Connecting whilst building – benefits of the IoT in construction

The change we are currently living through is dubbed Industry 4.0 or Industrial IoT and is the era of smart machines and automation. Through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) and machine to machine communications, construction companies can connect their operations to enable a treasure trove of useful data insights.

In addition, advances in big data analytics will mean that AI assisted systems can quickly dig through masses of data to produce valuable insights that were not previously available. Intelligent machinery has now reached a point where they can self-diagnose themselves, leading to predictive maintenance capabilities and a dramatic reduction of industrial inefficiencies onsite. Welcome to Industry 4.0.

>See also: 7 industries that will be radically changed by the IoT

While IIoT opens the door to a host of new opportunities such as cost reduction, worker safety, quality improvement and business growth, the prospect of gearing up for the next industrial revolution can cause apprehension. Implementing IIoT solutions can change the way IT interacts with production systems and field devices but if this is matched with the right approach to connectivity, and realising the potential of the servitisation model, it needn’t keep construction companies awake at night.

Connectivity is king

Connectivity is the lifeblood of the IoT and this is just as true in an industrial setting. Field connectivity is indispensable for conveying commands to field systems and devices in addition to acquiring data for further analysis. It tends to be a cross-cutting and cross-layer function in IIoT systems as both edge and cloud modules are able to access field data directly using one of a large number of protocols. These include OPC-UA (Unified Architecture, MQTT (Message Queue Telemetry Transport), DDS (Data Distribution Service), oneM2M and various other protocols as illustrated in the Industrial Internet Connectivity Framework.

>See also: Getting ready for the industrial internet of things

Two of the most popular mechanisms are OPC-UA, which is extensively used for field connectivity in industrial environments and MQTT, which is commonly implemented in conjunction with popular real-time streaming infrastructures such as Apache Spark and Apache Kafka. Overall, field connectivity should ensure scalable data collection, routing of data to the various data sources, as well as control commands from IT applications to field infrastructures and devices – all vital in a construction setting, particularly if companies are adopting the right models.

Servitisation model

Servitisation simply means increasing the worth of a product by overlaying additional services, a model which we are already seeing in the construction industry with suppliers moving away from singular business transactions in favour of ongoing, subscription-based solutions. Servitisation suits an industry experiencing a digital revolution, and as construction evolves alongside 3D printing, robotics, and smarter supply chains, a business model designed to maximise the worth of every purchase reigns supreme.

Successful construction relies on end-to-end efficiency, and servitisation will enable the integration of smarter systems and devices into that overall journey. Although servitisation could pose a threat at first – rolling updates and beta products promote choice; not quality – it also allows new technologies such as big data and the IoT to elevate operations. This rapid development cycle will help prove-out technology and accelerate adoption.

>See also: Servitisation: how technology is making service the new product

Predictive maintenance, achieved through a web of connected sensors and nodes, will help construction businesses extend the life cycles of heavy equipment; monitoring temperature fluctuations and excessive strains in real-time, resulting in less downtime and better results. Servitisation also allows buyers to incorporate tracking features into their operations. This allows contractors today to streamline the development of prefabricated buildings from the production line to construction and more accurately report on deliverables in the process. In the future, on-site robots and fleets of autonomous drones will assess challenges at a micro level, and respond in a highly targeted, per use basis.

Embracing change

Construction is increasingly an exact science and servitisation can more accurately marry investment to an outcome. By analysing the exact usage of a product within an IoT network, businesses can pay only for what they use, while suppliers can also benefit from recurring payments and a more engaged customer base. This form of lean construction promotes a greater deal of flexibility, whereby data-driven services more accurately assess the outcome of any construction project. The anything-as-a-service model that IoT enables means that construction companies will adapt to offer increasingly bespoke solutions, with constantly evolving outcomes replacing finite contracts.

>See also: Who will service the billions of Internet of Things devices?

The shift to IIoT is a strategic commitment and a long-term journey, not a single project. The deployed solution should be continually tracked to ensure proper operation and to identify any need for additional developments and fine-tuning. An agile and iterative approach to developing and deploying additional features should be used to boost continuous improvement – the foundations are laid, but they need to be consistently monitored for success.

Sourced by Jamie Bennett, VP of Engineering, IoT & Devices at Canonical

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future