25 February 2014

Building with the Internet of Things in the Construction Industry


The value proposition for the internet of things in the construction industry is in many ways similar to manufacturing, the topic of our post from February 18. Many large construction companies also engage in the manufacturing of architectural components or materials. However, all of the valuable equipment used in construction projects is mobile at least at some point, resulting in more complex tracking and management. Once the projects are complete, they generally need to last for fifty years or longer. Typically, the construction company would only be called back to a project in case of massive materials failure or some kind of disaster. Connected sensors in the internet of things can tell builders and building managers how the materials and components in their edifices perform and change through their entire life, allowing them to take any corrective action before damage occurs. Builders can also take advantage of the internet of things to manage their people and teams more effectively.

More accurate bids and effective control over resources

One To-Increase customer, Cemex, the large building materials enterprise based in Mexico, adopted the internet of things early to ensure that customers receive best-quality concrete very efficiently. It took too long for trucks to deliver perishable concrete across the Mexican border to construction sites in the U.S. when a customer called Cemex with an order. Instead, the company equipped its concrete trucks with connected sensors and began sending them into the areas where customers would most likely need them based on research and realistic forecasting regarding the status of projects in progress. Today, when a customer calls needing concrete, Cemex dispatchers can immediately verify which truck is closest to the construction location and have it there within a very short time.

Data from the internet of things can feed into BI tools and ERP systems as one key component in the assessment of the performance and profitability of construction projects. Consider, for example, the large trucks that transport materials or construction equipment. They are critical assets that need to be in best running condition all the time. Connected sensors can provide updates on the performance and any changes in the performance of the engine and other components, enabling companies to schedule timely maintenance and parts replacements without downtime. The fuel these vehicles burn is a large expense item, so it also makes sense to rely on the internet of things to help verify the routes traveled and ensure that drivers stop at the waste transfer stations, landfills, quarries, and other locations that allow the most efficient driving routes. By the same token, the internet of things can help construction companies provide bids with realistic costs of moving equipment and mileages, and enable project managers to track the consistency of real events with bids, address variances, and avoid cost overruns.

There is also a security aspect to the internet of things in construction—theft or personal use of materials and equipment is a lasting concern in the industry that connected sensors and real-time visibility could help address.

Better coordination of costly, high-value assets

The transportation of large construction equipment can be a complex and costly task where connected sensors can be extremely helpful. Because often it is impossible to simply park the equipment and because downtime can be very expensive especially when companies lease or rent equipment, it makes sense for construction managers to use the data from connected sensors to manage departures, arrivals, and travel routes. This capability is particularly valuable when you need to consider dependencies in managing equipment, for example, when you need several critical pieces of equipment to be staged and running simultaneously. The internet of things can help project managers deploy the right equipment at the proper time and access alternative resources to avoid costly interruptions and idle time for people and machinery.

A lifetime view of buildings and constructions

Construction enterprises can deploy connected sensors to monitor the performance of buildings and materials similar to manufacturers keeping tabs on components and equipment they placed at a customer or company site. In buildings and construction, devices within the internet of things can report on how materials respond to changing climates and how they hold up through many years of use. They could help answer such questions as whether a building is still as energy-efficient as it was when new, if a roof conforms to material specifications and codes for resiliency and protection, whether a dam is developing cracks and how much moisture seeps through it, how a bridge flexes to accommodate the vibration and weight of trains and vehicles, how road surfaces withstand everyday traffic, if a high-rise building responds properly to seismic events, and many others.

The compliance, service-level, and environmental implications expressed in data from the internet of things are significant, and so is the potential benefit for people who can be shielded from harm as they live or work in buildings or come in touch with constructions. Similarly, the sensors in the internet of things can help maintain safe conditions for the people who work in construction projects that feature mines, oil fields, extreme heat or cold, tidal waters, toxic substances, and other environmental challenges.

Using the internet of things to manage people and teams

In the construction industry, some highly qualified workers move from site to site while others perform their role in a project until it is complete. Companies need to keep crews and contractors working productively under consideration of workplace compliance, union rules, optimal safety, and best efficiency. Connected sensors on workers’ badges could keep managers informed about where people are, which skills and qualification are present in which project, and how much time they spend performing certain tasks. The information from the internet of things could feed directly into payroll, HR, financial, and planning systems. Similarly, in companies that manufacture or assemble products, employees’ connected sensor badges could track in which work centers and performing which tasks people are active and for how long. Data from the internet of things can combine with information from warehousing, logistics, and supply chain systems to give business managers insight into the resource-efficiency, scalability, and true cost of their operation.

Readying ERP for the internet of things

Construction companies aiming to reap the benefits of the internet of things are well served by To-Increase and ERP technology. The To-Increase Construction Solution facilitates projects from initial scoping to completion. It includes extensive BI capabilities and Asset Management functionality that can help construction managers and their IT teams control equipment and machinery as well as connected devices. Value-driven business process management with To-Increase RapidValue can assist construction enterprises in using the data masses generated by the internet of things to improve their processes and project management, and define and perform to KPIs and other critical metrics more effectively. To-Increase Connectivity Studio can link connected sensors to the ERP system, where their data can support informed planning and decision-making.

We would love to hear about your experience and plans for the internet of things, so please write me a note or get in touch another way.


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Luciano Cunha
Luciano Cunha,
Luciano Cunha,
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

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