2017, then the device can no longer transmit data. This means that a company can be left clueless as to the current use and performance of its equipment. But by leveraging a non-steered multi-network roaming Subscriber Identity Module (SIM)―essentially a SIM that can switch between provider―companies can ensure reliable connectivity.
Globally, labour productivity growth in construction has averaged only 1% a year over the past two decades, compared with growth of 2.8% for the total world economy, and 3.6% in the case of manufacturing, according to research from the McKinsey Global Institute. However, if the construction sector can match the productivity growth of the total economy, it would boost the sector’s value by an estimated $1.6tn, adding about 2% to the global economy a year, the researchers claim. In the near future, IoT will be a key ingredient in unlocking this productivity, ensuring construction companies have access to real-time data that can improve machine performance, undertake preventative maintenance, slash downtime and repair costs. By taking this approach business leaders can ensure their operations are both productive and future-proofed.
Mohsen Mohseninia, VP of Market Development, Europe, Aeris
Amazon tests new technology to improve employee safety
At the Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Boston, and Northern Italy, team members are testing and developing new technologies in order to help to make employees’ jobs safer, these include technologies that help move carts and packages through Amazon facilities.
Recently the safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.
A spokesperson from Amazon said the company spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.
One innovation being tested by Amazon, which is in early development, is the use of motion-capture technology to assess the movement of volunteer employees in a lab setting. These employees perform tasks that are common in many Amazon facilities, such as the movement of totes, which carry products through robotic fulfillment centers.
The motion-capture software enables Amazon scientists and researchers to more accurately compare data captured in a lab environment to industry standards rather than other modelling tools traditionally used by ergonomists.
“With this data, visualisations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,” said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon. “Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.”
Autonomous Robots creating new paths to safety
In order to reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, Amazon is testing a new workstation system called “Ernie.” According to the company Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees, so they can remain in a more comfortable and stable position.
“We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day,” said Keck. “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”
“Bert” is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and is being tested to autonomously navigate through facilities with Amazon-developed advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology. In the future, it is thought that an employee would be able to summon Bert to carry items across a facility.
‘Scooter’ and ‘Kermit’ are two other robots that also operate autonomously, and are both transport cars. The carts are used to carry empty totes and packages through our facilities.
In a blog post the company said: ‘By having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, we believe we can make our facilities safer and enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGC like Scooter to pull carts through our facilities reduces the risk of strains on our employees, or even collisions. We currently plan to deploy Scooter to at least one Amazon facility this year.’
Amazon began using robotics in its facilities in 2012, and since then they have added more than 1 million jobs worldwide while simultaneously deploying 350,000 mobile drive unit robots.
“The role robotics and advanced technology can play in not only innovating for customers, but helping make our facilities safer, is a massive motivation for me and my team,” said Keck. “The health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. By listening to them, innovating on their behalf, and driving new technologies into our facilities over the coming months and years, I’m confident we’ll make a big contribution to our goal of reducing recordable incidents by 50% by 2025.”