How to keep workers safe and improve job site metrics with wearable technology
Wearables have become a fashionable topic in the construction industry. But it's not all just talk. Every day, wearables are promoting health, safety, connectivity, productivity, and accuracy on job sites.
A wearable safety accessory for every need
A number of employee monitoring systems have been introduced to the construction industry with the aim of making employees safer.
Dash cams are being installed into truck cabs, not to record traffic, but to record the activities of the driver. Truck companies want to make sure drivers are checking their mirrors and aren't using their phones when behind the wheel.
The Spot-R fall alert and emergency evacuation system from Triax Technologies monitors employees' movements to alert safety personnel if the device changes elevation quickly, indicating a fall. And, it alerts workers of a emergency evacuation.
The Scan-Link RFID tags monitor employees' locations and alerts equipment operators of employees who are located behind the machine.
Some smart watches detect vibration; that technology is used to monitor the ramifications to the body from using power equipment for a long time. Alerts tell the end-user when power tool use exceeds what the body can safely perform, and this is to prevent hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
Smart helmets monitor several health elements, such as fatigue, heart rate, and stress, so workers and management can modify worker's activities in ways that promote employee health and job site safety and productivity.
Using historical data to transform safety procedures
A lot of times, monitoring can lead to policy changes and coaching opportunities.
"One customer who uses our Scan-Link RFID technology reported to me the following story," said Jonathan Fava, Scan-Link Technologies president, and a CONEXPO-CON/AGG exhibitor. "We were looking at the number of times equipment operators were alerted to the presence of a nearby worker, and we noticed one person was causing a lot of alerts, so we pulled that individual aside and asked him why. He explained that he's the flagger so, when operators load the machine onto a float, he gets up on the float to aid the operator place the machine. We advised him that behavior is unsafe; he could get struck by the machine or fall off the float. So, we told him a safer way to perform his job and wrote down new safety protocols into our guidelines and training."
Using historical data to learn how things happen is the first step to promoting safety on the job site.
"It's not enough just to learn how accidents have happened," said Fava. "The next step is to analyze data in order to prevent accidents from happening.
With all of the employee detections picked up by the Scan-Link system, managers can identify "hot spots"–spots where machines detect people the most frequently.
"Using this data, customers can identify areas where a struck-by incident is most likely to occur," said Fava. "Then, customers can make decisions that will decrease the risk of an accident from happening by moving the location of materials, so workers don't have to walk in a machine's workspace or by putting up signage warning employees of high-risk areas."
Assisted reality connects the job site with virtual technology
Wearables are also instrumental in merging realities, which is bringing connectivity, productivity, and accuracy to job sites.
Exoskeleton and assisted reality headset manufacturer Real Wear just released the second version of their assisted reality headset, called the RealWear Navigator 500. It is lighter and more ergonomic than the previous model (the HMT100) for all-day comfort yet is durable for use on construction sites and in industrial settings. The headset features a modular design, a 48-megapixel camera sensor with enhanced zoom capability, incredible low light performance, and is compatible with more than 200 optimized apps. A hot-swappable battery allows for use the whole day.
"With the Navigator 500, we wanted to provide scale enterprise solutions as part of the digital transformation movement. Today, we see the acceleration of digital transformation on the future of work, especially since the pandemic," said Andrew Chrostowski, RealWear Technologies chairman and CEO. "Our device is hands free and keeps you present."
The device allows users to take photos and videos at six different zoom levels and call someone. The device listens to audio commands for all features; you say the words "take a picture" or "zoom" or "call Herald" and it listens, so you can keep your hands on what you're doing.
With it, users can aid in remote inspections and diagnostics. By equipping someone at the job site with the Navigator 500, they can act as the eyes for inspectors and technicians, so inspections and troubleshooting equipment can be done remotely, saving time and travel costs.
Augmented reality expands by becoming handheld
The Trimble XR10 with Microsoft HoloLens brings a different kind of connectivity and reality. The technology connects virtual reality to physical reality to provide mixed reality.
HoloLens users can see both the physical world and the virtual world; the digital image is overlaid onto the physical world.
This technology is especially handy to use in trades. Now, workers no longer need to look at paper designs and then try to map out where to build in the physical world by establishing a frame of reference and taking out the measuring tape; they can simply see, the virtual pipes and their detailed measurements, and install the pipes with high accuracy. They can also see what is being installed nearby, so they can identify potential complications.
Trimble, a featured exhibitor at CONEXPO-CON/AGG, recently expanded the potential for BIM (business information modeling) users to deploy augmented reality on the job site by introducing the Trimble Connect AR app, which is compatible with Trimble Connect. The app is downloaded to a phone or tablet and allows users an augmented reality experience by pushing BIM data to their phone and overlaying it onto images of the real world on the device's screen.
"This eliminates what can be a costly financial barrier to some customers," said Martin Holmgren, Trimble general manager of building field solutions. "And users can interact with Trimble Connect AR users in the digital space. For example, I can leave a message in the digital space with my Trimble XR10 and someone with the Trimble Connect AR app on their phone can detect the message, even weeks later as they walk by the location where it was left and read it. This greatly enhances communications and streamlines workflows."
Trimble expects people who don't need to be fully hands-free, such as supervisors, managers, inspectors, and building owners will use it to perform tasks, such as QA/QC, updating punch lists, and measuring construction progress.
"The app allows for the incorporation of AR into workflows that don't require the user to be hands-free, and we think our app will ultimately drive AR in a much wider range of adoption," said Holmgren.