Locating Construction Equipment with IoT and Mobile Technology
It can take hours, or even days, to find a specific scissor lift on a large construction site – multiply that with hundreds of machines on the site and, then, you grasp the scale of the dilemma. Three companies joined forces to test an IoT solution that could fix the problem, cost-efficiently.
Ramirent is a construction equipment rental and service firm that operates in nine European countries. It uses digital tools and services to add value to its customers and improve the efficiency of construction operations. In November 2018, Ramirent, SRV, and Kaltiot completed a test on promising technology that is used to locate construction equipment indoors. The experiment took place in Helsinki and was partly funded by the national KIRA-digi digitalization project.
Setting up the Test
Tomi Anttila, Development Manager at Ramirent Finland Oy, explained that they chose scissor lifts as a test subject for a particular reason: “They are an essential tool in construction. Whenever you have to work flexibly above the floor level – doing HVACE installations, for example – you need a movable lift. On our test site, REDI, there were over 150 lifts at any moment.”
Since scissor lifts are fairly expensive, contractors typically rent them. In addition to renting out the hardware, Ramirent also inspect the lifts weekly. “At the site, someone has to find the right scissor lift to work with, another person to maintain it, and a third one to inspect it,” Anttila reminds.
REDI was an appropriate site to test-drive the technology. It is a large multi-purpose project in Helsinki built by SRV, a project management contractor. The seaside residential project consists of six towers, a 2,000-car parking facility, and one of the largest shopping centers in the country.
Ramirent and SRV had discovered that Kaltiot, a Finnish IoT developer, had a positioning solution to locate movable equipment, materials, and people; both indoors and outside. As an easy-to-deploy technology, Kaltiot’s Smart Trackers was a perfect fit for experimentation at REDI.
The Technology Solution
Anttila explains how they used indoor tracking technology that does not rely on GPS signals: “We had stored and positioned floorplans of the building in a mobile app. We attached 160 Bluetooth transmitters, reference beacons, to certain places indoors and marked their locations on the floorplans. Then, we placed trackers on the scissor lifts.”
Instead of connecting the beacons to a cloud service through fixed wireless gateways, this system uses mobile phones. Whenever a worker with a phone moves around the construction site, the app automatically transmits the location of the person and the equipment to a cloud service via 3G/4G. It uses the Bluetooth signals of the fixed beacons as a reference. The tracking devices run for years with one battery, which makes them feasible for this kind of application.
The app shows where a certain piece of equipment is fairly accurately. The freshness of the data depends on how often the app users move around the area. The users do not have to operate the app – it runs silently in background.
Ramirent extended the tracking to the gates of the construction site. They placed a stationary phone to each gate, which allowed them to track lifts leaving the site. They used the same arrangement to track lifts entering their service hall.
Connecting the Data
The location of every scissor lift and Ramirent’s own personnel on the site was visible on the app. The availability of this information saved time for the main and subcontractors and the company itself.
Anttila emphasizes that the tracking solution was not a separate app, but it was integrated with their RamiSmart portal. It is a unique online service that offers construction companies an entry point to several digital applications.
Currently, there are modules for access control, fleet management, budgeting, concrete humidity measurements, camera surveillance and e-scaffolding. The indoor positioning as a service will be added to it once it’s productized. “We’re planning to use the indoor positioning solution on a couple of large construction sites to monitor site logistics, as well,” says Anttila.
The experimentation showed, once more, that there are several opportunities to improve construction productivity with digital technologies. Anttila predicts that even more opportunities will arise from the big data that all the connected systems aggregate.
Connect with Tomi Anttila at tomi.anttila(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)ramirent.fi and on LinkedIn.
Title photo by Aarni Heiskanen; other photos are courtesy of Ramirent
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