Every industry evolves. Even in some of the world’s oldest sectors like construction and building products, change still happens. Today, the drive for continuous improvement means capitalizing on emerging technology trends. The growth here is staggering. In 2016 there was $352 million of venture capital investment in private construction technology companies. Within two years, that number was $6 billion. There are many exciting technologies to pay attention to, led by IoT innovations that improve efficiency and safety.
As cost pressures grow, construction companies, architects, contractors, and other building product buyers are looking at ways to execute projects more smartly. The Internet of Things is a gamechanger in this regard as modern low-powered sensors allow for cost-effective communication. Any stakeholder of a building project can have a real-time view of the entire construction process, from planning all the way through to post-construction monitoring of the building.
This increased level of connectivity helps projects adhere to timelines while improving the scheduling of labor. Importantly, construction breakdowns and problems are discovered earlier. If the entire process is being monitored in real-time, then there can be proactive repairs and maintenance before a minor stressor on a product turns into an outright break.
Human error is reduced at the same time. For example, IoT sensors can be embedded in concrete and provide a wealth of information. Concrete mixture, temperature, and strength can be accurately monitored at any moment, offering a non-destructive way of testing without using a third-party lab. Then, there are implications for stockpiles of building products. Materials that are tagged with RFID sensors can be easily observed. That means when supplies get low, an automatic order can be triggered, making sure important building products don’t run out while reducing project downtime.
When an entire construction site is monitored, it instantly enhances safety in a number of ways. Traditional human security is not enough to monitor large, modern construction sites. IoT sensors can immediately alert stakeholders and authorities of trespassers, even tracking stolen materials. Furthermore, the risk individual workers face is greatly reduced. Construction workers can be warned when they enter a dangerous environment in a way that’s more effective than any sign. Sensors can monitor air quality, predict dangers, and make employees more aware of their surroundings.
IoT innovations can even go as far as monitoring the health of employees. Imagine knowing which employees are most fatigued or under too much physical stress. Heart rate and temperature data could be viewed, allowing a construction manager to pull a worker off their shift if it looks like their health is being negatively impacted. Many construction workers don’t say anything about physical pain until it reaches a dangerous point, and IoT means they don’t have to.
Finally, technology becomes extremely important during times of crisis such as a health pandemic. The Internet of Things allows for virtual and remote communication, keeping everyone connected even when they are spread out on a site. Machinery can even be operated remotely, which keeps workers clear of any danger zone but also can keep them more than six feet apart if social distancing is a concern.
The exciting innovations shaping the building products market don’t stop there. Robots have become a reality in the form of autonomous rovers that inspect sites, mechanical arms that automate repetitive tasks like laying bricks, and 3D printers that allow for on-the-fly modifications. Drones from companies like Skycatch are increasingly common as they perform inspections, survey land, create 3D maps, detect power line hotspots, and even calculate the volume of earth that needs to be moved. These vantage points provide information at more affordable costs than ever before.
As with other industries, Artificial intelligence is impacting construction and building products. Predictive design, digital building twins, and virtual reality are reshaping the project planning and training phases. Building Information Modeling (BIM) takes things a step further, coupling with other technologies to allow contractors to walk through a construction site and see an overlay of the next construction steps on a screen.
All this technology creates more data than ever before, and that means any aspect of a construction project can be analyzed and improved upon. Patterns and trends can emerge and predictive analytics can analyze costs, timelines, and future steps. At the same time, mobile technology continues to evolve, and construction managers, contractors, and others are relying on handheld devices. Pictures are being sent to help with remote inspections and verifications. Timecards, expense reports, work records, and more are being submitted through cell phones. Paperwork is lessened, along with errors.
Technology holds great power, and that’s what makes it so exciting in the building products industry. When the adoption of even one new innovation can quickly improve efficiency and safety, it makes a big difference. As companies leverage IoT and other technologies, they’ll find themselves operating more smoothly in every process, ideally improving the bottom line and end product at the same time.