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Making Concrete Smarter

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Concrete remains the world’s most popular building material, prized for its strength and relatively low cost. Until the last few years, though, it had remained largely unchanged. Modern concrete has been manufactured with everything from seashells to salt water to volcanic ash in an effort to make it stronger and less expensive to produce.

There are also companies working to make concrete smarter. They turn to digital technology to give builders insights into the progress of setting concrete with the use of sensors that wirelessly collect and transmit data to help contractors better plan around its curing time, a key step in any project.

“When concrete is delivered to a jobsite, you put it in forms, and it transitions from a liquid format to a solid format. That transitioning is super critical for contractors to monitor because every other step after that in their schedule is dependent on whether the concrete has enough strength,” explains Aali Alizadeh, CEO and co-founder of Giatec, a Procore integration partner. 

The Ottawa, Canada-based company is behind SmartRock—a sensor-based technology that uses Bluetooth and mobile devices to allow site supervisors to monitor the temperature and strength of curing concrete. Thus, it is essentially transforming concrete into a smart material. Those completely wireless sensors are embedded in poured concrete, making them a permanent part of the structure. They can then be connected via an app, which analyzes and reports on the concrete’s performance.

SmartRock was designed to be as user-friendly as possible so that it would be easy for construction firms to implement, requiring little to no service. It also offers predictive analysis of the concrete using previously gathered data stored in the cloud, and even considers external factors, such as weather, to determine how the curing process will be affected.

“The idea behind SmartRock was whether we would be able to get this critical information for decision-makers at different stages of concrete in real time. Can we make it so seamless and easy for people to get that critical information to optimize their work? With SmartRock, a supervisor or project manager can connect to the sensor get the information on concrete temperature, hardening and strength in real time and also see graphs over time,” Alizadeh said.

Previous methods for determining the strength of concrete were time consuming as they required casting concrete cylinders from which samples were collected and sent to a lab. In the meantime, structural work was effectively halted until the results were back.

SmartRock isn’t the first sensor-embedded technology in concrete. However, earlier iterations on the technology were unwieldy, with wires sticking out of the concrete necessitating manual device connections to download the data. The collected data had to be uploaded to a computer and analyzed manually with programs like Excel. SmartRock brings everything online, making the data instantly available to every stakeholder, updated in real time over the course of the curing process.

“We used the same method but made it a lot simpler by using a fully embedded sensor and analysis done in real time on a mobile phone app that everyone now has,” said Alizadeh. “We’re working on some of the long-term challenges this industry has been dealing with at different stages of concrete lifecycle with the advancements that are now available in hardware and software.”

The data from SmartRock is seamlessly integrated through Procore, enabling project managers to see everything from quality control documentation to results and submittals all in one place.

“The idea and vision we have is for people to connect to concrete and get the data they need in real time for the KPIs they’re monitoring and make decisions based on that data,” Alizadeh said.

SmartRock is currently being sold in 80 countries. Nearly 6,000 project managers and superintendents are connecting to sensors each month, a number Alizadeh says is growing rapidly, helped along by the maturing of technologies like data science.

“It’s exciting to see the workforce in this traditional industry adopt technology so rapidly. That’s exciting to the whole construction industry.”

The SmartRock sensor data is linked through the Giatec 360 web dashboard to the Procore database of your company for automatic documentation of all the relevant concrete test results and reports including full PDF reports on the concrete QC that are ready for submission to your client. To learn more about this exciting integration be sure to click here

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars you may enjoy:

Keeping Your Technology Up to Date

Adapt Before You Fail: Embracing Technology in a Face to Face Industry

Breakthroughs in Mobile Technology in Construction

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