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Cost-efficient construction tech in the GCC

Industry experts tell Paromita Dey how adopting the latest technologies in construction will help to improve the cost-efficiency and reduce the downtime of projects for contractors in the GCC

Technology in construction is gaining a strong footing in the region.
Technology in construction is gaining a strong footing in the region.

Amid rising building construction activities in the Middle East region, the GCC governments are taking precautionary measures to cope with volatility in oil prices. Recent budgets reflect the governments’ efforts to instil fiscal discipline and cut wasteful expenditures.

In the GCC, to ease the flow, a major trend in the construction sector is the adoption of building information modelling (BIM) technology, and the processes to build assets virtually first and then implement physically. Paul Wallett, regional director of Trimble Solutions Middle East, believes that the adoption of BIM technologies will enhance work productivity and coordination across several verticals.

“This year has been a watershed for the GCC construction sector in embracing BIM solutions, which are enhancing work productivity and collaboration across the project design, fabrication, and facilities management phases, ensuring projects are completed on time and budget.

“In the GCC, BIM is seeing especially strong uptake with the rise in pre-fabrication in precast concrete and steel fabrication and welding. GCC contractors are increasingly using robotic machines to read CNC data from BIM to bend bars, make welds, and form cages — delivering major time and cost savings.”

In November 2013, Dubai Municipality issued a circular mandating BIM for specific architecture, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works in the emirate. The municipality’s regulations were applicable to buildings over 40 storeys tall, or those that span more than 27,871m2, as well as government projects, including hospitals, universities, and schools.

The municipality’s mandate came at a time when BIM was still finding takers across the global public sectors. With this in mind, the municipality updated its existing mandate in August last year, expanding BIM’s usage in architectural and MEP works for all buildings above 20 floors, or those that span more than 18,580m2, government projects, and all buildings requested from a foreign office.

Experts believe that the technologies used in the GCC construction sector have to be largely consistent with the broader picture witnessed around the globe; the most significant one among them being the development of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Mahmud Awad, chief business officer from Vodafone Qatar, says: “Each year, we publish the Vodafone IoT Barometer — our annual study of how IoT is transforming business. This is a global study made up of nearly 1,100 interviews, and this year has expanded to include organisations from Ireland, the UAE, and the public sector. The report illustrates that interest in IoT is greater than it has ever been. It suggests that 28% of organisations around the world already use IoT.

“A further 35% are less than a year away from launching their own projects, and more than three-quarters of businesses say that IoT will be critical for the future success of any organisation in their sector.”

Awad suggests that those firms using IoT witness strong results — with 63% seeing significant return on investment (ROI). “Among those surveyed, IoT is supporting business transformation, with 48% of adopters saying they are using IoT to support large-scale business transformation, and 29% saying they are using it to connect multiple organisations into ecosystems.”

Digital innovation is transforming the global construction industry, and the GCC has been more advanced than other regional markets in adopting the technologies summarised above for large, complex projects. Rob Phillpot, co-founder of Aconex, agrees that digital innovation improves project visibility and control for owners, contractors and project managers. “Improved efficiency and productivity of larger and more diverse project teams is seen, as well as acceleration of cycles for all key project processes, resulting in significant time and cost savings. We also witness reduced risk of schedule delays, cost overruns, and quality issues. The project teams and data are fully-connected, resulting in fewer errors and miscommunications.”

Established in 2005, Aconex has served major construction and infrastructure projects in the region, such as the Abu Dhabi Financial Centre, Al Zorah Ajman, Dubai International Airport, King Khaled International Airport, Qatar Rail, and Riyadh Metro to name a few, and also engaged with contractors, like ALEC and Drake & Scull, in enterprise agreements for their entire project portfolios.

With the advent of digitisation in the construction sector, Awad agrees that cost-saving is one of its key benefits, alongside revenue, asset utilisation, and downtime.

“It is clear that the size of the benefit delivered to those businesses that adopt IoT, in terms of cost-saving, is considerable. Our annual report showed an improvement of 19% reduced cost through automation for companies that adopted IoT.”

IoT helps businesses in the construction industry in a variety of ways, and in particular by providing them with data, analytics, and reporting that can inform and improve decision-making — ultimately leading to reduced costs. Awad continues: “One example is the way that IoT solutions can enable preventative maintenance leading to less downtime. Such applications can enable construction businesses to track performance and fuel usage across fleets of vehicles and machinery, and identify and embed optimal operating procedures. IoT can also help prevent theft or misuse of equipment.”

Vodafone’s Mobile Asset Tracking helps in preventing theft, improving utilisation, and complying with regulations, in a convenient and cost-effective solution. The system can alert customers in real time should an asset be stolen, tampered, with or breach pre-defined behavioural rules. For example, a business can set a geofenced area marking a construction site where a piece of plant machinery is operating — if it leaves the area, for whatever reason, the company will know about it as it happens. Collected data is sent back to base over Vodafone’s global IoT wireless network. Customers can check the status of their entire asset estate at any time through their global IoT platform.

Along with IoT, BIM plays a very important role in cost savings. Wallett says: “While many GCC contractors currently working on megaprojects are fluent in BIM, looking into 2017, the main target will be the general contractors, which are not used to spending money to save money.

“Even if general contractors start small with using BIM for steel fabrication or concrete pouring automation, then they can find immediate savings in costs and productivity. By sharing models and machine-readable data, Middle East contractors can discover clashes early in the design phase, better estimate the amount of steel and concrete needed, and automate fabrication, pouring, and construction on-site. As a result, contractors are finding fewer errors, less waste, and less re-working on-site. For example, contractors on the Yas Marina Circuit used BIM to increase productivity by 30%, and saved 20% on costs.”

Phillpot points out that BIM is increasingly influencing the design and construction of assets in the region, and even being mandated for certain projects.

He says: “Contractors must rely on commercially available solutions to remain competitive and profitable, while winning new business, and driving their growth. Automating project-wide information and process management on a common platform provides the regional contractors with both a strategic advantage and a survival mechanism.”

The GCC is constantly pushing forward with IoT integration, providing tremendous opportunities for companies trying to fit in with the diversification strategy of their respective governments. It is anticipated that IoT would create the need for niche expertise and a highly skilled workforce in the region.

In the current global economic climate, which has compelled the regional governments to look for diverse revenue streams, implementing exhaustive technologies in the GCC construction sector will mean that contractors will save time and money on their projects, which in turn will decrease operational costs and increase productivity.

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