Kylie Addison Sabra
December 20, 2019
There is a reason smart tools and the Internet of Things (IoT) are known as disruptive technology–technology that turns the world on its ear and changes everything we thought about how we live and work. Change is painful at every turn, and the world is changing at an unprecedented rate. It demands we come along for the ride or be left behind.
The world viewed Edison’s 1879 invention of electricity with both excitement and fear. Like magic, it couldn’t be seen or sensed; and its source was beyond comprehension for the average person. And Rockefeller, deeply invested in kerosene, lit fire to a PR campaign of scare tactics to ensure that kerosene would remain his cash cow. What if we had never plugged in?
Smart tools are just one piece of the IoT and feel a lot like the “electricity” discovery of yesteryear. Although the IoT may seem new, it has been around for over 20 years. And, the concept of connected devices is even older, dating back to the 70s. We have welcomed the IoT into our homes via Alexa and Siri, and it has found its way into many business sectors. However, the construction industry has been a slow adopter; holding fast to pen and paper, especially in the field. High costs, few players in the IoT game and steep learning curves made the IoT leap a “someday” dream for most. 2017 saw an upswing in smart tools manufacturers who set construction as their first target. Recent advancements in IoT offerings make construction technology (contech) accessible to even small builders.
My apologies in advance to John. Whoever he may be.
Think of IoT as training wheels for contech and smart tools as daddy’s hand on the bicycle seat. They are affordable and easy to implement. What turns a tool into a smart tool? Embedded sensors allow it to connect to the Internet. Once connected, the tool can tell you what kind of day it’s having.
“John threw me in the back of his truck and left me out all night long. It was freezing and raining!” Or, “Help! I’m being stolen!” Or even, “I’m really tired and overheated. I need to rest a few minutes.” And, “John kept me over the weekend and made me help remodel his house. I really needed the time off.”
At this point, you might be asking yourself if you really want a bunch of whiny tools. After all, it is just a $100 drill. Get another one and move on. Right? What about the time staff spends trying to locate it? The cost of time lost on the job. That “$100” morphed into much more. Compound that with the fact that it happens too often. Even if the tools are onsite—somewhere—staff wastes valuable time each day locating them; and you may have even devoted a full-time tool herder to the task.
A data-poor industry
Under current reporting methods, large asset thefts are lumped with small assets and the count comes to a whopping $300 million to $1 billion a year in total losses. That figure, espoused broadly across the Internet to justify investing in smart technology, is from a 2016 report by the National Equipment Register (NER) and National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Unfortunately, lumping together a Caterpillar and a hand tool both overstates and underplays the cost of tool theft. As much as I would like to toss about dollar figures to demonstrate the enormity of losses due to mishandling and theft—and I love statistics—the absence of big data makes that impossible. The shear range of the estimate indicates a lack of adequate data. Additionally, how often do contractors bother to report the theft of small- to medium-sized tools?
How does a smart tool solve my problems
It is difficult to hold employees accountable when you can’t prove they are responsible. With smart tools, you can check that drill out to John first thing in the morning. To make things even simpler, facial recognition can automatically link John to the drill. No more tool herder? Now John knows you know he has the drill. He also knows that if he takes it off-site or treats it roughly, you will know that too. John may even develop a more respectful relationship with Drill. If not, you have documentation of John’s behaviors and can act.
You can even set up a tool to read fingerprints, so only a specific employee can use it. Smart tools may still “grow legs”, but now they leave footprints. As your tools gather data, you gain insight into how to implement policies and training, and budget purchases.
How often has the morning found you spinning your wheels getting ready for a job because workers have left tools strewn across sites? What if you had a report that showed you exactly where each tool is? How much time would you save if you could assemble tools without searching for them? How much frustration could you let go of if you could see that John has failed to turn in his drill? You could pick up the phone, remind him and have another ready in the event he forgets—because you know he will forget.
Longer tool life
The worst time to find that a tool is not working is on the job site. Sensors placed in smart tools can monitor tool health and alert you when maintenance is due before the equipment becomes unusable. These sensors will also alert the worker that a tool needs to take a rest. Preventing overheating and performing timely maintenance will extend its life.
All this accountability may be a bitter pill for some workers who may see it as a lack of trust. But the financial loss related to lost and broken tools, and the lost productivity they cause, cannot be ignored.
There are advantages for employees as well. No longer will careful, honest employees feel scrutinized when things go missing or are damaged. Morale improves when the generalized anger that loss and lack of care engenders on your part is replaced with quiet one-on-ones with the employee(s) involved. As well, smart tools offer employees safety protections they have never known. Smart tools and wearables can alert them to potential dangers, such as approaching edges or toxic areas.
Favored tool manufacturers commit to IoT
DeWalt unleashes the power of Tool Connect™
DeWalt offers a host of solutions under the Tool Connect ™ name. These include tools such as distance measuring lasers, impact drivers and wrenches, drill/drivers, lights, and batteries—all connected to the Internet through downloadable apps for both iOS and Android. Easily and accurately manage your inventory with Tag. Tag virtually everything and monitor it all—across multiple job sites—from your laptop, tablet or smart phone. With Connector you can dip a toe into the IoT waters without replacing all your tools. Connector permanently attaches to any tool you already own. It is tamper proof and nearly weightless. Now your old drill is as smart as your new smart tools. This feature alone, means you can enjoy the benefits of the IoT—security, accountability and inventory management—today.
Milwaukee offers up ONE-KEY™
ONE-KEY™ is Milwaukee’s entry into the smart market. In addition to DeWalt’s lineup, they offer saws, a pipe threader, a hydraulic pump, sewer drum machines and an impressive array of even more tools. ONE-KEY™ will tell you where, when and how your tools have been used, and remind you when service is due.
DeWalt and Milwaukee are but two. Other trusted standards are making smart tools accessible on a grand scale, while brand new players join in. You have a plethora of choices.
What’s next? Big Data and Artificial Intelligence
Studies based on big data are prevalent in many industries, which allow them to identify inefficiencies and become more profitable. The overwhelming exception is construction. Cost overruns and missed deadlines plague it more than ever. In an interview with IoT World Today; Tony Nicolaidis, vice president of marketing for DeWalt Connect Systems said, “We’re hitting a nerve with pain points that have gotten worse because the industry has become increasingly digitized and struggles to get to that digital data in a way that scales.” Collecting data via smart devices is one thing. Making heads or tails of it is another.
The lack of data was shockingly apparent as I researched this article. Widely quoted reports date back to 2015/2016 and cast such a broad net that it is difficult to drill down to how the industry is performing in focused areas. Consequently, it is impossible to institute the changes necessary for the industry to improve its track record because it simply does not know what needs to be changed.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Once put into play, smart tools and other contech can begin gathering data. The more data gathered the more fodder to feed artificial intelligence—the next step in contech advancement. The more data AI has to digest, the more it will be able to offer insights on improving safety, defining efficient workflows and improving communication, dependability and profitability.
Easily transition to contech with Zen Techworks
We understand the frustration a major paradigm shift causes and we are here to help ease you down the contech pathway. We can help you with solutions from cloud computing to data security. Contact us anytime with your questions and concerns.