IoT + Construction: Safer and more efficient civil works

UK, February 20, 2017. Today, the smartphone you carry in your pocket has more technology than the first space vehicle that came to the moon. Never before, the human being lived such a dizzying evolution thanks to the hardware, the software and the connection that unites them: Internet.

Precisely, the Internet, with its scarce 50 years, is what has allowed the greatest advances in the way of organizing our personal and professional lives. Without looking back, in a quick synthesis, the computer was born as a large object, owned by large corporations and centers of study. If the birth of the Internet is set in 1969, the era of a computer in each house was born in the mid-seventies with the concept of Apple I (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak). Afterwards, the success of the Windows operating system (Microsoft) consolidated since 1985 the massive computerization of the homes of developed countries. 22 years later, in 2007, Steve Jobs again accelerates our technological evolution with the presentation of the iPhone, and months later the iPad.

And everything changed. Telecommunications companies had to invest heavily in their fixed and mobile networks to provide high data connections. Today, we have “computers connected to the Internet” on a clock, glasses, headphones, a car, a washing machine … and tomorrow in the mirror of the bathroom, in the clothes, at the door of our office, etc. The next evolution (IoT) will be augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic images, cloud computing, smart robots, the use of drones, electric vehicles and freeways on the ground, flying vehicles, transport to more than 1,000 Km / hr. Amazing. And how will the construction sector benefit from these technological changes?.

Construction leads the Internet of Things (IoT)

The great civil works in the cities have a technological development like never before:

  • The design of the work: A bridge, a tunnel, a hydroelectric power station, a skyscraper, are previously built in powerful software programs. The study of the terrain, the weather conditions, the choice of materials, the optimum formwork is safer than ever thanks to competitive sensors, monitoring and historical analytics.
  • During construction: Drones are already used during the construction of the civil works to be able to detect circumstances never seen before. Engineers and operations work with APPs on their mobile devices to meet construction deadlines with all security guarantees. Mobile communications and video calls, between control departments and the work, streamline all processes.
  • After the work delivered: The strategy of maintaining a civil work is essential as it is subject to changes in atmospheric and geothermal conditions due to unforeseen events: earthquake, consequences of global warming, new buildings in risk areas, etc. The online examination and monitoring of any civil works, from anywhere in the world, in any device, is now reality and will be improved with all kinds of sensors.

Are you ready?

Manufacturing Today Europe has just published an interesting special about the technological revolution just described. Among his contributions we highlight:

  • An efficient procurement strategy is essential for manufacturing processes. But, providing schedules are met, customer care little about what´s gone on until the finished good es delivered. A landmark momento, not the end of the journey. Vendors are increasingly embracing servitisation to differentiate themselves and nurture customer loyalty. Procurement plays a key role in delivering a fantastic customer experience, ensuring central service teams and dealers across the world have the parts available to achieve best-in class first-time fill rates.
  • Companies in all industries can benefit from seeing and analysing this data, but for manufacturers especially, access to real-time analytics is a compelling value proposition. Because manufacturing is an industry with notoriously slim margins, small improvements in managing downtime or increasing yield can mean the difference between expanding and contracting an manufacturing plant´s footprint.
  • Using sensors across the production line- from the shop floor to the top floor- manufacturers can collect their value chain´s data in real time (tecnología que ya usa Doka en sus obras). They can the leverage purpose-built applications to collect that data from multiple machines and production lines, and gain a clearer picture where efficiencies are (and are not) happening across their value chain. Calibrating their production line based on real-time analytics allows application users to define and maximise their value chain´s levers. 

There are two common IoT (Internet of things) strategies that we have seen manufacturers implement:

  • IoT data for predictive maintenance purposes, where sensors alert production line managers when manufacturing machines are operating outside of their statistical control limits.
  • IoT data for operational efficiency purposes, where sensors inform managers to value chain inefficiencies in real-time.

Tomorrow’s city

For his part, Carlo Ratti, MIT professor, has written of the book “The City of Tomorrow” with very interesting reflections such as the following:

Digital technologies and ubiquitous computing are transforming most aspects of our lives –the way we move, communicate, learn, work, etc. In general, we will have an increased number of options as technology opens up new possibilities. French anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan underlines how it is possible to draw a curve of human civilization by simply looking at the way tools are used across history. From the Neolithic to the twentieth century, from the first utensils made of rocks to the development of digital technologies, from stone-axes that extended the capabilities of the hand to “outsourcing” our mental processes to computers, progress has always been profoundly marked by the gradual subcontracting of our functions. The development of new technologies always had the same goal—that is, to increase our chances and opportunities.From an architectural point of view, I do not think that the city of tomorrow will look dramatically different from the city of today — much in the same way that the Roman ‘urbs’ is not all that different from the city as we know it today. We will always need horizontal floors for living, vertical walls in order to separate spaces and exterior enclosures to protect us from the outside.

The key elements of architecture will still be there, and our models of urban planning will be quite similar to what we know today. What will change dramatically is the way we live in the city, at the convergence of the digital and physical world. IoT will have its biggest impact on the experience of the city, not necessarily its physical form.First, there is sharing. Self-driving vehicles promise to have a dramatic impact on urban life, because they will blur the distinction between private and public modes of transportation. “Your” car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then, rather than sitting idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family – or, for that matter, to anyone else in your neighborhood, social-media community, or city.

Some recent papers by MIT show that today’s mobility demand of a city like Singapore could be satisfied by just one-fifth of the number of cars currently in use. Such reductions in car numbers would dramatically lower the cost of our mobility infrastructure and the embodied energy associated with building and maintaining it. Fewer cars may also mean shorter travel times, less congestion, and a smaller environmental impact.

–A second change is parking. Parking infrastructure is so pervasive that in the United States it covers around 5,000 square miles, an area larger than Puerto Rico. Increased sharing of vehicles, as outlined above, would dramatically lower the need for parking spaces. Over time, vast areas of valuable urban land currently occupied by parking spaces could be reinvented for a whole new spectrum of social functions. Creative uses are already promoted across the world during Parking Day, a worldwide event held on the third Friday of September, where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public places. The same dynamic re-purposing could happen tomorrow on a much larger scale and with permanent solutions, leading to the reclamation of a large percentage of the urban fabric.

–Finally, urban infrastructure is subject to change. Traffic lights are a 150-years-old technology originally conceived for horse carriages. With the advent of widespread autonomy, slot-based intersections could replace traditional traffic lights, significantly reducing queues and delays. This idea is based on a scenario where sensor-laden vehicles pass through intersections by communicating and remaining at a safe distance from each other, rather than grinding to a halt at traffic lights. Vehicle speed could be controlled so that each vehicle reaches the intersection in synch with the assigned slot – so that stop and go is avoided. The latter, in turn, would reduce emission of pollutants and greenhouse gases caused by the acceleration and deceleration cycles.

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