Contractors around the world are in dire need of safer, more connected, transparent and automated project worksites. The challenge for the industry is developing technologies with a return on investment (ROI) that can immediately reflect on their existing projects.

Technologies that are used to collect data and provide insights often have a stronger effect in the long term than the short term, and this lack of immediacy is evident in their slow adoption by the construction sector.

Some key challenges to the adoption of such technologies are the lack of knowledge of existing solutions among stakeholders, as well as lean construction profit margins, which often leave less scope for investing in technology. The dynamic nature of work at construction sites is also a barrier to technology integration.

However, a key advantage of a connected construction enterprise includes access to real-time data, which can allow all the different stakeholders involved to monitor project progress and delivery.

Today, some of the core technologies being used to promote connectivity are wearable technologies such as helmets and clothing with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips or smart watches and smartphones with Bluetooth connectivity.

Managing labour

Tangible benefits of connectivity include automating attendance, reducing the manual supervision needed for a project, and reducing the overall labour cost. Real-time site data can let management know in real time which labourers are idle and where, allowing project directors to optimise workforce allocation across the different sites and optimise hiring.

On-site operators with access to such data can also make better decisions, with a view to increasing productivity and decreasing waste. A worker connected to the site results in a safer environment as monitoring is improved.

At WakeCap, we connect workers at the construction sites through their safety helmets to get real-time field data to make better decisions and gain visibility on the project. As the sensors are integrated into mandatory safety wear, there is no need for the worker to be concerned with carrying or maintaining additional hardware. The solution is seamless, scalable and easy to integrate at any construction site.

The issue of achieving a stable connection at the site is one of the hardest goals and WakeCap solves this by using a mesh network technology – wireless connection through beacons – to offer stable connection without relying on power, GPS or the internet.

With WakeCap, safety helmets are equipped with a buzzer and a panic button to facilitate a two-way alert system between the workers and a safety manager. In the case of an emergency incident, each worker is simultaneously alerted with a loud buzzer; as soon as a worker hears a sound, he presses the button on the knob of the helmet to acknowledge and notify that he heard the alarm. He then moves to a safe zone. The safety officer has access to a dashboard where he can check who is still stuck at the site in real time and efficiently improve the response time towards a worker who is in trouble. Since we know the location of each worker, we can administer a faster response and an effective evacuation.

Previous worksite technologies have failed because they demanded time and attention for learning, using and troubleshooting, affecting other work processes and eventually causing their rejection by field personnel. WakeCap has taken all of that into account when thinking about the design and placement of our data receptors. We say at WakeCap that we aim to disrupt the industry without disrupting the work.

The world’s most valuable asset is no longer oil; it is data. With that in mind, collecting volumes of pertinent data will be key in the three-to-five-year strategy of any organisation, regardless of the industry in which it operates.

Connected devices will revolutionise the industry and allow for optimisation and monetisation strategies that were not previously possible. With on-site wearables, the ability to measure the productivity of tasks at a granular level for each labourer also unlocks functions such as, for example, the ability to correlate accidents with analytical heuristics, which can be used to predict and prevent accidents, improving worker safety.

Competitive edge

As the construction industry becomes more connected, the opportunities for contractors will increase. Technology adoption is contingent on organisations and individuals being willing to try something new in a traditional and very mature market. Once they do, they often do not ever want to go back. This is a proving time in which technology is becoming acceptable to the construction industry.

If a contractor successfully implements a new, valuable solution to a problem, he will be able to take advantage of efficiencies before any other contractor. When this happens, the ROI is much greater, as the contractor will be able to gain a margin advantage over their competitors. The companies that are willing to take risks and embrace technology will likely be the ones that come out on top in the future.

About the author

Hassan al-Balawiis the founder and CEO of tech startup WakeCap Technologies