Optimistic forecasts for the UAE’s construction sector for the next few years are driven by factors such as encouraging macroeconomics, affirmative demographics, and rising tourism activities, as well as a resistant infrastructure project pipeline as part of the country’s strategic Vision 2021.
With Dubai Expo 2020 also on the horizon, the government is solidly behind smart development initiatives. As the UAE ushers in this new era of advancement, much has been predicted and promised about the integration of ICT into every aspect of completed city developments.
The computing capabilities of mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT) devices have advanced to a level that has made them capable of aiding the planning, designing, and building phases. But turning mobility into an effective tool requires not only computing power but also connectivity. At job sites, wired connections are not feasible and cellular networks are not always available, hence, a strong case can be made for developers to utilise Wi-Fi solutions.
IoT represents a huge opportunity for the construction industry, which is constantly processing data and strives for workplace safety, as well as efficiency. IoT needs a secure, scalable network to succeed and Wi-Fi offers what IT departments require for strong construction IoT networking.
With the introduction of tablet devices, mobile project management has emerged as a worthy replacement to age-old methods. Coupled with the broad ecosystem of feature-rich mobile applications and the ability to draw from vast amounts of remotely stored data and cloud services, these devices are capable of granting contractors, engineers and supervisors access to blueprints, schematics and other vital documents. Moreover, with the ability to instantly push updates to all members working on the project, mobile computing devices can aid collaboration and revolutionise the building information modelling (BIM) process in real-time.
With site-wide high speed wireless connectivity for all mobile devices, workers gain the ability to transfer high volumes of data back and forth between not only each other but also headquarters (HQ). This significantly streamlines communications while cutting costs and improving operational efficiencies. This could also bear attractive ‘green’ side effects as staff no longer having to make regular trips to and from HQ.
High speed wireless connectivity is an enabler of the following applications:
A truck driver can be required to wear a wearable, which may come in the form of an activity band. Other drivers and management can be notified if a driver is missing or is being unproductive. Construction workers on-site can wear a helmet and vest with RFID, vitals monitoring, GPS sensors, motion sensors and so on.
Knowing GPS data related to where your equipment is located and how it is being used is important for identifying cost-savings opportunities and keeping your fleet organised. These benefits can be uncovered by analysing the GPS data from across your fleet and comparing it over a period of time.
At job sites, company assets are a major investment and the progress of construction is heavily dependent on their functionality. Heavy-equipment is often required to be left on-site overnight which makes them a prime target for theft. Asset tracking technologies help monitor such equipment remote locations and automatically detect and report suspicious behaviour.
Developers can also benefit from automated maintenance schedules, logs and reports. The readiness of cheap and easy-to-use RFID technology has also made the automation of inventory management possible. By knowing in advance which materials are soon to run out, construction companies can foresee and avoid material deficiencies, thus, eliminating losses in productivity. Equipment repairs are one of the largest operating costs in the construction industry.
Similar to monitoring and repair, equipment inspections can be enormously enhanced by the help of smart sensors. With the advanced sensors available now, machinery can self-detect the imminent need for a repair before it becomes a larger issue. Lost/late forms, low accuracy and undue internal processing time are no longer an issue with electronic processes.
Another vital area of a construction site where mobile technology can be applied is in video surveillance. Not only does this enable better collaboration and remote supervision, it is essential to site security. High-speed connectivity for robust and cost-effective camera equipment can mean the ready availability of high definition video, making both identification and collaboration easier.
Evaluating IoT and mobility solutions for the construction site
An Internet of Things solution implementation is not impossible to manage, but it’s not easy either. In fact, developing solutions for the Internet of Things requires unprecedented collaboration, coordination and connectivity for each piece in the system, and throughout the system as a whole. All devices must work together and be integrated with all other devices, and all devices must communicate and interact seamlessly with connected systems and infrastructures. The challenge for the developer is to find a robust enterprise-class Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) solution that is affordable in terms of the capital expense and operational overheads.
As construction integrates more deeply with IT, network uptime will become an increasingly important factor. It is therefore prudent to invest in network management tools which can prove invaluable in providing maximum network availability. Companies must look for a service provider whose solution is based on the latest 802.11ac wireless standard as this delivers gigabit Wi-Fi combined with the device density and application intelligence required by today’s Wi-Fi networks.
There is also a need to balance cyber and physical security, since smart devices are physical in nature. For any country keen to drive smart cities, both cyber and physical security should always be considered in the upstream of the project.