April 5, 2021

Construction Success Story - Contractor ponders the ROI of wearable technology

A contractor who specializes in building and renovating medical facilities loves his gadgets. Recently, he read an article on the potential of “wearable tech” — data-gathering items that can be affixed to construction workers’ clothing. Having been burned on expensive but unproductive doodads in the past, he visited his financial advisor to discuss return on investment (ROI).

The advisor explained that ROI is calculated by measuring the income received from an investment over a chosen period divided by its cost. So, if the contractor bought some wearable technology, he’d need to measure the income resulting from the gear separate from other income. Only then could he make an informed decision regarding additional purchases.

Having said that, the contractor’s advisor agreed that wearable tech can allow construction companies to more easily track workers and improve their safety, comfort and productivity. And when connected to the Internet, the devices can collect and analyze useful data.

Examples to consider

The advisor and contractor discussed a few examples:

Augmented reality (AR) smart glasses. This eyewear overlays data or imagery onto the viewpoint of the person wearing it. For example, glasses can overlay 3D building plans — to scale — over a jobsite to see how things will fit onto a structure before it’s built.

AR smart glasses also can be used to provide enhanced training to workers and for hands-free communication. Whether used as safety glasses or attached to hard hats, however, the price tag for these devices is still relatively high.

Smart clothing. Extreme (or just bad) weather threatens worker safety and compromises productivity. Heated jackets and cooling vests can provide comfort to keep a project moving along.

The latest heated jackets are lighter than their predecessors with longer-lasting battery packs or rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Prices vary depending on the item. To outfit an entire crew may be costly, though items can be used for multiple jobs if well cared for.

Sensors. Perhaps the least expensive form of wearable tech is a sensor. They’re small enough to attach to nearly anything — hard hats, vests, belts, boots — to gather data. With GPS and time stamps, sensors can track worker movements and equipment usage. So-called “geofencing” sensors can alert people when they’re entering restricted or unsafe zones.

Sensors can measure body temperature and fatigue, too, sending warnings to wearers through vibrations and sounds. They can even alert supervisors of slips and falls (along with locations) in real time.

Positive results

The contractor in this case initially invested in some sensors and launched a test program to see how much they helped. Early results were positive — particularly in allowing him to better understand how his assets were deployed and used on various jobsites.

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