A classic container as a source of 5G and WiFi, serving as the foundation for a digital network on construction sites: This is the basic idea behind the "Q-tainer". Currently, the developers of this solution – the companies Dätwyler IT Infra, the Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group (RSRG), and their subsidiary RKsafetec – are testing a prototype of the AI construction site container. They are using the Rhomberg Group's Rheintal Resource Center (RCR), of which RSRG owns 50 percent. "In the quarry and the recycling center on the premises, resources for our construction sites and railway construction sites are extracted, recycled, and reprocessed. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tons of material are moved there," explains Manuel Eugster, Head of Data Intelligence at the Rhomberg Group, "making it the ideal environment for us to see what the 'Q-tainer' can do and how high-tech via plug-and-play will work on a conventional construction site in the future."
The topic is not new to RSRG: The innovative and IT-savvy corporate group has long been engaged with the "digital construction site". In July 2021, Microsoft even recognized a large-scale digitization project, in which RSRG plays a leading role, with the "Internet of Things" Partner Award. Otherwise, the complete service provider in the field of railway technology is one of the pioneers in the effort to make the construction industry safer, more economical, and more efficient using digital technologies.
The goal of the Q-tainer test phase is a system that, among other things, automatically detects which routes construction vehicles predominantly take, where there are collision risks with pedestrians, or whether people on site comply with safety regulations and wear helmets and high-visibility vests, for instance. Another benefit is AI-supported procedures for automatic inventorying. For example, it can be determined how much sand and gravel are currently in stock. Additionally, the system can monitor consumption and take into account construction progress planning for the coming days. "Anyone who continuously collects and links such data can close security gaps, reduce personal injuries and failures, manage resources, and optimally share them among the various companies on the construction site," says Stefan Vonbun of the Rhomberg Group. Ideally, expensive machines are only provided once and are billed between the participating companies based on usage, much like car-sharing. The digital construction site management automatically recognizes which person from which company uses the excavator for how long and independently bills the respective company for this usage time.
Computing power needed
The implementation of such use cases requires a lot of computing power, fast response times, and large bandwidths for data transmission. Only in this way can data and the information derived from it be made available quickly and reliably. Meeting all these requirements with a cloud approach and connection to the internet is not feasible without significant effort. Many construction sites do not have flawless connectivity. The challenge, therefore, is to bring a data center to the scene, directly to the construction site. This is referred to as "Edge Computing" because data processing happens decentralized, at the edge of the network, and thus "on the edge". This is where the company Dätwyler IT Infra comes into play, helping organizations around the world set themselves up for the future with their system solutions, products, and services. In the Q-tainer, the standardized complete system for data collection and analysis on construction sites, the responsible parties of the IT infrastructure specialist have installed the necessary solutions. These include computing power and storage capacity, pre-installed by Dätwyler in a mini-data center inside the 20-foot standard container – along with cooling, power supply, and a monitoring system that continuously oversees the functionality of the equipment. Dätwyler assembles the Q-tainer, including all the equipment, for Rhomberg Sersa, takes care of the on-site installation, connects it to the data network, and manages its entire operation. For connection, it only requires a 3-phase power supply and an internet connection via cable or mobile network on the construction side.
Looking for additional use cases
Currently, there's a continuous hustle and bustle at the "test site" in the Resource Center of the Rhomberg Group. Initial use cases have been defined and are being implemented both in terms of hardware and software by Dätwyler and RSRG-IT. Data is being generated, and AI-based systems are being trained either directly on-site or "remotely" from the office spaces of the RSRG headquarters. "We believe in the value that we can create with the data for our company and other participants on the construction sites. By the end of the year, we will have gathered substantial experiences from the quarry. These experiences will then enable us to have a broader roll-out, including on third-party construction sites," says Manuel Eugster.
In parallel, a second Q-tainer is already being set up for a tunnel construction site. The experiences from the RCR will be enriched there with additional use cases, as the system is intended to continuously grow and unlock as many efficiency potentials on construction sites as possible. Rhomberg Sersa and Dätwyler IT Infra explicitly invite interested companies to collaborate: "The Q-tainer is modularly designed and can be adapted at any time to new circumstances and requirements. It is designed in such a way that we can not only exchange data with other companies but also provide computing capacities in a separate, protected environment – precisely in the Q-tainer – so that their own use cases can be mapped," says Pascal Walther, project manager at Dätwyler IT Infra.
Data from various use cases and construction sites are merged anonymously and train the overall system. In this way, the Q-tainer continuously learns and thus accelerates the digital transformation of the construction industry.