Wearable Construction Innovations: Where It Makes Sense, and Where It Doesn’t

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Technological innovations are great, but seamlessly integrating new tech into your business is a challenge for even the most agile of construction managers.

A recent study by Genpact Research Institute found that out of nearly $600 billion spent worldwide on digital projects every year, two-thirds went to projects that offered bad returns on investment.

It’s wise to temper excitement about new technology, even innovations that seem perfect for construction. But it’s equally unwise to ignore cutting-edge advancements that could help your business.

Wearable device shipments will increase from nearly 202 million in 2016 to 501 million by 2021, according to ABIresearch. People in all industries are using wearables, and they’re going to be using them a lot more in the coming years.

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Construction managers need to get into wearables, which boost worker productivity and improve job site safety.

But you also need to avoid being that construction manager who wastes two out of every three dollars spent on technology.

Let’s take an in-depth look at why you should invest in wearable construction innovations, and which wearables, in particular, hold the most promise for your bottom line.

Why invest in wearable construction innovations?

When we say wearable construction innovations, we’re talking about anything that a construction worker can wear that uses technology to improve performance or safety in some way.

There are a few important reasons why this type of technology holds such promise for the construction industry.

They boost efficiency.

Wearables help you gather data and minimize downtime across your workforce. Combined with construction management software, sensors track workers’ movements and can help you determine where your resources are going, and where they’re being wasted.

They ensure worker safety.

What your workers wear is the last line of defense against workplace injury. Offering the latest and greatest gear protects your business’ most important assets.

They improve worker productivity.

You want your workers to be more than safe, you want them to be comfortable, which in turn helps them be more productive.

Let’s explore three types of innovative construction wearables and determine whether it’s time to invest or hold onto your checkbook.

3 types of wearable construction innovations

1. Smart glasses

Microsoft HoloLens is an example of potential wearables in construction
HoloLens (Source)

What it is:

Smart glasses are wearable computer glasses that augment what a user sees by overlaying data or imagery. Google Glass was an early product to the market; the tech giant started selling a prototype in 2013 for $1,500 before halting production in 2015 (and then announcing last year the product would be restarted).

Microsoft’s HoloLens has become a major player, and a few others have dipped their toes in the market. XOEye Technologies offers a construction-specific version, with smart glasses geared toward training workers.

Another variant is the smart helmet, which combines the safety benefits of a helmet with the augmented reality of smart glasses.

What it’s capable of on a construction site:

Smart glasses help you train newer workers who lack skills in a way you can’t with a book or a class. They’re also useful for communication, keeping you connected with your workers in real time. Smart glasses help workers cut down on mistakes by using augmented reality to boost precision.

Will it help you?

Smart glasses are one of the easiest pieces of tech to waste money on. They’re expensive—often costing thousands of dollars for one device—and if you run a small construction project with only a handful of workers, your money is probably better spent elsewhere. But, if you’re struggling specifically with finding a cost-effective way to train new workers on the job, smart glasses will solve that problem.

2. Smart clothing

DeWalt

What it is:

Construction clothing isn’t just clothing anymore. Smart clothing includes heated jackets, cooling vests, and even self-charging work boots that can track user fatigue and provide lighting.

What it’s capable of on a construction site:

Smart clothing goes a long way toward ensuring worker comfort, which can improve your bottom line by ensuring workers get more done per hour.

DeWalt sells reflective heated jackets with battery packs that can last a full workday, keeping workers comfortable in freezing conditions. On the opposite end, you can buy cooling jackets with either a fluid system that pumps cooling liquid through the vest or built-in fans so workers don’t become fatigued in the heat.

Another option is footwear such as SolePower’s Smartboots, which provide data that you can use to ensure worker compliance and safety.

Will it help you?

The heated/cooling technology is best for construction companies with employees working in extreme conditions. If you work in a mild geographical region, you can probably pass on these wearables. Smart footwear is a different story. If you’re worried about worker efficiency, purchase a pair and run a trial with one worker to see if they provide useful insights that can help you deploy workers more effectively.

3. Sensors

What it is:

Sensors continue to get smaller and smaller, and now you can put them just about anywhere: work belts, shoes, helmets—you name it. You won’t notice sensors at a glance, but they’re there just the same, working constantly on the job site gathering critical data.

What it’s capable of on a construction site:

Sensors compile a tremendous volume of data on every aspect of your construction site. They use GPS and timestamps to track worker movements, determining when and where everything happens on your job site.

Sensors can track worker fatigue or alert you to slips and falls. You can even use some sensors to set up geofencing areas to alert workers that they’re entering a restricted or unsafe zone.

Spot-R, for example, is a belt sensor that can track movement and comes equipped with a button that alerts others of safety concerns.

Will it help you?

Sensors have come a long way, and construction managers who haven’t implemented them at their job sites should take a hard look at available options as soon as possible. They’re fairly inexpensive, and provide you with valuable insight that wasn’t available ten, or even five, years ago. They’re a worthwhile investment for any firm willing to do the analysis required to take advantage of sensor-provided data and can help you determine what changes you should make so your construction site operates at maximum efficiency.

Learn more about how to use technology on the job site

Wearables are a tricky subject in the construction industry. It’s no secret that the industry is slow to adopt new technology; a lot of construction managers are reticent about ditching the old ways in favor of something new.

Wherever you fall on the technology adoption spectrum, we’ve got a host of resources to help you figure out how best to use technology on your job site:

Looking for Construction Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Construction Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Dan Taylor

Dan is a content writer at Capterra, specializing in hotel management, construction and real estate. Outside the office, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, catching up with the latest offering from HBO or paying a visit to a new place.

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