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The Agility of IoT

Smart technology developed by PCL Construction and Microsoft is simplifying tradespeople and developers' jobs through crisis prevention and cost savings.


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December 17, 2019 by Megan Hoegler

PCL Construction is incorporating IoT sensors in conjunction with its Job Site Insights platform to improve efficiency on the job site.

It all started with Siri.

Since developers created the voice-activated smart technology and it was acquired by Apple in 2010, the concept has only advanced and spawned similar applications such as Google Home and Nest.

While Amazon has managed to make Alexa a household name, the concept of smart technology in construction is a new, and not fully understood, concept.

In 2017, the PCL Construction company partnered with Microsoft to develop Job Site Insights (JSI), a smart technology platform that provides contractors with job site sensors. Over two years, the partnership has worked on over 700 projects with staffs of over 10,000 tradespeople.

Despite the rapid deployment, defining smart building to potential clients can be a challenge.

Chris Palmer, senior manager of advanced technology services for PCL Construction’s business technology team, speaking at the Microsoft IoT in Action event in Toronto, November 12, 2019. (Photo: Sara Elizabeth Photography)

“A lot of owners and clients come to us asking for a smart building,” says Chris Palmer, senior manager of advanced technology services for PCL’s business technology team. “We say ‘Great, we’ll build you one. What would you like?’ and they say, ‘I don’t know.’”

According to Palmer, this is because the buzz word ‘smart technology’ can mean many things to many different industries. For HVAC professionals and building owners, a smart building may integrate technology that monitors the temperature and humidity of a space or provides flood water detection services.

“If you look at food industries, they have regulation checks on refrigerators,” explains Julie Morin, director of IoT Solutions for Microsoft’s Canadian marketplace. “That’s a great opportunity because there aren’t a lot of turnkey solutions on the market for customers to take advantage of. Being able to monitor temperature and get text alerts is super important to those customers.”

The Job Site Insights platform has been integrated into major residential high-rise developments, such as the SKY Residences of ICE District in Edmonton and 16 York in Toronto. Through the use of the smart technology, SKY Residences experienced a 46 per cent reduction in natural gas usage for 35 heaters over a six month-long winter season. They also had zero freeze/thaw leak incidents as a result of frozen pipes, which amounted to a $104,000 savings in rework avoidance and elimination of warranty and insurance claims as a result of avoiding water-related damages.

At 16 York, JSI was able to detect a failed pump room valve coupling, allowing the damage to be managed and minimized right away and saving the development the cost of future insurance claims.

While solutions like JSI can be expensive to install, Palmer says the future savings make it worth the investment.

“The metrics and cost-savings being generated are helping us to drive adoption,” said Palmer. “Clients, like a lot of us, know the concept of smart technology. They’ve been exposed to it in their personal lives through Nest or Ring or Google Home, so extending that into a commercial space building isn’t a giant leap.”


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