Solving Top 4 Problems on Jobsites through the IoT

Working on a commercial jobsite can be extremely fast-paced and frenzied, leaving contractors with little time to focus on more than the day-to-day. Finding ways to be more efficient, particularly when multiple subcontractors are also involved, can seem impossible, but not doing so negatively impacts profits.

One of the biggest challenges on jobsites is completing construction on time and on budget. This is especially true today, as most commercial jobs not only require aggressive timelines, but also carry penalties if the job is not completed as scheduled. But there is a path forward, and it starts by incorporating new the IoT (Internet of Things) technologies into the everyday workflow on a jobsite. These new advances can help reduce inefficiencies that add up to lost time and money for contractors.

Problem 1: Ordering Inventory

The IoT can be applied to speed up the process of ordering materials. With the IoT, a contractor can use a scanner to sense an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip that is embedded in the materials and easily pull up the specs on the material to be ordered. For example, if the contractor needs to order a different type of faucet for a hotel, then all the contractor needs to do is read the RFID tag and submit a job order. This particularly saves time with materials that are infrequently used, so the contractor doesn’t have to go to the drawing and look up the material specs. Most ruggedized mobile devices have the ability to read passive RFID and embedded NFC (near-field communication)—a short-range wireless technology.

Problem 2: Managing Materials

Managing materials can also be difficult when job timelines are tight, and material inventory counts can be done much faster by contractors with the use of RFID. Manufacturers can insert RFIDs into packaging or other product material. Each RFID tag gives out a unique signature, and when scanned, provides the contractor with clear insight into when material counts reach a particular threshold and need to be reordered. Then, mobile devices can be used to voice authenticate and authorize an order. For example, if a jobsite required 200 more faucets, then the contractor could reorder using voice authorization, reducing the time spent on administrative paperwork and improving the accuracy of purchase reporting.

Problem 3: Combating Theft

An all too common problem that contractors face is material and equipment theft. Sometimes it’s a simple mistake—materials could be misplaced at the jobsite—but either way, valuable time is lost when materials go missing. Using embedded RFID chips in equipment is a good way to identify the presence of equipment at a jobsite. Most of these embedded RFIDs are active RFIDs, which actively broadcast a signal that can help in asset tracking. For example, if an RFID-tagged jack hammer is moved out of the geofence at the jobsite, the contractor would receive an automated alert on his phone. Modules using the ZigBee communication specification, designed to transmit signals across longer distances, can be integrated with the electronics of construction equipment to provide a variety of information other than location sensing, such as orientation—gyroscope, pressure sensing, and temperature. There are also a couple of IoT solutions that are Bluetooth Low Energy, radio frequency-based on the market that offer GPS tracking to provide location details of equipment.

Problem 4: Tracking Equipment

Most equipment is rented and very expensive, so tracking the equipment and keeping an accurate inventory count across the construction zone is important for keeping tabs on the budget. Often, construction equipment is inventoried manually. This is a cumbersome task and eats into valuable time at a jobsite, but it could be much less onerous with the IoT. Imagine how much easier it would be to manage a fleet of earthmovers if they didn’t have to be counted one-by-one?

Beyond the various inventory and tracking problems that the IoT can solve, companies are starting to exploit the treasure trove of data generated by RFID-enabled devices in order to reduce costs. For example, to reduce the potential for theft, contractors can set electronic rules that send an alert if unusual movements of equipment at a jobsite are correlated with the detection (via presence sensors) of unauthorized persons at the location. The IoT is also going to play a significant role in improving jobsite safety by ensuring contractors are using the right safety procedures with certain equipment.

IoT networks will eventually be widespread and will find many more applications. IoT technologies have been successfully implemented in other industries such as mining, industrial equipment maintenance and healthcare. It’s time for more commercial construction companies to embrace the IoT too, as it will bring down the cost of the technology. The frenetic pace and budget pressures on the jobsite are only increasing. Contractors need new methods to preserve valuable time and resources, and IoT technology offers a more strategic, proactive and intelligent approach to accelerating the everyday routine.

Kuruvilla Mathew is the chief innovation officer at Ness Software Engineering Services,

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