The computing capabilities of mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices have advanced to a level that has made them capable of aiding in the planning, designing and building phases. But turning mobility into an effective tool requires not only computing power, but also connectivity.

At job-sites, wired connections are not feasible and cellular networks are not always available, and hence a strong case can be made for developers to use Wi-Fi solutions. These are not only easy to install and manage, but are now also affordable and rugged enough for deployment in harsh construction surroundings.

IoT is a huge opportunity for the construction industry, which is constantly processing data and strives for workplace safety as well as efficiency. IoT needs a secure, scalable network to succeed, and Wi-Fi offers what IT departments require for strong construction IoT networking.

Facilitating Workflow

With the introduction of tablet devices, mobile project management has emerged as a worthy apps and the ability to draw from vast amounts of remotely stored data and cloud services, these devices are capable of granting contractors, engineers and supervisors access to blueprints, schematics and other vital documents. Moreover, with the ability to instantly push updates to all members working on the project, mobile computing devices can aid collaboration and revolutionise the building information modelling (BIM) process in real time.

With site-wide high-speed wireless connectivity for all mobile devices, workers gain the ability to transfer high volumes of data back and forth between not only each other but also headquarters (HQ). This significantly streamlines communications while cutting costs and improving operational efficiencies. This could also bear attractive green side effects, as staff no longer have to make regular trips to and from HQ.

High-speed wireless connectivity is an enabler of the following applications:

Wearables

A truck driver can be required to wear a wearable, which may come in the form of an activity band. Drivers and management can be notified if a driver is missing or unproductive. Construction workers on-site can wear a helmet and vest with RFID, vitals monitoring, GPS sensors, motion sensors, etc.

Smart GPS

Knowing GPS data related to where your equipment is located and how it is being used is important for identifying cost saving opportunities and keeping your fleet organised. These benefits can be uncovered by analysing GPS data from across your fleet over a period of time.

Asset Tracking

At job-sites, company assets are a major investment and the progress of construction is heavily dependent on their functionality. Heavy equipment is often required to be left on-site overnight, making it a prime target for theft. Asset-tracking technologies help monitor such equipment in remote locations and automatically detect and report suspicious behaviour.

Developers can also benefit from automated maintenance schedules, logs and reports. The readiness of cheap and easy-to-use RFID technology has made possible the automation of inventory management. By knowing in advance which materials are soon to run out, construction companies can foresee and avoid material deficiencies, thus eliminating losses in productivity. Equipment repair is one of the largest operating costs in the construction industry. With the advanced sensors available now, machinery can self-detect the need for repair before it becomes a larger issue.

Equipment Inspection

Similar to monitoring and repair, equipment inspections can be enormously enhanced with the help of smart sensors. With the advanced sensors available now, machinery can self-detect the imminent need for a repair before it becomes a larger issue. Lost/late forms, low accuracy and undue internal processing time are no longer an issue with electronic processes.

Site Security

Another vital area of a construction site where mobile technology can be applied is in video surveillance. Not only does this enable better collaboration and remote supervision, it is also essential to site security. High-speed connectivity for robust and cost-effective camera equipment can mean the ready availability of HD video, making both identification and collaboration easier.

Evaluating IoT and Mobility Solutions for the Construction Site

IoT solution implementation is not impossible to manage, but it’s not easy either. In fact, developing IoT solutions requires unprecedented collaboration, coordination and connectivity for each piece in the system, and throughout the system as a whole. All devices must work together and be integrated with all other devices, and all devices must communicate and interact seamlessly with connected systems and infrastructures. The challenge for the developer is to find a robust enterprise-class wireless local area network (WLAN) solution that is affordable in terms of capital expense and operational overheads.

In line with keeping things simple, developers should also consider investing in controller-less ‘instant’ WLAN solutions. These solutions use a virtual controller on access points to deliver controller-like features including RF management and role-based access control. As construction integrates more deeply with IT, network uptime will become an increasingly important factor. It is therefore prudent to invest in network management tools, which are invaluable in providing maximum network availability. Companies must look for a service provider whose solution is based on the latest wireless standard, as this delivers gigabit Wi-Fi combined with the device density and application intelligence required by today’s Wi-Fi networks.

There is also a need to balance cyber and physical security, since smart devices are physical in nature. For any country keen to drive smart cities, both cyber and physical security should always be considered in the upstream of the project.