By Emily Newton, Revolutionized
Advancements in several technological fields have helped construction equipment become more capable, longer-lasting, and more efficient in recent years. The cloud, the Internet of Things, automation, and several others are helping revolutionize construction and the built environment.
Construction equipment has become progressively more advanced through the years, and innovative technologies have played decisive roles in helping those developments happen.
Here are some of the technologies that have had the most significant impact on smart construction equipment and are likely to keep shaping those products for the foreseeable future.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) collectively refers to the vast and ever-growing range of connected devices. Providing IoT connectivity for construction equipment brings numerous benefits that help company leaders and site managers keep costs down.
According to one estimate, manufacturers will sell 6.8 million pieces of connected construction equipment between 2018 and 2025. Construction professionals will use those products in various ways.
IoT sensors can track equipment changes that people may overlook. If a backhoe develops an unusual vibration or begins running hotter than normal, connected sensors detect those things.
IoT technology for construction equipment also allows authorized parties to get real-time information about a machine’s location and usage. Those capabilities are particularly advantageous for companies that rent out machinery. Such data lets them verify that customers use the equipment according to their contracts.
Smart construction technology also becomes safer thanks to the IoT. One company’s approach involves embedding sensors into site crew safety vests. If a wearer stands behind a piece of moving machinery or walks into a danger zone, the garment lights up and emits a noise. Moreover, any equipment operators in the area receive alerts to slow down or turn off their machines.
Virtual reality (VR) technology was once mainly used by gaming enthusiasts. Now, due to the widespread availability and affordable costs of VR headsets, the construction sector has begun using VR for training purposes. One of the main benefits of VR is that it allows training coordinators to expose students to realistic scenarios they could not safely mimic in real life.
For example, a construction worker training school in Singapore uses modules concerning getting crushed by machinery or falling into a hole. Regulators there believe this realistic — and at times sobering — approach is the right one, especially with so many new and inexperienced workers entering Singapore for construction jobs.
Another company focuses solely on VR simulations for heavy equipment training. People who use its modules engage in a highly interactive approach to accelerate learning. For example, besides donning VR headsets, learners can touch the actual controls integrated into the machines they’ll later use in real life.
Many people talk about how self-driving cars could change the future. Autonomous construction equipment could arguably have similarly groundbreaking effects.
For example, it would free the human workforce from repetitive tasks, letting employees engage in more rewarding duties. Autonomous construction equipment that uses robotic technology is not a far-fetched idea. In fact, it’s available now.
A company called Built Robotics offers software that equips construction equipment to do autonomous earthmoving jobs. A geofencing feature lets users set the locational boundaries for a machine’s operations. Moreover, a construction worker can opt to switch from an autonomous mode to one where they use commands to move the machine remotely — even if doing so in a different geographic state than the equipment.
In another example of what’s possible, quadcopter drones patrolled the skies over thousands of Japanese building sites. They collected data, then sent the information to self-driving bulldozers and diggers operating on the ground. Surveying sites formerly required teams of people working for days. However, the drones need only 15 minutes to scan the terrain and create 3D maps.
Cloud computing also has vastly increased the capabilities of smart construction technology. Some platforms feature cloud-based video monitoring. Supervisors can verify that users operate equipment safely even without being at the site.
Cloud computing also facilitates improved access control. For example, a manager or other authorized person can log into a cloud interface and make changes related to which people can operate construction equipment and when. Besides preventing workers from using machines without valid reasons, such systems help managers track overall equipment performance and usage.
Solutions also exist that enable the remote troubleshooting of construction equipment. These cloud tools let a person remotely view data associated with a machine, then suggest how the equipment operator should resolve an issue.
Users also can remotely transfer design file data to equipment directly from a cloud interface. This option helps projects continue smoothly even when the person with the necessary data is not on the construction site.
Smart Construction Equipment Overcomes Challenges
The construction industry regularly faces daunting challenges. They range from labor shortages to equipment breakdowns. Smart construction technology can reduce all those difficulties and more. It does not take people out of the picture. Rather, it empowers them to get more done through resource allocation.
Smart construction equipment often requires a substantial up-front investment that may cause some decision makers to balk. However, they should try to adopt long-term viewpoints to assess how technological innovations should pay off over time.
A strategic way to begin that process is to examine which challenges are costliest or recurring for a company. Then, business leaders are in an excellent position to see how technology could address those matters and increase a company’s competitiveness.
About The Author
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.