The construction industry is subject to a number of threats which also indicates that the industry is a prime candidate for innovation. These threats, or perhaps better seen as challenges, that the industry faces can be best understood once classified as either internal or external risks. According to experts, internal risks include local factors such as labor and materials, while external ones pertain to the economy and technological advances. Each type of risk affects projects differently. However, the rise of IoT and sensor technology can significantly reduce some of these risks in either category by assisting construction stakeholders through data insights.
Making Things Concrete: In anticipation of a growing number of IoT use cases, for this edition of our 'Framing Industries' series, we looked at how IoT could help tackle challenges and threats in the construction industry.
What Challenges does the Construction Industry Face?
Jayasudha and Vidivelli (2016) point out that risk is a multifaceted concept that in the context of the construction industry, takes on a number of forms. They conceptualized the risks in a few different ways:
likelihood of the occurrence of a definite event/factor or combination of events/factors which happen during the whole process of construction.
detriment of the project due to lack of predictability about structural outcome or consequences of a decision or planning situation.
uncertainty associated with estimates of outcomes - as there is a chance that results could be better than expected as well as worse than expected etc.
However, these risks actually open up opportunities for companies to avail themselves of new ways to solve problems, especially important at the segments where risk (and the damages involved) are particularly high. Here, Internet-of-Things technologies come into play as they allow a virtual “upgrade” of the construction industry's processes by relying on tech to make more informed decisions based on data insights.
Modernizing the Construction Industry through IoT
The construction sector is changing at a slow pace; so companies who choose to adopt technological change and innovation to address common workplace risks and processes, often reap increased efficiencies and improved responsiveness to the increased demands of the industry (IoT for All).
Next Big Thing's Jan Willem Winheller, Working Student from the Engineering team, gets ready for concrete tests and experiments.
Through (inter-) connected sensor technology, IoT allows data to be generated about factors such as temperature, humidity, location, etc. That data can be analysed and processed by a cloud infrastructure to deliver readable insights that a human can make sense of. In the construction industry, making use of that technology enables adopters to leverage a number of benefits; IoT for All identified that the core reasons why companies should consider adopting IoT technology and digitize their operations include:
more schedule overruns
Again, IoT for All points out that since the construction industry is driven by deadlines and target, there’s a general need to avoid backlogs which drain budgets. IoT offers a “readiness and efficiency” which leads to increased positivity. Let’s take a look at a concrete example.
Next Big Thing's Hardware Engineering Manager David Riding gets hand-on with concrete experiments outside the office.
A Concrete Case
One of the daily issues that the construction sector faces is assessing the compressive strength of early-stage concrete; this refers to the ability of a material or structure to carry loads on its surface without cracks or deflection. (See graphic below.) This step is crucial in order to ensure proper curing of the onsite concrete. At the moment, the traditional way of assessing this compressive strength is to test field-cured concrete cubes.
This process consists of creating tests cubes by pouring the same concrete mix in 15cm3 mould than onsite. After 3, 4, 14 and 28 days, the construction engineers send the cubes to a lab in order to break them in the compressive machine. This outdated method leads to numerous issues: it’s time consuming, wasteful, and depends on highly standardized lab conditions, etc.
Next Big Thing's Hardware Engineering Manager David Riding sets up the concrete experiment with embedded system engineer, Niranjan Rao.
Knowing that 20% of construction projects last longer than expected, we see a real opportunity to use IoT in order to calculate the compressive strength in real-time by applying the “maturity method”. This testing method, by calculating the strength based on the onsite temperature, allows construction engineers to move on more quickly to slabs which allows them to gain precious time on overall projects.
Adjusting equipment for the concrete testing.
At NBT, we believe there are great opportunities to disrupt the outdated world of the construction industry with new technologies that the Industry 4.0 has to offer. By using IoT, we want to bring data to a field where real-time information is crucial, but lacking, in order to make insightful decisions to optimise the current way of working.
We are always looking for brilliant individuals who are inspired to be part of what we are developing. If you are interested in construction-related technology then reach out!