Tool Time. IoT and Construction Site Equipment

Posted by on Aug 17, 2017 5:00:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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Seemingly endless building projects—and jokes about construction cranes being the official bird of any given city—would lead you to believe the building industry works as a well-oiled machine. Reality is quite different, unfortunately. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, large construction projects typically are 80% over budget and take 20% more time to complete than planned. In fact, productivity even has declined in some markets, and even in healthy ones contractors face highly volatile financial returns. Given the majority of new buildings and houses are essentially customized, not prefabricated, there is a lot of room for waste and error, especially when it comes to ‘little’ things like tools.  

Small problem, big implications

Construction tools are a lifeblood of the industry, and one of its greatest weaknesses. A lost or broken hammer, for example, can have tremendous repercussions. A worker will remain idle, but paid, and that impedes productivity until a replacement unit can be found. If the worker’s job was mission-critical to the task at hand, the entire jobsite might be shut down temporarily, and that presents its own risks. Itinerant/day laborers might seek another long-term gig, with the possible result of a working jobsite with no workers. Likewise, a missing specialized tool might shut down the entire project if a replacement cannot be found for many days or weeks.   

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Theft and misappropriation of tools represent additional threats to a site’s viability. Contractors only can do so much to ensure proper security, especially when subcontractors bring their own tools onsite or authorized—but unknown—day laborers are given tools for multiple-site work. The question soon becomes, “Is a unit being stolen or just leaving with its owner or authorized user?” Likewise, a tool may be left inadvertently in a vehicle and forgotten, a common scenario where certain tools are used infrequently or a contractor swaps out tools regularly. Even if the vehicle is onsite, it may be hours or even days before someone realizes its location.  

Building smart

Equipping tools with smart IoT sensors radically changes the productivity of any given construction site. Now tools can be geo-fenced by site(s) or even by a specific area, such as a designated floor. An alert is sent to a central monitoring station if the tool leaves its authorized area, and can be tracked until retrieved. If no alert was generated but the tool is listed as missing, the tracker can find it instantly, regardless of location. If there are multiple job sites, the system can create geo-fenced travel boundaries. This eliminates tools being used for unauthorized projects, such as freelance work. Subcontractors can be required to smart-enable their tools to coordinate with the project’s system. Every tool is accounted for, every second of the day.

Geo-tracking is just for starters. Schedules and required equipment can be inputted into the system. When a workday or the initial project begins, the system notifies supervisors whether all the tools are available and/or where they are located if missing. Fingerprint readers that only allow operation by authorized workers can be embedded in specialized/power tools. Such technology also can determine who last used a tool, even for something common like a non-electric screwdriver.

In addition, tools can monitor themselves for everything from overuse to wear to being exposed to an inappropriate environment (a drill left in snow for days). Monitoring offers companies all-new insight into equipment lifecycles and maintenance, allowing more efficient planning and reductions in downtime. In fact, tools can monitor whether they are being used properly or not, enabling management to better train workers on optimized operation for enhanced productivity.     

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Altogether, IoT-enabled tools dramatically improve site productivity, worker efficiency, and, ultimately, the contractor’s bottom line.

To get a better grip on tools and equipment, contact Aeris.

Topics: IoT, smart tools, construction equipment, smart construction, geo-tracking