TOWSON, MARYLAND — The initiative doesn’t even have a name yet, but toolmaker DeWalt has announced a new, Wi-Fi-based jobsite connectivity solution as part of its dive into digital solutions. Over the coming months, DeWalt will launch a fully connected system, including a Wi-Fi mesh network and, later, a Construction Internet of Things platform that will not only affect tools, but also worker safety and productivity.
Stanley Black & Decker CEO James Loree challenged DeWalt management on how they would move a 107-year-old hardware company into the digital age, Vice President of Marketing Tony Nicolaidis told CONTRACTOR. They started researching the challenges of basic communication on jobsites.
“We have been in this kind of digital space starting in the last two years with our Revit plug-in for hangers and 2nd generation Tool Connect version,” Nicolaidis said.
Tool Connect provides inventory management, diagnostics, find-and-locate, enable/disable, custom settings such as speed, and out-of-range alerts. The offering also includes soon-to-be-introduced features such as Tag, a small device that can be attached to equipment and monitored with a mobile app, and Bluetooth in batteries and tools themselves to allow monitoring and control, such as disabling them when they go outside of a geo-fenced area.
The HangerWorks plug-in for Autodesk Revit is a tool that automates the placement and design of hangers and seismic bracing for MEP systems such as pipe, duct, conduit, and cable trays.
Digital data communication has become increasingly important, as Building Information Modeling has taken over construction processes. BIM is transforming the way projects are designed, constructed and delivered. Multiple devices work off of the BIM model, whether they are as commonplace as an iPad or as sophisticated as Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality glasses. If a project manager has to take the elevator down from the 30th floor to the trailer to get updates to his BIM model, it slows everything down.
DeWalt found a technology partner with a product, a wireless mesh network, which could withstand jobsite challenges. The partner, with whom DeWalt has an exclusive contractor for the construction industry, has a background in technology products for the military and mining, both aggressive environments in which operating parameters change all the time.
The Wi-Fi product, dubbed Access Point, starts with a T1 line that comes into the jobsite trailer and then transmits out to nodes placed throughout the project. The advantage of a wireless mesh network is that it’s “self healing.” If one of the nodes loses power or is broken, the other nodes “see” each other and communicate to fill in the gap.
The system is easy enough for anyone working for a mechanical contractor to set up, and doesn’t require an IT person, Nicolaidis said.
The next component, feeding off the Wi-Fi network, is a Construction Internet of Things network that works off of Bluetooth and feeds data to the cloud. The CIoT allows contractors all sorts of functionality, depending on what they want to track or what they need to know. Just like the Wi-Fi network, DeWalt hired an independent partner to create the CIoT system.
A Bluetooth sensor can be put on an asset like a man-lift and the system will be able to accurately locate it to a floor level and zone on the floor. Utilization sensors can tell the contractor if equipment is being used. A general contractor who tested a beta version of the system discovered that half his man-lifts weren’t being used. Tools can be located or tell you the number of trigger pulls.
The CIoT platform will be a hub and spoke model with all sorts of functionalities coming off of it — badges can monitor employees, control lighting, track assets, monitor security and conditions on the site such as temperature and humidity. Contractor management will be able to see these operating parameters on a dashboard on the software platform that DeWalt is developing with its partners.
The trade names of these systems and the names of DeWalt’s partners will be announced at an introductory event in mid-August in Atlanta.
“In five years, this industry is going to be different,” Nicolaidis said. “We want to get ahead of it. I’m sure we’re going to stumble along the way but we’d rather be in the race that outside looking in.”