Top 3 reasons to use sensors in concrete

I run a company that uses sensors as part of a solution and I am always asked by contractors why they should bother with sensors. Like any new product, the number one educational task is to explain how we are different. With tight budgets and aggressive schedules, construction managers are very practical, so delivering this message succinctly is important to our success. Here is the cheat sheet of the top 3 ways we enable projects to move faster and save money.


Quality Control

Existing methods to test the curing and drying of concrete – crushing a cylinder or drilling a hole – are very manual methods. Anything manual is going to have human error, which runs the risk of false positives and inconsistency. At the very least, these methods are lagging indicators, meaning that you will hear that things are ok at some point after they are actually ok. Construction is moving towards automation, and passively sensing using sensors is an important part of that.

One of the things we point out is that concrete curing in a cylinder or cube will cure differently than in the field. In fact, the concrete crushed at the lab is best for knowing the mix design that was delivered meets the engineer’s specifications. Measuring the field concrete with sensors is a more reliable way to know the state of the in-place concrete. The laboratory cylinders do not represent the real-time strength. In fact, the ACI made changes in 2016 to their cold weather guidelines specifying sensors in cold weather.

In the drying of concrete, we have not met a GC who has not been seriously burned by a failed flooring or roofing. By providing real-time data and a full history, we can allow project teams to make better decisions that will reduce surprises. What if you knew the RH in the concrete before you ordered the flooring? I suspect that information from sensors would help make better decisions.


Efficiency

Construction projects are risky and staying on schedule is one of the most difficult things to do. I often say that planning for something and then having certainty it will happen is the dream of most managers. What are the chances you will lose at least 1 day in your next project? There is a Latin saying for this, “Stercus fiit!” Or, “Shit happens!” But, just because something bad happens doesn’t mean you follow with, “Oh well.” Instead, use data to make sure that unfortunate event doesn’t mean a lost day.

Sensors enable real-time data, and in our case predictive data, on the curing and drying of concrete. You may have a schedule that is figuring on 4 days between pours. Getting trustworthy real-time data could enable you to move towards 2 days between pours. Conversely, imagine knowing that you will not be able to strip forms tomorrow and rerouting your labor to something else. In reality, waiting for something for even a half day means that a whole day is lost.

Similarly, with the drying of concrete, how many times are you surprised or disappointed that the concrete has not dried enough? What if you knew ahead of time that you need to figure in more time for mitigation costs? Getting data on what is happening could not only enable you to order product that is right for your floor but also plan for the downside.


Cost Savings

Having come from managing construction projects, showing a ROI with our solution is something that is a passionate topic. Aside from the cost savings with becoming more efficient, which when it costs $10-20K / day to operate a job adds up fast, here are a few other ways to save using our sensor solution.

If you are pouring concrete in cold or hot weather, you are probably spending extra to make sure the job site is suitable for pouring concrete. In fact, we have seen some of our hottest temperatures when it is cold outside. It may cost thousands of dollars every day just to pay for fuel or dry ice. If you had real-time data, you could dial in those variable costs and see significant savings.

Moisture mitigation costs can be large – on average we hear $5-7 / square foot. The risk is so great the trend is to ask contractors to carry in their contract a mitigation budget that includes the entire floor area. Obviously, that request is adding significant costs to a budget. What if you had a choice and did not need to mitigate everywhere or knew what products were compatible with your concrete? The cost savings add up fast.


Final Thoughts

Sensors are a tool you should explore. Construction productivity has either stayed flat or gone down and you have probably felt the impact of the labor shortage. Technology firms are looking at what has helped other industries. Automation is a key answer to these productivity problems. I often point out that other industries have been using a deep well of data to make well informed decisions for a while – just think of the data you can get before investing in a stock. Meanwhile construction decisions are made using each individual’s experience. It is time we follow and start using real-time data to our advantage!