IoT, tech tools are here now

April 11, 2016
The BIM model will be the center of all project data BIM is expensive both in terms of people and hardware The Internet of Things will include the Internet of Buildings, wherein smart buildings autonomously control HVAC and order and perform their own maintenance.

I wasn’t surprised at the presence of new technology at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America convention in Orlando, but I was surprised at how much. The place was awash in new tech, and not just phones and tablets. Well, the topic of tablets was covered, too, with 83% of the audience in one session using iPads, with Microsoft Surface tablets coming in at number two. iPads are most popular because their security is rock solid; android tablets are not as secure.

That orange vest you toss in the back of the truck? It will eventually have biometric sensors built in to improve worker safety. Hardhats will use “augmented reality” to display project data in front of the wearer.

Speaker James Benham, CEO of JBKnowledge Inc., noted that we’ve built many great structures with zero technology — the Empire State Building or the Hoover Dam. But we’re in a new world now. You can’t build the Beijing National Stadium, commonly called the Bird’s Nest, or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, or the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, without a BIM model.

That BIM model will be the center of all project data. 3D scanners will create point clouds of the inside of a building that will be fed into a BIM model. Contractors will use Total Stations (also known as theodolites) to measure horizontal and vertical angles for the BIM model. Drones will fly around jobsites or existing buildings scanning for data that goes into the BIM model.

A major supplier of BIM software tipped me off that a likewise major supplier of power tools is working to integrate its tools with the BIM model, so that the tool knows where it is on the jobsite and what it’s supposed to be doing, automatically controlling operating parameters such as speed and torque.

The drawback? BIM is expensive both in terms of people and hardware. An audience poll showed that it takes a year to 18 months to train a BIM operator. A contractor needs expensive hardware (including two or three screens) and software.

Christopher A. Haslinger, director of training for the United Association, said the UA is ramping up its BIM training, including on Autodesk MEP and Revit. The national union is telling its training schools that they need to get the infrastructure in place to train on BIM.

A savvy contractor friend of mine told me he can see where Haslinger is going with UA BIM training — he’s trying to make BIM modeling part of the UA’s job and get it away from a contractor’s estimators and project managers.

The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is now available to the public. Haslinger said the UA will use VR headsets to train apprentices on how to perform service calls. When they make a mistake, the training software in the computer to which the headset is tethered, will stop and teach the apprentice the correct way. Contractors said they will use VR to “walk” through the BIM model. While VR obscures the user’s vision and puts him in a different place, augmented reality, similar to Google Glass, adds information to the wearer’s current environment. It can be built into a hardhat. Mixed Reality can project a virtual “object” into the wearer’s location.

Benham told the contractors that the Internet of Things will include the Internet of Buildings, wherein smart buildings autonomously control HVAC and order and perform their own maintenance. China is 3D printing buildings now. Gloves with embedded sensors will allow you to control computers without touching them. We live in exciting times.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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