Imagine a world where we can tell our oven to begin cooking dinner as we wrap up our day on the job. Visualize seeing through the cameras in your river cabin from the comfort of your home, ensuring the spring rains didn’t bring floodwaters into the structure. This sounds like the future, but it is now. This technology exists, and these conveniences are possible with the Internet of Things (IoT).
Before we can begin to understand how this may impact our industry, it is helpful to first understand, in regular terms, what the Internet of Things is. Simply put, IoT is a network of “things” – devices that communicate information (data) with each other and the internet. It’s helpful to note that there are several communication channels available for this information stream such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and others. However, in this article, we’ll take a look specifically at devices, no matter how they communicate data.
Let’s start by reviewing what we know to be “smart home” devices. Not only can appliances and cameras be connected, but so can many other home automation devices including security systems, lights, outlets, and sprinkler systems.
Looking further into home automation devices that can affect our industry, we find thermostats, smoke detectors, robot vacuums, window coverings, HVAC units, and even moisture control systems. We can use these connected systems independently, with each other, and through apps on our phone or more.
With internet-connected thermostats, we can adjust the temperature either on a timing system or before we leave the job site or office if we don’t operate on a set schedule. Furthermore, automation apps like IFTTT (If This, Then That) enable devices to work together and use the internet for information. For example, I could use IFTTT to tell my blinds to rise with the sunset and lower with the sunrise so my hardwood floors aren’t impacted by the sun. Similarly, I can program my HVAC system to adjust based on the outdoor temperature, not the indoor temperature.
Savvy and technology-forward homeowners have several devices already connected to a central hub or control device such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, or Logitech Harmony, among others. These inexpensive control centers are a one-stop place to manage all connected devices easily, sometimes with voice control.
Industry specific devices
What about devices that can truly help the wood flooring industry? From monitoring systems to tools, it’s amazing what connected technology is enabling us to control.
If having cameras throughout your home to monitor possible water issues seems creepy, there are other devices and sensors that help monitor humidity levels and even log the data over time. Alerts can be sent through text or email, and you can even receive daily confirmation emails that the device is on and working.
These devices, known as data-loggers, are perfect for monitoring the relative humidity in the home where the wood resides, prior to, during, and after installation. During installation, these data-loggers can also be installed within the floor itself for long-term monitoring. Envision how customers would appreciate a quick response time to moisture and temperature issues that would adversely affect their floor. Imagine how simple this would make the claims process if/when a floor fails due to extreme conditions.
Yes, even tools can be connected. Just about any tool can be connected to the IoT with special asset tags that enable tracking of devices. With these tags, tools can be easily tracked for inventory and location purposes. Also, businesses can build maintenance schedules based on the planned usage time of the devices, which is recorded by the tags.
Tools with built-in controls have location and device monitoring, and they also monitor and record usage statistics including battery life. Many tools also have advanced capabilities such as remote locking or mobile device charging. There is even a hand sander that measures vibration duration and intensity to help contractors avoid hand-arm vibration syndrome (dead finger).
To tie it all together, manufacturers have apps that catalog all the tools you have tagged and also those with built-in controls.
What is next?
We have only begun to skim the surface of connected devices and uses for them. IoT professionals predict that there will be 20-50 billion “things” in the IoT by 2020. The hardwood flooring industry is poised to take advantage of the tools, monitoring equipment, and other devices that can help realize efficiencies, improve, and lengthen the life of hardwood floors.
The questions we have to ask now are around how we plan for this technology to be implemented in our businesses. Just like any new idea, planning is critical to success. Here are three key points to consider:
- Make sure to use and recommend devices from reputable companies. Those generally consider the larger impacts of IoT like securing and managing the data collected in accordance with laws and information best practices.
- Employ devices that have the ability to transform the way you do business, not just sound fun. Shiny objects abound in this market, so the challenge is to answer “How does this help my bottom line?” or “Will this make my customer more satisfied with my work or product?”
- Read reviews of other users and test devices on a small scale before employing widely throughout. Investing in technology can be expensive, so invest wisely.
So what is next? You tell me. All the ideas I talk about are just to get you thinking. I’d love to hear what ideas you have for the industry. How can others embrace and stimulate this technology development? What smart products are your customers asking for? Comment below and tell me.
Jodi O’Toole is Director of IT and Web Development at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.