IoT: A Look Inside High-Tech Jobsites

The IoT (Internet of Things) is coming to the construction jobsite—and it will be important to understand how it will impact your business.

Journeying back, the term IoT was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer, to describe a system where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors.

At that time, on-premise software was making inroads in the office in the construction industry, although many contractors were slow to adopt the tools available and often the most common technology at the jobsite was still cellphones and laptops.

That, of course, has changed in 17 years, as construction professionals have come to appreciate the value technology offers—especially at the construction jobsite.

Mobile apps, drones, autonomous vehicles, telematics and new safety devices are just some of the technologies playing an important role at the jobsite of the future.

But the IoT has arrived as well, and its impact on equipment is significant.

“The IoT has really helped companies leverage existing system efficiencies,” says Kurt Nantkes, senior vice president, Zonar, a fleet management technology provider.

Take, for example, changes in the way a heavy equipment work order is received.

Not long ago, the delivery of a paper work order from a remote jobsite to a mechanic at the shop could take up to 10 days. Today, the IoT allows that order to be delivered in realtime, significantly reducing equipment downtime, Nantkes says.

He adds the IoT has gained significant ground in construction during the past five years.

“We are definitely seeing an upward tick in technology investment to upgrade efficiencies,” Nantkes says. “Contractors know what they want.”

Indeed, they’ve come to understand the numerous benefits the IoT offers when it comes to equipment maintenance and tracking, preventive maintenance, repairs, gauging dependency on rental equipment and trend analysis, Nantkes says.

Ultimately, he says, the information helps construction professionals determine the all-important total cost of ownership.

“We’re definitely seeing an upswing in terms of telematics and grade control,” adds Liz Quinn, product marketing manager, John Deere WorkSight.

She adds that the IoT’s benefits extend beyond the jobsite. The technology also has led to improved communications at construction companies, especially between project managers and equipment managers—individuals who have vastly different responsibilities.

Companies gain when the individuals who use the equipment are sharing information with those responsible for buying or renting the equipment, Quinn says.

Significant Growth

The IoT is clearly trending upward in construction and numerous other industries.

The worldwide IoT market is expected to reach $1.7 trillion in 2020 with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 16.9 percent, according to International Data Corp. (IDC).

Devices, connectivity, and IT (information technology) services will make up the majority of the IoT market in 2020. Together, they are estimated to account for more than two-thirds of the worldwide IoT market in 2020, with devices (modules/sensors) alone representing 31.8 percent of the total, IDC predicts.

In construction, the IoT’s growth is partly driven by progressive construction companies relying on the technology to convert raw data into actionable information.

But more and more companies are getting on the IoT bandwagon, partly because they have little choice, Nantkes says.

“They have to keep up with the competition,” he says. “Word travels fast. Contractors need to adopt technology to survive.”

IoT solutions are deployed primarily to “make money, save money, increase safety or improve compliance,” says Sam Lucero, senior principal analyst, IHS Technology.

Several leading construction equipment manufacturers have developed technologies that incorporate  IoT. As a result, IoT solutions help those manufacturers offering new or enhanced services and products, and potentially adopt new revenue models.

“A construction equipment vendor might offer such a service to a construction company, for example, rather than just sell them the equipment,” Lucero points out.

For example, John Deere’s MyMaintenance mobile application allows managers to oversee preventative maintenance and repairs.

The app enables users to view and document maintenance intervals by calendar date or by machine engine hours on the jobsite or in the workshop.

The app also is designed to give users a variety of information including the ability to view equipment on a map, look at machines nearby, barcode scan a machine to see maintenance plans, access a parts list for maintenance, and keep track of maintenance costs.

Additionally, managers can determine which machines are due or past due for maintenance, which helps improve uptime and performance.

“MyMaintenance is a great example of mobile connectivity,” Quinn says.

Meanwhile, she says, the use of John Deere’s JDLink Machine Monitoring System has increased significantly throughout the past few years.

“It’s become part of (contractors’) daily lives,” she says. “They depend on it.”

Meanwhile, Caterpillar uses telematics data to improve equipment design.

Data is analyzed to determine if machines at jobsites are idling too much. Additionally, CAT uses the data to work rollover-protection design and analysis, jobsite simulation, statistical tolerance analysis and structural optimization.

Data is a significant part of any construction project. Daily work reports, data generated from sensors and equipment, images and videos of the construction site—sometimes captured by drones—are just some of the information.

IoT solutions also are used to help companies operate more effectively and make asset management, predictive maintenance and predictive schedule analysis more efficient.

There are other advantages as well.

“A construction company can remotely monitor the location of equipment to reduce theft or more efficiently and quickly locate equipment that needs to be moved to a new location,” Lucero says.

The IoT also helps contractors lower costs. For instance, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags make equipment tracking easier, which saves time and money. The tags also offer a greater level of efficiency because they help contractors manage supplies and orders.

When it comes to safety, the IoT plays an important role.

Remote operation capabilities prevents workers from having to be close to large pieces of machinery or spend time in dangerous work zones.

“IoT solutions could be used to increase the safety of workers in hazardous locations, such as being able to monitor lone workers or to enable remote access and operation of equipment or systems in locations that are hazardous or unpleasant for a worker to physically be present in,” Lucero says.

Additionally, wearable devices—a growing trend in construction—can benefit the industry in a variety of ways. Hands-free devices allow workers to transmit images and access important instructions without taking a hand off their machines.

Some obstacles may prevent the wider adoption of the IoT.

“These solutions can be challenging to design and implement from a technical/engineering standpoint, from an ROI calculation standpoint, from a business-process change standpoint, from a supplier fragmentation standpoint, from a standards fragmentation standpoint, and so on,” Lucero points out.

He adds that “the IoT sector as a whole is still wrestling with a unified, commonly accepted vision for how to achieve adequate cybersecurity.”

Although the IoT has made significant strides in construction, contractors should expect the technology to offer even more advantages over time, Nantkes predicts.

“It’s only going to grow,” he says. “It’s very naïve to think that we’re there already.”

Yet harnessing those advantages might be tough.

“IoT as a concept is fairly widely understood. But, the devil’s in the details. Having an idea of what IoT is does not reduce the obstacles” to adoption, Lucero concludes.

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