I’ve written about how drones are changing the construction industry. But firms are using a variety of new gadgets and construction tech to increase safety and cut costs.
It doesn’t need to be said that smartphones have changed life as we know it in just a few years. But project managers have new options for using their phones beyond just making calls.
Data sensors aren’t new to the industry. They’ve been used for decades to monitor air quality and noise. But previous sensor technology was lacking. Sensors were stationary. And data was sent out in timed intervals that couldn’t give managers a clear picture of what was happening on the site at any given moment.
Now Smartphones are filling that gap. Workers can move them around a site with ease. And they can send data to managers in real-time, keeping them in sync with on-site changes up to the second.
In 2010, Skanka built an addition to Tampa General Hospital, next to the medical center’s neonatal unit. It was crucial for the workers to minimize disturbances. So Skanska used sensor-equipped smartphones to monitor dust and noise in real-time in order to keep the patients safe.
The potential for smartphones and sensors hasn’t escape the notice of NASA. In 2007 their engineers built a sensor to detect air-borne gases and chemicals. Then they attached that sensor to a smartphone. This innovation made the sensor mobile, easy to access, and easy to swap between devices.
Easy and inexpensive monitoring of air-borne chemicals is a game changer for construction worker safety. And there are even more possibilities. Motion sensors, infrared sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes – construction firms have nearly endless options for gathering data. And all they have to do to retrieve it is to check their phones.
The American energy market is evolving away from coal. So is the global market. Worldwide, the number of new coal power plants being built fell by nearly two-thirds in 2016.
But coal has uses beyond power plants. Ohio University professor Jason Trembly is researching coal’s uses as a sustainable building material. His tests show that materials made of coal-plastic composites can be eco-friendly. Traditional plastics are hard to break down into their component ingredients. But coal-plastic composites can be separated more easily – and therefore recycled more easily.
Power Tools, Power Armor
When some people think of a robotic exoskeleton, they think of Iron Man or Ellen Ripley in “Aliens.” But the technology already exists. Tech firms are currently developing exoskeletons for use in the manufacturing industry.
Companies are adapting the technology for construction workers, too. Ekso Bionics is creating an exoskeleton specifically for the construction market. Their goal is to market a suit with arms designed to carry specific (and heavy) power tools.
Back injuries are the most common injuries in construction. In 2010 back injuries alone accounted for 16% of nonfatal injuries resulting in days away from work. Exoskeleton technology has the potential to cut this number drastically.
The number one priority for any construction firm is to keep its workers safe. But exoskeleton technology’s potential to cut costs by lowering employees’ time of, as well as workers’ compensation costs, are a happy side effect.
Innovation breeds innovation. As tech firms develop more labor-saving gadgets and cleaner building materials, the pace of progress is only going to speed up. And with construction firms and clients alike clamoring for better and greener tech, the future of construction looks even safer and cleaner than it is today.
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