What is the Internet of Things?

What is the key message you are hoping to impart to the audience at the conference?

I hope to dispel some misconceptions about the Internet of Things and to give the audience some idea of its real potential. There is still a tendency for people to roll their eyes when you mention the term, believing it to be all hype and no substance. Yes, there is a lot of hype, and yes, it is early days, but there are some real world implementations delivering significant benefits.

Also, when people think of IoT they tend to think only about the “things” communicating over a network, delivering information.

In fact that’s not the area where the greatest benefits and innovation will come. There are two levels above that:

  • Analysing the masses of data that the things will deliver for insights and valuable information.
  • Adding value to that analysis to predict future events using techniques such as machine learning, and combining insights gained from analysis of the “things” data with other relevant data sources. For example, if you are monitoring soil moisture levels and crop growth to optimise irrigation, you’ll get far better outcomes if you can incorporate accurate weather forecasts.

Why should the construction materials industry take IoT more seriously?

How can it help construction materials and aggregate businesses to improve their business and manufacturing processes? The application of IoT to manufacturing has been identified as an area that will bring huge benefits, and in some of the major industrial nations, such as Germany, South Korea, China, Japan and the UK, it is attracting millions of dollars in government funding.

It is being seen as the fourth industrial revolution and has been given the label “Industry 4.0”.

Regardless of the product being manufactured, by enabling every stage of the process to be monitored in real time, Industry 4.0 will increase efficiency. But the vision goes well beyond that: to taking in external information and adjusting manufacturing accordingly, so that output is optimally adjusted to demand.

There may be a deal of hype at present, but these changes are inevitable and manufacturers in any industry need to start understanding and experimenting, or they will find themselves left behind.

In your view, which industries have been the slowest to respond to IoT?

Is the construction materials industry one of them? I don’t think it’s really possible to generalise. There are pioneers in every industry, but for most it’s still early days.

Do you anticipate that IoT will cause a technological disruption to the character of the construction materials industry in the future?

Absolutely – there are no industries that will not eventually be disrupted by IoT. The leaders and early innovators will gain a competitive edge on the laggards, who will either disappear eventually, or be acquired by their more innovative competitors.

Given quarrying in particular has always been reliant on traditional labour, manual and processing tasks, is there a risk that IoT could create too much reliance on remote devices and automation? How does an operation cope in the event of electronic downtime or breakdown, which will impact on profits and productivity?

As the technologies of IoT improve, continuous monitoring of machinery coupled with sophisticated data analytics techniques will lead to the ability to detect problems and predict the time to failure with considerable accuracy.

Does IoT have the potential to improve environmental and health and safety processes within the construction materials industry?

I would say IoT has the ability to do that in any industry – by providing continuous monitoring of environment and infrastructure, potential hazards will be detected before they become real hazards. For example, there is now a smart hard hat that is able to monitor the wearer’s bio-signs – it is particularly useful to detect heat stroke, the onset of which can be sudden and the consequences serious.

With the aid of IoT, what do you anticipate the extractive and construction materials industries could look like in two decades?

I would expect them to be almost entirely automated, with very few workers actually on-site.

Stuart Corner has been one of Australia’s most experienced writers and commentators on information technology (IT) and telecommunications since he began his career in IT journalism in 1984. Today he manages – the first news site in Australia dedicated to the rapidly growing Internet of Things (IoT) market. In 2010, Stuart received a lifetime achievement award for his work in IT journalism and was made a life member of the Telecommunications Society of Australia. The Australian Telecommunications Users Group has twice named him telecommunications journalist of the year.

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