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How 5G is shaping the future of construction

How 5G is shaping the future of construction

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5G is an enabler that offers new capabilities and opportunities for businesses across various industries. James Bristow, SVP EMEA, Cradlepoint, tells us how 5G is powering the construction site of tomorrow and discusses how one of the first real-world deployments of 5G connectivity was rolled out by visionary company, Taylor.

From real-time 3D modelling to GPS tracking equipment and tools, construction sites are often hotbeds of the latest in cutting-edge technology. Getting devices to talk to one another, on the other hand, can be a challenge. After all, plugging a laptop into a wall is tough when the wall hasn’t been built yet.

This presents a clear use case for wireless as the primary method of network connectivity in the industry, an area which is proving just as transformational as the physical devices it connects. From gigabit speeds over LTE to the millisecond latency of 5G, the power of the Wireless WAN (WWAN) is allowing sites to achieve an Ethernet-like quality of connection but without the need to lay a single cable.

How 5G is powering the construction site of tomorrow

5G is expected to provide 10- to 100-times faster speeds. It could also unlock 10- to 100-times more capacity than current long-term evolution (LTE) networks. This will give those working in construction almost instantaneous access to data-intensive Edge and cloud applications, enabling multiple users to interact with each other in real time, from anywhere in the world. Given that construction sites are complex and constantly evolving environments, this will be a huge step forward.

With a higher data crunching capacity combined with more efficient connectivity channels through network slicing, 5G is also key to unlocking the power of massive machine-type communications in the construction industry. This technology will provide highly scalable and broad geographical coverage to help with complex construction and infrastructural projects such as Smart Cities, where the number of nodes will be considerably higher than on a normal project.

Looking further ahead, 5G will also prove key in accelerating the industry towards autonomous and remote operations – in other words, completing projects solely by machine alone, without the need of having people on site. Even though remote-control technology exists at present, 5G’s ultra low latency eliminates any delay in connectivity and ensure work is completed with adequate speed and precision. This could also unlock the capabilities of self-driving machines, which will be able to accurately map areas, recognise signals and communicate with other machines more efficiently.

A real-world example of 5G being put to the test in the construction industry 

A demonstration of the power of 5G in the transformation of the construction industry was recently brought to light where one of the first real-world deployments of 5G connectivity was rolled out by visionary company, Taylor.

Driven by a need for more advanced and agile software platforms to power everything from blueprint design to site security, Taylor noted that such applications require real-time data, which is only possible with immense bandwidth, low latency and constant uptime at the edge of the network with 5G.

Using an enterprise-grade WWAN Edge solution provided by Cradlepoint, the company has successfully deployed a number of new on-site innovations powered by 5G:

  • Holographic building visualisation – Comprising mixed-reality smart glasses that Taylor’s employees and customers can wear on site to render a virtual model of the building or elements of the construction process, such as holographic structural steel, framing, or electrical schematics. 
  • 360-degree 8K streaming and QR code scanning from wireless video cameras – Enabling site workers to deploy digital induction tracking, which is said to improve risk management by automating the process of ensuring every person on site has completed safety training.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) structural sensing – Using smart sensors fixed to rebar and embedded in concrete aggregate to send data to the cloud where it can be subject to rapid and in-depth analysis. As a result, Taylor can determine whether concrete is poured correctly and track any shifting of concrete over time.
  • Real-time design displays – Allowing staff on site to make changes to digital blueprints in real time on tablets and display on large monitors in trailers.

This case study shows that the future of enterprise-grade 5G has officially landed, both in the construction industry and beyond. With the connection quality and speed of fibre broadband, and the mobility and agility of wireless connectivity, it’s clear that the transformative power of 5G is already becoming a reality.

A platform for innovation

While 5G is making technological leaps forward at an accelerated rate, the construction industry is still only scratching at the surface of its full potential. Like the innovations which were helped along by the power of 4G LTE, we won’t know how 5G will manifest in exciting new use cases in the future. But what we do know is that this future is bright.

It’s clear that 5G will improve productivity, safety and compliance for construction and engineering. But this is by no means the end goal. Instead, 5G will be a catalyst of continuous improvement and innovation, helping to accelerate firms in the construction industry and beyond towards the use cases of tomorrow.

Intelligent CIO asked Christian Neyle, IT Manager, at Taylor, further questions about the deployment.

Christian Neyle, IT Manager, at Taylor

How is Cradlepoint’s 5G connectivity making a day-to-day difference on your construction sites?

  • Cost of the devices – The Cradlepoint routers being one device, are significantly cheaper than the multiple devices used previously.
  • Less points of failure – Using a number of devices on site meant longer troubleshooting in the event of an issue as well as various device diagnostics
  • Site management and visibility – All the Cradlepoint sites have GPS antennas allowing easy viewing on the NetCloud dashboard to check location of each router along with current signal status and any issue to do with connection.

To what extent is Cradlepoint’s 5G connectivity enabling you to complete jobs more quickly?

Cradlepoint is faster to deploy and connect than other routers. If an outage occurred, the previous devices could take up to 25 minutes to reconnect, the Cradlepoint routers connect within minutes. Also, the site configuration of each Cradlepoint router can easily be copied and deployed from a template within NetCloud.

What are the major benefits of the availability of real-time data?

Real-time design display enables Taylor to make changes to digital blueprints in real time and display on tablets and large monitors in the trailer.  

How has Cradlepoint’s 5G connectivity enabled you to make your sites safer?

Telstra has demonstrated the power of the 5G network using 360 degree 8k cameras to stream live footage down across the country without latency issues or connection problems. Amazon has also demonstrated the ability to program QR codes combined with Machine Learning to scan footage from a source in real time. Based on the intended programming – in our case QR codes linked into our safety system for inducted workers, we can combine these various products and technology to achieve safer sites and reduce the manual process checking of our site teams. The end goal would be that a site would have these cameras installed connected via 5G with then all workers using QR codes on their safety helmets. The Machine Learning would scan and compile the QR code data to a dashboard with automated alerting and reporting for a safety officer to review and take action.

What advantages does holographic building visualisation bring to the construction process?

4D Augmented Reality technology uses the Microsoft HoloLens 2 to deliver filtered views of the building specifics into the viewer’s eyesight. In the usual use case these are delivered from a hosted Microsoft Azure server (or other cloud provider) down to our Cradlepoint Router which our staff will connect the HoloLens to over Wi-Fi.

Augmented Reality real scale overlay into existing spaces have given the unique ability to review clash detection and potential model error details that would previously have been detected too late.

A couple of notable examples would be when used in a tight building services space – recently there was a clash found with an existing fire mains service that was not modelled out originally. If the project had proceeded on plan and found this clash out later the resulting loss of time would have cost thousands. 

Another example was fitting out an older project where the 3D model data was very old, when we added the new models onto the old model for the structural steel and walked around the space we found that the original concrete was not poured in line with the old 3D model resulting in the need to change the steel. If this had been detected late with the steel already fabricated and brought to site it would have been a major cost financially and to the timeline of the project.

How has Cradlepoint’s 5G connectivity enabled you to ensure better compliance?

At this stage of our 5G usage, compliance improvements have not yet been documented however new Machine Learning and real time monitoring software is being explored by Taylor, which would require the speed and low latency of the 5G network to function.

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