Four Ways Industry 4.0 Technology Is Improving Construction Sites

Industry 4.0 innovations that can reshape construction to be safer and more productive include artificial intelligence, "Internet of Things," wearables and robotics, and additive manufacturing techniques such as 3D/modular/prefab.
By Emily Newton
November 17, 2021

Industry 4.0 innovations have already transformed heavy industry and much of the economy. Soon, they may also reshape construction. New industrial applications for technology, such as artificial intelligence, "Internet of Things" and robotics, can potentially impact how work on construction sites will be done.

Over the next few years, these four applications of Industry 4.0 tech could make the building industry safer, more productive and easier to manage.

1. Predictive Analytics for Productivity and Safety

One of the most significant Industry 4.0 innovations is predictive analytics—algorithms that use AI trained on massive data sets to more accurately forecast future events. The approach is already commonly used in heavy industry, enabling a new maintenance approach called predictive maintenance. Companies use the tech and data from Internet of Things sensors to predict machine failure, helping to reduce potential downtime and minimize maintenance costs.

In addition to this strategy, construction companies can also benefit from new predictive analytic tools custom-built for the industry. New solutions from data science startups like Kwant offer platforms for builders. These solutions allow companies to gather data on construction projects that can be used to predict future events like safety violations and material consumption. The tech can also enable more accurate timelines and fewer errors during the building process.

2. Internet of Things-Enabled Construction Telematics

Telematics can be a construction company’s most valuable asset. Smart systems, which use Internet of Things technology to increase the amount of information they capture, can make telematics even more useful. Internet-connected sensors can provide site managers with instant updates on the location, performance and machine health of construction site equipment and vehicles. These systems can also track driver behavior, providing management with information they can use to minimize speeding, idling or reckless driving.

An intelligent network controller can deliver this information to multiple places at the same time. As a result, the data can be sent to the telematics system dashboard and also stored on the cloud. It can be analyzed later, providing insights into driver behavior, vehicle performance and construction equipment health.

Information from these devices can also serve as the basis for a predictive maintenance algorithm. For example, a telematics system often gathers information produced by a vehicle’s sensors, including engine performance and health data.

A predictive analytics tool can detect patterns in engine performance that suggest certain problems—such as low oil or failing components. An alert from the device can enable managers to take quicker action to prevent these issues from developing into more serious problems.

In the near future, telematics systems may also help businesses integrate construction robots into worksites. Information from manually piloted vehicles could help automated robotics navigate sites and assist workers.

3. Smart Construction Site Wearables

New wearable devices can provide a wide range of benefits for construction workers and site managers. They are smart devices workers wear onsite, providing them with a range of passive and active safety features.

One example is smart construction work boots. They are built to protect workers from heavy or sharp objects and provide them with extra information. The boots are outfitted with internet-connected sensors that are constantly capturing and sending data. Accelerometers and pressure sensors can detect slips, falls and sudden changes in pressure and alert other workers or managers if the wearer may be in danger.

GPS trackers and location sensors in the boots can inform managers of worker movement throughout the day. This information can be used to more effectively manage work operations, track evacuations and even analyze site traffic flows over time—helping management uncover site bottlenecks and other layout inefficiencies.

Many smart boots are also charged by walking, meaning workers won’t have to think about the charge during their shifts. Similar wearables, such as smartwatches, provide comparable benefits. Heart rate and blood oxidation sensors in these devices allow workers to track their health data throughout the day. Some watches and wearables can also help track environmental conditions. Information from these sensors could be used to give workers and managers a heads-up on dangerous site conditions, helping them get to safety sooner. Like smart work boots, these watches also sometimes contain accelerometers and similar sensing tech that can be used to detect slips and falls.

Some wearables also help construction companies take advantage of extended reality technology, such as AR and VR. Smart glasses integrated with this tech can overlay critical information on a worker’s view. Existing technology allows them to transpose 3D design models of the building they’re working on onto the jobsite, allowing them to place structures like supports or frames more accurately.

Like smart boots, these glasses can be rated to provide the same protection as conventional construction safety glasses. They can prevent eye injuries caused by impact, dust and chemicals and minimize safety risks.

4. Additive Manufacturing, Prefabrication and Modular Construction

Additive manufacturing techniques like 3D printing are streamlining offsite construction techniques, like prefabrication and modular construction. With modern 3D printers, construction companies can print entire structures or components of a building offsite, then assemble the finished building onsite. Some 3D printers are also built to be transported to the construction site, where they can print layers of concrete or other materials to create the shell of a building. This technique helps minimize waste while providing precise and repeatable construction processes.

This approach isn’t fully automated, though—workers are still needed to assemble the printed structures or insert supports like rebar into the concrete.

Additive manufacturing construction is often more efficient than conventional techniques, however. This can make jobs cheaper and safer, as the approach reduces the amount of time workers need to spend onsite.

What Construction May Look Like After Its Industry 4.0 Transformation

Construction is on track for a significant transformation. Along with other developments from Industry 4.0—like autonomous robots and advanced AI algorithms—technology like smart boots and Internet of Things telematics could fundamentally change how companies approach their work.

These innovations are already improving efficiency and safety on construction sites, and they may become widely adopted within the next few years.

by Emily Newton
Emily Newton has more than four years’ experience writing industrial topics for the construction, manufacturing and supply chain industries.

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