IoT and wireless networks: the future of construction
By Nathan McGregor, senior vice president Asia Pacific, Cradlepoint
Monday, 01 August, 2022
Construction was one of the few industries in Australia that was subject to public health order restrictions for only a very short time during the pandemic. While the industry wasn’t subjected to protracted restrictions like other sectors, the Covid-19 pandemic did lead to greater digitisation finally being implemented in this sector. A reduction in face-to-face collaboration in large groups on sites meant that building information could no longer be recorded on paper and paper-based check-ins strictly had to be digital. The construction industry suddenly found that there was an explosion of on-site data and information that needed to be processed between different parties.
In an industry that has had to transform its practices to be more reliant on digital information, next-generation networks are a necessity. Adopting cellular infrastructure, and even turning to 5G, can address many issues faced by builders, and ensure they have access to connectivity that is easy to deploy, reliable, secure, and efficient.
Connectivity and rapid deployment
Construction connectivity needs to enable offices as well as the building site location to connect to shared databases and programs. Given construction sites are temporary, these connection locations change projects start and finish. As the use of technology expands, and the proliferation of connected devices continues, so does the pressure on networks to remain stable across different devices, machinery and workers.
The low-latency, increased bandwidth and higher speeds of 5G networking will change the way the construction industry designs and builds as well as enable a whole new level of monitoring to employee safety and assets.
Fixed hardwire networks can take months to deploy and is not possible at all locations. There is also the risk of hardwire networks being damaged during construction. The temporary nature of construction sites means that connectivity needs to be quick and simple, which can only be achieved with wireless networks.
IoT asset tracking and data insight
IoT asset tracking is undoubtedly one of the most efficient and effective tools in modern day business. It enables full traceability of products throughout the supply chain, whether it’s a container, pallet or individual items. Real-time automated monitoring enables construction site managers to know what is on site, and exactly how much of it remains. This helps keep projects on track by automatically identifying when more supplies need to be ordered, or when orders are due to arrive.
While tracking resources is important, data insight can also provide valuable information on how those resources are performing, automatically detecting defects in construction, optimising processes and monitoring equipment for compliance. For example, Taylor Construction uses smart sensors affixed to rebar and embedded in concrete aggregate which send data to the cloud via a 5G router. This helps the company determine if concrete is poured correctly and track any shifting of the concrete, helping improve the overall outcome of the project and its safety.
Future proof connectivity
The needs of connectivity are changing. With new building projects beginning all the time, and old sites closing down, it is imperative construction companies can adapt their connectivity needs to what is happening in the moment. 4G LTE and 5G connectivity has this ability. By extending the corporate network with flexible, high-bandwidth connectivity that can be managed from anywhere through cloud-based tools, IT teams can manage all remote sites — including network performance, bandwidth requirements, and cellular data usage — in a single management console. New networks can be configured at the central office and as the site requirements change, they can be redeployed instantly wherever needed. In this way, operational costs of wired connections and on-site personnel are virtually eliminated.
Having a network with this flexibility is fast becoming essential to businesses across all sectors but is extremely valuable to construction companies looking to manage several different sites at once, while avoiding long delays to projects and ensuring networks are always secure.
Addressing Corporate Social Responsibility
Following the commitments made at COP26, there is pressure on every sector to step up true sustainable efforts, and deliver on them. According to the Property Council of Australia, “embodied carbon accounts for approximately 11 per cent of carbon emissions worldwide. In Australia, 16 per cent of Australia’s built environment emissions in 2019 comprised embodied carbon. As Australia increasingly decarbonises the electricity grid, embodied carbon — which is largely locked in by the time a building is constructed — will become a greater percentage of built environment emissions and a significant hindrance for the building and construction industry (and also Australia more generally) reaching net zero.”
With a robust cellular network, it’s possible to start working on sustainability objectives from the get-go of construction. For example, drones can be used to capture data that can then develop aerial surveys, reducing the need for physical site visits, and provide information on how to work with biodiversity and geographic features of a landscape. Access to data on supplies also helps construction managers to better manage staff numbers, reducing unnecessary travel when supplies are unavailable. With more data points through the use of connected sensors, there could be a reduction of wasted materials, and excessive site visits. Overall, more smart technology means smarter, more informed decision making.
By taking advantage of LTE or 5G’s low latency, ultra-fast connectivity, and ease of deployment, building companies have an immense opportunity to utilise technology in new ways to streamline operations and create a more sustainable, efficient and flexible industry.
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