For those of you who follow this blog regularly, you know that I have been honing in on smart, connected jobsites lately. Last week, I kicked off a new series identifying the best ways to help connect the jobsite, focusing on workers. Up this week, materials.
One of my first assignments when I started working for Constructech was covering the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. On this project, Skanska was managing and controlling the pre-cast concrete supply chain, leveraging a combination of BIM (building information modeling) to generate a model and RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology to tag and track materials. The savings was substantial too: approximately $1 million and a gain of 10 days on the project schedule.
Pretty impressive, right? Well, that was 10 years ago. I guess I would have thought by now this type of technology would be leveraged on every project across the globe, considering the savings achieved. But as we all know tech implementations are challenging at best, considering the cost of adoption and the skillset needed to train workers.
Still, there are some pretty cool ways that materials are advancing. Two key methods are front and center today: embedded technologies such as sensors and RFID and materials that are actually smart themselves.
Smart materials can take many different forms—think self-healing capabilities—but at its core these are materials that are intelligent enough to change properties of the materials based on an external force such as light or temperature.
A natural example that comes to mind is concrete. Self-healing concrete has gained a lot of momentum lately, as a way to improve the condition of our infrastructure. This smart material can repair itself when it experiences a crack. However, this extends outside of roads and bridges. We have also been seeing smart paint and windows emerge as well.
Another method to make materials smarter is by embedding technology into the materials itself. Sensors can provide data and insights to engineers. For instance, sensors can be placed on a bridge to tell engineers if the bridge is deteriorating.
Perhaps one of the biggest disadvantages of this type of advancement is the cost of putting sensors in place, but if can help save our infrastructure—and improve our cities for the long-term—it just might be worth it. We just need to identify how to fund these smarter materials in construction projects in the future.
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