Unshackling Field Productivity with IoT and Edge Computing
If you’ve been struggling to improve productivity in your construction firm, you’re not alone. We’ve all heard ad nauseum how productivity growth in construction lags far behind that of manufacturing. Meanwhile, FMI Corp., www.fminet.com, Raleigh, N.C., projects continued market expansion in the U.S., and the AGC, www.agc.org, Arlington, Va., reports that 80% of firms cannot find enough skilled workers.
The problem impacts more than our industry’s bottomline. If the construction industry cannot get more output from each hour of labor input, we cannot support the needs of our economy. One economist recently told a group of industry executives that a 3-4% gain every year in field productivity is required solve this dilemma. But where will this gain come from?
The Limitations of BIM
Building information modeling, or BIM, is often touted as the answer. By constructing virtually before we construct physically, we will enhance productivity in the field—or so the theory goes. Indeed, statistics have proven the benefits of BIM on office productivity. Aggregating model data and coordinating it with centralized computing, whether through a beefy workstation, server farm, or cloud data center, lets us find errors early and produce deliverables at a fantastic rate. But contracting structures almost invariably dictate that the controlling deliverable is a set of drawings and specifications in a paper or PDF format. Meanwhile, the technology in the field depends on the data from the office, which is essentially “stuck” in the controlling deliverable.
If laser scanning is used to capture existing conditions in the form of a point cloud and analyze quality in the field, the situation gets even more complex. These large individual point clouds often must be processed in the office to create a useful deliverable. The result is a similar bottleneck in productivity.
What, then, is the solution?
The Potential of Operating ‘At the Edge’
The IoT (Internet of things) and edge computing are concepts that have been around information technology circles for several years. Only recently have these concepts begun taking hold in the construction industry, but their potential impact on both BIM and field productivity is tremendous.
For example, what if all construction data remained in a digital format throughout the project? What if the sensors and cameras in 3D laser scanners were re-imagined as part of a connected system and bestowed with sophisticated onboard computing power to perform much of the processing in the field? What if they could “see” and “feel” the world around them, and use that information to capture the 3D environment onsite, eliminate safety risks, and communicate the data via the Internet to decision makers in near-realtime? What if a handheld device could produce measurable data at the touch of a screen?
The net effect is the ability to streamline the flow of information between the office and field and conduct high-speed data capture during active construction operations, delivering ready-to-use data to the office and beyond. This approach not only eliminates delays and disruptions, but it uses computation done “at the edge” to greatly accelerate workflows.
By empowering those at the jobsite to achieve more, with less disruption to operations and a higher-value deliverable, IoT, edge computing, and other advances in smart digital-building solutions hold the answer to unshackling field productivity and releasing new potential in your business.