Sensing the Future of Building: The Role of Sensors in Construction  

sensors in construction

4 Ways Sensors in Construction Improve Jobsites

Collectively, people have long thought about the possibilities of machines making their own decisions. The verge of that is here, with the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s quickly changing our world as “things” such as traffic lights, vehicles and machines, are connecting and communicating with each other. One of the ways IoT is collecting data and communicating is with the use of sensors

While the technology has been around for quite some time, the use of sensors in personal and business use is gaining traction. In fact, sensor use is growing exponentially as our world embraces advanced technology. Globally, sensor use is expected to reach $27 billion by 2022. That’s a significant increase from the $7.5 billion in 2016, according to Zion Market Research.

IoT and sensors in construction are specifically being looked into and applied to improve business operations. If you’re looking to start or optimize the use of sensors in construction, below, we’ll explore specific use cases for the technology and what opportunities they open for the present and future of the industry.

How Do Sensors Fit Into the Construction Industry?

Sensors measure a variety of data. How this data is communicated is through IoT. This is important considering that 94% of businesses have experienced a positive ROI with IoT investments.

What exactly is IoT and how is it utilized in construction? In short, the tech helps monitor construction sites and uses data to predict patterns and prevent problems rather than only focusing on corrective actions once something goes wrong. This preventative approach helps save time and money, providing a more efficient jobsite. Nonetheless, IoT can also offer corrective maintenance when needed.

How can the construction industry tap into this huge and potentially return-worthy trend of IoT? One significant way is with the use of wearables. Construction workers can now wear devices on their bodies while they perform work on a jobsite. These devices can then collect and share data with the user and with other devices and equipment through the IoT.

While wearable technology in construction is just beginning, you will start to notice it more as these wearables are providing valuable insights into the industry. For instance, wearable sensors in construction share data on real-time performance levels, tool management, physical states of workers, operating conditions, and more. They can share data about the site and the workers, offering the potential to improve productivity, workplace safety, and other standards.

4 Ways to Effectively Use Sensors in Construction

As mentioned, the use of sensors can help us make our industry better by improving business operations with more data. But what specific improvements can they make? Let’s take a look at four construction areas that will benefit from the use of this technology.

1. Monitor Site Conditions

Wifi-connected sensors can help us improve the safety and productivity of our site by relaying critical information on site conditions. For example, they can alert us to humidity and other weather information that might have an impact on our building materials and methods, as well as an impact on the safety of workers.

Once upon a time, people looked for gas leaks by covering themselves in a wet blanket holding a lit wick or by seeing how a canary reacted. Later, they relied on flame lights and then switched to the modern method of using monitor devices. Now, we are moving to the next stage of gas leak detection with sensor technology, which provides a more advanced and effective approach. It can also determine other issues that we can’t detect with our average human senses, such as a chemical issue.

2. Enhance Equipment and Material Management

Sensors in construction provide the capability to track materials through the supply chain so companies can stay on top of them in real-time. This promotes a more efficient supply chain, improved ability to stick to project timelines and better communication with clients. Even as and after a build, some companies are experiencing with sensors in monitoring the long-term health of materials such as concrete.

Sensors can also help with equipment management by providing valuable data on the status and productivity of construction equipment. This is especially important in managing construction assets. As most construction professionals know, machinery maintenance is an expense that can soar if not managed in time. Sensors can help avoid more expensive repairs and replacements by providing real-time data and helping promote predictive maintenance that reduces repairs and breakdowns.

3. Improve Worker Safety

Ensuring safety on a worksite is critical to keeping employees healthy and productive, as well as for keeping insurance costs low. Safety promotes an effective jobsite and project and prevents repercussions of problems, such as bad public relations and lost projects.

Sensor-enabled wearables help with this area by improving worker and site safety. Environmental sensors give data on the worksite conditions that affect safety, while biometrics sensors monitor the people on the site. The latter are able to track heart rate, posture, body temperature, repetitive motions, and other cues. This information could help prevent injuries and accidents, while also alerting management if slips and falls, heat exhaustion or other problems occur.

On top of minimizing incidents, sensors also benefit safety by cutting down on the response time when an incident does occur. Plus, they help the general contractor with the management of the overall project and the workers on the project.

4. Empower Better Facility Management

Finally, sensors can improve facility management. Although this use of sensors is right now an underutilized tactic, it is growing traction as more hard data is pointing to the potential benefits.

Sensors can be integrated into a BIM model once a building is up to provide data about the structure. More data gives you more control over factors such as temperature patterns, energy usage and foot traffic. In facilities that are heavily used and include high tech amenities, like healthcare facilities, having a real-time view of the inner workings of a building is vital for maintaining long-term costs. By using this information in the right way to make decisions for future projects, you have the potential to save millions in the long run.

How to Get Started With Sensors in Construction

Once you are on board with the idea of using sensors, the next step is how to implement them within your construction projects. Fortunately, now that sensor technology is more common, it is becoming more affordable to implement. Take Pillar Technologies as an example, which is a company that has made sensors easier and more cost-effective to use. It created sensors specifically for the construction industry that collect data in real-time and use it within a risk management tool to provide alerts and analysis. These sensors go around the jobsite and identify environmental factors affecting the safety and productivity of the job.

If your company can’t support a full rollout of sensors, you can still begin using this technology on a smaller scale. Start by identifying a few key areas that you think would make the most impact for your business. For instance, is it a higher priority to focus on productivity or worker safety first? Then, add to your technology over time.

Also, as we mentioned previously, wearables give a smart way to use sensors. They can be embedded into worker clothing and personal protective equipment such as gloves, vests, boots and hard hats. Sensors will then communicate information on both the worker and environmental conditions. If you’re reevaluating or adding to your PPE program, including wearables in the mix might be a great way to improve overall worker safety.

The Takeaway: Incorporate Sensors Into Your Full High-Tech Picture

Whether you use sensors around your construction site, through wearables, or both, they bring exciting possibilities to the field of construction. They can help with many challenges of the industry, including improving worker safety, creating more productivity and efficiency and improving client communication and satisfaction.

With the right implementation plan, sensors can help move your construction company into a smarter future. But the key is to integrate your sensor data into your other technology use. Connect it with an integrated software ecosystem that improves processes within every part of your business.

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Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.