Once upon a time, there was the Internet. And relatively speaking, it was easy to understand. The Internet was (and is) a network on which any computer on the planet could communicate with other like-connected computers, enabling users to correspond and share files.
But the Internet wasn’t (and isn’t) satisfied with connecting only computers. It wanted to connect your phone, too, and then your tablet and then your television. Fast-forward to today and, well, everything is connected — from refrigerators to HVAC to security systems. This phenomenon is known as the Internet of Things (IoT), and it’s a topic on which every contractor should gain some expertise.
Do your homework
Generally, larger (or bigger budget) construction projects are leveraging the IoT’s potential more than smaller ones. But, someday soon, IoT could affect even smaller jobs as more and more connected technology becomes integrated in houses and buildings.
To get started (if you haven’t already), research which IoT equipment and systems are becoming commonplace, if not required, in your construction specialty. For example, if your company handles HVAC systems, familiarize yourself with the real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance capabilities now in use. Commercial and residential solutions designer Emerson Climate Technologies has predicted that, by 2019, 75% of thermostats sold will be Wi-Fi enabled. There will likely be similar growth in many other specialties.
Once you know where changes are probably going to occur, monitor those products or systems. This way, you can compare their costs to more conventional options and work up more accurate estimates for your customers.
Look for opportunities
Along with preparing to incorporate IoT technology into your projects right away, consider how it might improve your business management process long-term. There are a wide variety of IoT applications that may soon affect your construction company’s operational efficiency and bottom line.
For instance, many contractors are already using IoT tech to handle fleet and equipment management. As these tools evolve, you’ll be able to more readily monitor, track and record the location and efficiency of your vehicles, equipment and crews.
Sensor technology can already help flag, diagnose and schedule equipment maintenance and repair needs. Real-time activity tracking allows even more realistic scheduling and reduces the need to build in anticipated downtime. Wearable health-monitoring devices may help reduce accidents, injuries and repetitive-motion stresses.
There’s also great potential for IoT in relation to inventory tracking. Some construction companies have long been using radio-frequency identification (RFID) to track building materials and equipment parts. But imagine if RFID barcodes or sensors didn’t just transmit data to a local system but made it accessible via the Internet where you could check it 24/7 from anywhere. That’s the power of IoT.
And don’t forget the robots! Watch for developments in remote-controlled, programmable construction equipment. These machines can’t replace skilled labor on a widespread basis — yet. But they’re already in use to gather and transmit jobsite data via the Internet. And, at “off-site” construction facilities, robots manufacture building components with incredible accuracy.
Target training tools
IoT holds great promise for employee training, too. For example, augmented-reality goggles can place instructional graphics within a user’s field of vision to help direct operation or repair activities. These can be used for both training and real-time, on-site guidance.
Each student’s activities can be tracked in detail and his or her “grades” tracked on training system software. All of this results in a much more comprehensive and data-driven path to educating a skilled worker.
Some things in construction will never change. You’ll always need a certain number of boots on the ground, and there will always be concrete, glass, steel and various wood products involved in the composition of a building. But within the skeletal framework of virtually every new structure built going forward will be an array of cameras and sensors — all connected to the Internet. Plug in to this technology now and you’ll be able to more easily follow along as it becomes more universal.
We welcome the opportunity to put our construction industry expertise to work for you. To learn more about how our firm can help advance your success, please contact Dave Wolfenden at (302) 254-8240.