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IoT: A Versatile Tool in International Construction Projects (May 30, 2023)

“While God is the prime mover of the universe, man’s innate competitive self-interest is the prime mover of the marketplace”(ref:1)


As Rifkin stated above, mankind has always been in pursuit of innovative methods and technologies to implement their knowledge and experience in the industry they are involved in.


In this article, I will specifically review how an emerging technology platform can add value to the construction industry with the mission of delivering international construction projects.


The construction industry has reshaped its form in parallel to the industrial revolutions of the past. Just like the industrial revolutions, construction projects have also faced global challenges such as financial crises and depressions, as well as environmental issues. But somehow the construction industry has overcome these challenges by changing its strategy and business model by adopting new innovations without changing the nature of the business itself. This adaptation period was inevitable. We demand, so shall we supply via technology! Innovative technological advancements like information technologies and communication technologies have been infused into construction projects to meet customer/market demands and expectations. The implementation of the green building concept into new projects and retrofitting old buildings are great examples to meet these demands.


The general purposes of this swift adaptation have been to maximize work productivity, focus more on sustainable projects, and cut down marginal costs. Establishing more educational platforms (such as online platforms), and paying more attention to research and development (the construction industry is one of the least attentive industries in the R&D field) are some of the key steps we can take to resolute challenges in the construction industry and to achieve our goals.


As the global construction industry is going through a dynamic, agile, and hybrid transformation, the drivers of this evolution are the trends and delivery methods. BIM, wearable technology, connected job sites, big data & predictive analytics, and unmanned aerial vehicles got already engaged in international construction projects. At this point, a brand new technological platform called “IoT” (Internet of Things) is the rising star of all technologies being used in the global construction market. IoT can meet the trending requirements of international complex construction projects with maintaining sustainability.


IoT is the interconnection of objects or projects (which can be buildings, vehicles, machinery, manpower, or a manufacturing facility) via the Internet of computing devices, enabling them to engage with their peers by sending and receiving data. Consequently, the established database is processed to be used by the end users. End users can review and evaluate the data online, and make assumptions for their forecasts. Moreover, the database can also be used to monitor the ongoing process to catch defects or bugs in the system. In summary, IoT can turn into a massive cloud system to deliver any type of professional complex operation or project. In this article, I will explicitly focus on the benefits and uses of IoT in projects, especially in international construction projects. I will do this by illustrating four major uses and benefits of this integrated new technology platform in international construction projects.


Two of the critical project management knowledge areas, namely “Procurement Management” and “Quality Management”, can absolutely take advantage of IoT. The Procurement Management knowledge area covers four process units: Plan Procurement Management, Conduct Procurements, Control Procurements, and Close Procurements. Procurement is essential from the planning phase to the closing phase of a construction project. All the process units should be under the responsibility and control of project managers. Throughout the whole project, project managers deal with proposals, agreements, services provided, material deliveries, and all other types of project documents, as well as the quality, cost, and timing of the deliverables. In this complex atmosphere, project managers obviously seek technological assistance. Managers desperately need to know every single detail about the status and progress pace of each trade. As an example let us assume, Project X has signed a contract with a contractor who is obliged to deliver façade works and the project manager is trying to pull up information from the factory to learn the status of the tempered glass fabrication. In addition to this, there will also be stone cladding per façade design. Those two trades have been subbed to different contractors and they both have long lead times. This is a situation where IoT can be of crucial help. If the stone-cutting factory, glazing manufacturer, and contractors all get connected in one THING, then it becomes easier for the project manager to monitor and control the logistics and schedule of materials expected to be on-site. The IoT delivers a positive impact on controlling the schedule. Another example may be as follows: Let us assume there is an international project, and the special trees for landscaping are arriving from overseas. The project manager is not knowledgeable about the transportation and customs clearance regulations. If the tree provider has a unique database per each project, the operator could then input the status of ordered trees per project, destination, and country so that the project manager is able to monitor the progress of the ordered trees. All needs to be done in one database: information provided into the right network, which is then to be delivered to the right destined address.


Quality Management is another critical element in project success. Quality management consists of three process units. These are planning, performing, and controlling the quality. Performing quality assurance and controlling the quality processes follow the quality requirements, which are set in the planning phase of quality management. IoT at this level can improve Quality Assurance/Quality Control(QA/QC) work. If quality audits and quality control inspectors are interconnected to the THING, they can be aware of the quality requirements of a specific project, as well as the company quality policies and guidelines. (This is on the condition that the company quality policies and guidelines are defined on the THING before the project starts). Thus, IoT can play a significant role. When the requirements are defined in the system, this sets the rules of acceptance criteria. If a subcontractor performs a poor quality of work (i.e. not following the method statement of the work), or s/he does not follow the codes and regulations (defined in the database before the project start), or a service repetitively malfunctions, then IoT can send the warning signals through an alarm mechanism to let the project manager know of the situation. As a result, the project manager can track the defects and go over unsatisfactory units to improve the quality of the work. Then, finally, s/he can update the performance data sheets of this formerly poor-quality service or work trades on the THING.


As repetitively highlighted before and during projects: Safety comes first! Before the project kick-off, safety plans can be distributed, all the safety requirements can be introduced to every single member of the project. However, the hard part becomes following these instructions, being sensitive to safety rules, and acting right before an issue arises. In this situation, how can IoT help to make a job site safer? Machinery and major equipment used at a job site might be defined in the IoT database to track their yields and possibly dangerous behaviors. To give an example, let us imagine a scenario where an exterior wall-mounted lift for workers to carry basic materials is going up and down in a skyscraper. Even though workers know that the lift is overloaded, they may tend to try its limits. At this point, the lift mechanism sends signals to the main nod, and the nod automatically shuts down the lift by sending the shutdown order. This, in return, eliminates a reckless human factor. The same situation might be considered for tower cranes’ working capacity within the proposed weight limits shown in the charts. Crane operator’s “let’s give it a try” approach might easily be prevented by the system by auto shut down if the tower crane is equipped with safety monitoring software before the crane starts operating. Let us consider a final example that is related to risk-mitigating. Let us imagine we are building a brand new ground-up residential building which is located in between two adjacent apartments. After the geotechnical report, the construction manager discovers that an underpinning is a must. However, s/he discovers that the neighbors are worried about their buildings. They are offered a pre-con survey and installation of vibration monitoring devices on both sides before any excavation and underpinning work starts. Even though they were satisfied (which can be considered just as client satisfaction and meeting the owner’s requirements), it raises the question of how transparent the monitoring will be. Neighbors will very likely to be wanting to track the vibration data. At this point, IoT might offer a solution to this. Neighbors can be notified if the device catches a signal beyond the threshold. By tracking the whole process of underpinning work, possible disputes may be smoothened before the situation gets intense. Also, by tracking all the activity risks can be mitigated, which is also a major factor to be considered in all types of construction projects.


Good resource management is another vital item to deliver in an international construction project., which can also be fulfilled by IoT. Allocating and managing the manpower productively, using the machinery power efficiently, supervising the logistics of materials wisely, and controlling the costs are the key factors in spending the resources carefully. Resource management can benefit from IoT technology. Workers’ production rates per hour per trade can be monitored, then stored in the database. Machinery efficiency and usage per time can be stored, monitored, and tracked. The status of material orders, physical location, and stored amounts of materials at the job site can be tracked. By monitoring, tracking, and managing all these resources closely, the productivity of the whole project can increase tremendously. The more productive projects are managed and controlled, the least marginal costs might occur, and the shorter time is spent. As a result, the innovative technology, the IoT, directly and effectively helps international construction projects achieve their major goals. What is more, at the end of each project, the collected metrics, performance indicators, trends, and analytical project updates might generate a great asset for the company’s lessons learned file.


IoT can also be very useful and effective in establishing or reinforcing the partnership of international joint venture companies in the global construction industry. For price-performance trade-off purposes and many other purposes between companies, electronic data sharing via high technology is growing globally. Companies are seeking trustworthy partnerships and transparent data flow between their peers. Engineering & Construction (E&C) firms have already started to use advanced technologies designed for the nature of construction. The aforementioned BIM, connected job sites, and unmanned vehicles and machinery are one of the greatest tools used in the industry. Due to distance and time matters, monitoring and controlling job site progress can be achieved by soft networks. By connecting the job sites of a company at various places, even international projects, IoT minimizes the marginal costs, as well as saving time and other indirect costs (which can be involved in the purpose of completing the project on time, within the defined overall scope, on budget and without compromising the quality). The role of IoT is pretty much critical to achieving all these purposes. A wireless network technology using all the hubs, nods and signals can fully accomplish these goals. for the global development of international partnerships, IoT will play a crucial role.


In conclusion, the presence of an advanced technological network, the IoT, will shape the future of the global construction industry. An increasing number of international partnerships will emerge working for the same purpose and thus gaining mutual benefits. IoT will help projects increase the gross margin performance of E&C firms in the long run. The impacts may not be seen in a short period. However, investments will have their returns on value in five to 10 years. Two of the construction industry leaders with big-scale projects all over the world, Bechtel and Skanska, are already retrofitting their innovation strategies in parallel with technological advancements. In return, they have already expanded their profit margins. In the coming years, their innovative steps of adapting IoT to their international construction projects will gradually increase their turnover with greater profit margins. As the bar is raised, other companies will also follow the leaders in construction and take their strategies as an example to implement their own business model. Even unknown companies will become brands and role models to other gradually growing initiatives. Overall, IoT, as a new add-on-value to the industry, is the future for development, innovation, and technology-driven construction industry. The outcome of IoT will be observed in a couple of years once sufficient data is generated.



References


  1. Rifkin, Jeremy, The Third Industrial Revolution (pg. 194).


PMBOK GUIDE® Fifth Edition,


  1. Daniel W. Halpin, Bolivar A. Senior, Construction Management Fourth Edition

  2. J.K. Yates, Global Engineering and Construction (pg.86)

  3. Source from internet ebook - Introduction to the Technologies of the Ecosystem of the IoT (pgs. 57-63)

  4. Putting the Internet of Things to work (pg. 111 chapter 5)

  5. Shaping the Future of Construction presentation, Dr. Ibrahim ODEH.


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