There have always been a lot of “things” on job sites, but today, many of those things are “smart”—in other words, embedded with some kind of data-processing ability. Smart sensors and MESH networks are putting mobility into everything. Here’s an overview of these technologies and their uses on construction job sites.

    Sense It

    Today, you can use sensors to keep track of job site conditions like temperature and humidity in order to lessen their effects and reduce injuries. Changing site conditions also have an impact on productivity. Therefore, if you know where conditions are getting dangerous or may threaten the workflow, you can make changes on the fly to compensate.

    Webcams keep getting smarter, and they can now receive sensor information and include it on each photo captured. This gives you a reliable historical record that you can also use for a deeper understanding of how different site conditions affect production. From that understanding, you can fashion strategies for mitigating those effects.

    Redpoint makes a safety vest that uses GPS to capture worker locations.

    Sensor technology is now also wearable. Redpoint makes a safety vest that uses GPS to capture worker locations. You can add special badges to their vests that will activate or deactivate equipment when a person wearing the badge enters the area. By capturing the aggregate data, you can find solutions to bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Another solution from Triax Technologies, called Spot-R, not only helps to locate people on the job site but also uses gyroscope technology to locate people who’ve fallen. With this tech, workers can signal they’ve been injured, report hazardous conditions, or receive evacuation notices.

    You can add special badges to Redpoint vests that will activate or deactivate equipment when a person wearing the badge enters the area.

    SolePower is building smart work boots with sensors to locate people, monitor temperature, monitor falls and provide early warnings when fatigue is setting in. Other companies are selectively deploying wearable technologies monitoring ultraviolet intensity, environmental variables, noise and vitals so people get early warnings of danger.

    A different kind of sensor, RFID tags, use radio signals to locate and track materials. Intelliwave’s solution relies on a roving receiver device to get complete job site coverage so you can track material identities and locations. RFID tags also monitor the locations of tools and small equipment to reduce theft and loss.

    Mesh Networks

    Connectivity is the essence of mobility. Mesh networks enable you to extend connectivity across job sites, helping to avoid coverage dead spots. Mesh networks also eliminate having to move Wifi signal extenders as site conditions change.

    It starts with a router that connects to your Internet source. The Internet source could be a satellite modem, DSL, broadband or even cellular hotspot. Then, you add modules which connect to the router and to each other using mesh technology. DeWalt’s mesh solution is built rugged, so it takes temperatures as low as -4 degrees F and as high as 122 degrees F. The system is protected against dust and water submersion. It is also certified under International Protection Rating 67.

    You don’t have to worry about changes affecting the coverage, either, because the units communicate with each other directly, dynamically and non-hierarchically. Since the modules cooperate to move data across the best paths, mesh systems stay efficient and powerful.

    Maintaining connectivity means you can share plans, process payments, justify changes, run quality programs and keep the documentation flowing in real time; you can do all this whenever and wherever you are. All those sensors need connectivity, too. That’s why more and more job sites are setting up mesh systems.

    Machine Data

    A quiet revolution that brought telematics to bear on construction equipment started in 2011. By transferring usable machine data to applications for cataloging and analysis, anyone owning a piece of equipment can manage it better.

    Some 77 percent of fleet managers use data collected by their machines to schedule maintenance and track machine locations.

    Today, 77 percent of fleet managers use data collected by their machines to schedule maintenance and track machine locations. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however. Seventy-four percent also uses telematics to monitor fuel and hours. Additionally, over half monitor idling, analyze data to determine repair/replace, and use predictive analytics to get a heads up on maintenance.

    All of that data is now moving to other departments within companies. Increasingly, construction managers can use telematics for logistics and scheduling. They’re also getting help with safety by monitoring operator behavior and predicting risk. This newfound data is powered by GPS and wireless Internet connectivity.

    If your equipment doesn’t have telematics from the manufacturer, there are third-party systems you can use. For example, you can attach Triax Technologies’ EquipTags to equipment in order to track its location, idle time, run time and use.

    Machine Guidance

    Buying high-production equipment like graders and dozers used to be the only way to get machine guidance technology. Now, the machine guidance revolution is showing up on compact equipment, too. If you’ve got a skid steer, backhoe, or mini-excavator, you can outfit them with a 2D or 3D Trimble system that uses laser guidance for blade lift and tilt and for taking elevations from inside the cab.

    When you incorporate laser guidance across a job site, the equipment adjusts the blades so that base materials stay at grade while allowing operators to quickly gauge how much material to remove or add.

    Bobcat’s automatic grading solutions offer an impressive variety of capabilities. Topcon’s LS-B10 system, on the other hand, features a magnetic mount for fitting it to backhoes, mini excavators, and skid steer loaders. All of these can boost productivity massively. Caterpillar, for instance, boasts its system improves production by 50 percent.