Blog February 21, 2020

Construction Planning for the Future, Using the Future

Planning out an entire construction project from beginning to end is no easy task. Major projects can reach hundreds of millions of dollars and use significant amounts of resources, manpower, and heavy equipment. But like all builds, their success depends on the accuracy and efficiency of their plans. Everything needs to be taken into account, from the moment the first shipment of concrete is ordered to when the final coat of paint is applied. And don’t forget, planners also have to consider scheduling buffers for time-consuming factors like concrete curing time, daily workforce availability, machine maintenance routines, and hundreds more. 

Although the construction industry has always been one of the slowest to adopt new technologies, things have come a long way over the last 20 years, and planners now have some help to ease the workload. Advanced software solutions are available for them to create, track, and manage their projects from the ground up. By accessing historical project data, these tools can provide general approximations on how long certain phases of the build would take. This gives project managers and planners a slightly more solid baseline from where they can tailor their schedules.

But as the global demand for construction projects reaches an all time high, each with hundreds of moving parts and complex time-frames, the need for more accurate and efficient project planning couldn’t be higher.

This is where IoT comes to the rescue.

In this blog, we’ll discuss how we can directly inject the help of IoT into each stage of the planning process, from inception to closure.

Project Initiation and Planning

The first and second stage of the process, respectively, are the most crucial. Here is where project planners look at the past in order to dictate the future. 

Planners lay out the requirements and total budget for the build and list out every resource at specific quantities along with their suppliers and choice of distributors. Referring to historical information of similar projects allows them to also get a ballpark estimate of both the overall timeline and total cost of the entire build. From there, planners use both S.M.A.R.T. and C.L.E.A.R methods to lay out a series of goals, milestones, and KPI’s (Key Performance Metrics) that will guide the execution of the project. These goals consist of qualitative and quantitative elements which are constantly referred to over the course of the project. 

The biggest improvement that IoT brings to this stage is the use of big data for better predictions. Low-powered connected devices such as temperature or pressure sensors can be used as a vital measurement tool throughout the duration of the project. These sensors run for long periods of time and constantly transmit data to the cloud in real-time. By the end of the project, the information collected can be referenced across future projects.

For example, if a certain job site is located in an area with higher-than-normal ambient temperatures – a factor which affects the curing time of concrete slabs – every other project that takes place in that area will be able to reference that information, allowing planners to modify their schedules accordingly. 

Such a high level of insight enables a more lean approach to future resource planning and allocation and saves both project time and cost, which is then directly reflected on the next stage of the process. Execution.

Plan Execution

Once the project goals are established, the next step is to set the plan in motion. Here is where the rest of the members on the team get on board with the requirements and understand the goals the planners are trying to reach. This is also the part where communication pathways are established between functional units.

With IoT, this entire stage can be completely automated, avoiding the need for long meetings or potential miscommunications. Devices such as mobile phones, wearables, tablets, and Augmented Reality headsets enable your workforce to stay connected on the job site wherever they are and allow them to easily communicate with each other regarding status or project updates. Plus, with the inclusion of cloud connectivity and edge computing, workers can see real-time updates to the entire project schedule as well as the timelines for their specific tasks. 

The benefits don’t just end at the job site, either. Suppliers and distributors also get to take a peek at what’s required for the project and at what stages, giving them a complete picture of when and where to load and ship materials. This added level of connectivity to third-party suppliers proves very useful when we take a look at the next stage of the process.

Tracking Performance

Here’s where all the work that was put in the previous stages comes to fruition. As the project begins to roll out, planners carefully monitor and record relevant information that’s then cross-referenced with their KPI’s. Are they meeting the performance standards? Is the project on track and on budget? Is the crew producing at a level of quality that meets company expectations? The reliance on proper communication is key in this stage in order to answer those questions. 

Even though most planners now use advanced tracking software, the input they receive to make their comparisons comes directly from the on-site managers or team leaders. If there are inconsistencies in what was spoken on-site and what was entered in the software, it affects both the current performance metrics as well as any future projects of similar calibre. 

But this all changes with IoT. By taking full advantage of interconnected devices as well as cloud-based analytics, project managers and planners can track performance in real-time. Embedded sensors record information that would otherwise be inaccessible, such as internal concrete temperature within deep pours or hard-to-reach areas. What’s more is that since these sensors are able to operate remotely, managers can glance at the status of specific projects without ever stepping foot on the job site.

The implementation of wearable technology also allows them to stay in touch with individual members of their workforce, both from a standpoint of working hours as well as health. For example, if a crane operator falls ill at a critical time, they can use their smartwatch to quickly contact their manager or a replacement operator. This keeps the schedule moving forward rather than grinding to a halt.

Close-out and Evaluation

The last and most important stage of the planning process is the final evaluation. Taking every piece of data collected and comparing it to the KPI’s set at the beginning stages of the build gives planners an understanding of how the project went. What went well? What went wrong? What can be improved? What should remain consistent? 

It’s at this point in time where the big data collected from IoT-based sensors truly shines. 

Advanced AI-based software analyzes and compares the entirety of the project against what was laid out in the beginning. Planners can then gain detailed answers to the questions listed above, supplemented with both quantitative and qualitative information at each stage of the project. What all this means for future projects is substantially better predictions on resource requirements, budgeting, and overall project time-frame. 

The injection of IoT in the construction industry brings greater optimization and efficiency to the forefront of the entire project lifecycle, enabling planners to create project schedules that are both streamlined and cost-effective.

Interested in seeing how IoT can help in your next project? Schedule a call today to find out!