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Industry 4.0, construction technology, and the Internet of Things

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago
  • Author: James Kenealey
Across all industries, we’re in the midst of a transformation regarding the way we produce products. The construction industry is no different, and this is due to the technological revolution known as ‘Industry 4.0’.

A logical continuation of the third industrial revolution, which was the adoption of computer automation and technology, Industry 4.0 takes things to the next level and will impact the construction industry ever more over the coming years.

We look at the pros – and cons – of the growing use of technology in the construction sector, and how it will impact the industry moving forwards.

Industry 4.0 explained

The first industrial revolution was probably the most significant leap of any, and all that has followed has stemmed from this. The invention of steam machines would transform not only construction but society as a whole. The second industrial revolution was the electrification of systems and processes that allowed for expanded automation. Industry 3.0 and Industry 4.0 are very similar in that they focus on computers, but 4.0 takes the invention of network communication and harnesses Big Data, the cloud and the Internet of Things to take it a step further.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) involves any machine or object that can communicate with others and transfer data through a network. The IoT can consist, in theory, of anything and everything, from fridges to cars to even entire structures themselves. The potential scope of applications and uses is theoretically limitless, and this permeates throughout the construction industry.

If all this sounds a little bit too radical, futuristic, and scary, don’t forget that the IoT is already prevalent across your daily life. Smart watches, smart phones, smart house alarm systems and even smart pet-feeding dispensers – all talk to each other and are part of the growing IoT.

Future building sites: how the IoT is transforming construction

According toa report by PwC, 98% of construction businesses expect the integration of digital technology and the IoT to increase efficiencies across the industry. But what are the ways in which technology can help in construction? Both smart construction methods and smart buildings themselves are set to change the construction landscape forever. Smart construction methods include:

The digital supply chain
A digital, automated supply chain powered by the IoT allows for greater efficiency in production, which in turn means greater speed for customers. Digital monitoring of the supply chain also allows for monitoring of fluctuations in supply and demand, as well as better tracking and forecasting. This is something that we’re likely to see more and more of.
The ‘digital factory’ concept is also on the rise and has the potential to greatly affect construction supply chains. A digital factory is cost-effective throughout. The factories are ‘dark’, with only minimal electricity being used and on demand. The units are completely net zero and green, with no waste and maximum productivity.

Site tracking
In Australia, there has a growing trend in construction companies partnering with technology companies to create smart solutions.One such solutionallows the real-time tracking of construction assets, people, and materials across a site, optimising logistics and keeping track of material levels. This also has benefits from a health and safety point of view.

Intelligence machines
Certain machines can be connected to the IoT across a site to allow themselves to work in sync with each other in a way that human operation will not allow. It also allows for machine status (fatigue, fuel, service usage) to be remotely monitored across a site to allow the machinery to be best deployed.

Digital twin building modelling
A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset. As opposed to being simply a static representation of the structure (like a BIM), it can create live feedback to allow for the prediction of maintenance across various systems. The benefits of this are numerous from a time and cost point of view, allowing maintenance teams to remote ascertain the status of systems without having to physically attend them

Smart buildings

It’s not just construction methods that could be positively impacted by the rise of the IoT. A structure with devices connected throughout can become a smart building, which means that all critical systems can be linked. This allows for asset management throughout the lifespan of a construction, allowing contractors to know exactly where there might be a repair required or a fault detected. This can drastically reduce outage time and expenditure.

It could also allow for monitoring of the number of people in an office, allowing for systems to be automatically shut down if they aren’t in use and alarms to be activated when there are no long people in the building. Rather than being a manual process, this could be completely automated.

What about data overload?

Is the rise of Industry 4.0 technology in construction too much too soon?There is a consensus among some that an even greater influx of data will lead to an overload in an industry that isn’t yet equipped to handle it or use it effectively, particularly from a health and safety point of view.

But one thing seems clear – Industry 4.0 is coming along quickly, and it’s vital that businesses adapt now to ensure they’re ready.

What does enhanced technology in construction mean for workers and businesses?

The emergence of automation and a greater reliance on technology in the industry might be scary to some of the people who work in construction. The building site of tomorrow is likely to necessitate a whole range of new roles, including robotics engineers, design analysts, systems experts and those familiar with Building Information Management (BIM) and asset care.

It’s vital that organisations not only attract the next generation of talent as soon as possible, but also upskill existing employees to ensure they can embrace the change as smoothly as possible. This is particularly important for those who could potentially be most affected by the move to new methods.

The digital transformation must begin at the top of organisations, and businesses should invest sooner rather than later to ensure workforce continuity.

As contingent construction recruitment becomes increasingly difficult and critical skills expensive to find, businesses are having to become more agile to survive. An effective Managed Service Programme can not only facilitate this, but also manage costs – saving businesses money, time and effort.
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