For most construction-related questions, technology has the answer

Rapid advancements within the field of technology could provide answers to many of the perennial challenges faced by the UAE’s construction community

Herbert Fuchs is chief information officer at UAE-headquartered contractor, ASGC.
Herbert Fuchs is chief information officer at UAE-headquartered contractor, ASGC.

The UAE has cemented itself as a world leader in designing modern construction marvels. The number of headline-grabbing projects has continued to rise in 2017 and, most importantly, developments are being completed to the highest global standards.

What many people do not realise is that the international construction industry – worth approximately $8tn per year – remains remarkably inefficient. A typical commercial project runs 80% over budget, and takes 20% longer to finish than scheduled, according to McKinsey.

Yet behind the scenes, a new generation of technologies could offer answers to some perennial industry challenges. These tools are disrupting traditional planning, staffing, monitoring, and project delivery models, as the physical world becomes digitised.

In H2 2017, I expect four technologies to have a particularly strong impact in the Emirates, namely: drones, the Internet of Things (IoT), building information modelling (BIM), and 3D printing.

Commonly referred to as drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are attracting attention far beyond the construction sector. A decade ago, this technology was still confined to laboratories. Five years later, it seemed too expensive to be used in construction. Today, one can buy an enterprise-ready drone from the mall.

Owing to this rapid evolution, drones are now being used for a vast array of tasks: from site surveys in the initial stages of a project to monitoring throughout the construction phase. The most advanced UAVs can be fitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, enabling them to accurately track the location of pipes, plates, and other metal products on site. Drones that can be used to take measurements and conduct surveys on challenging projects have the potential to reduce the risk of accidents and save considerable time for construction firms.

When it comes to IoT, the optimised distribution, usage, and utilisation of assets lies at the core of any well-managed business. The construction industry is no different. From people and time to machinery and materials, the smart application of this technology is already being integrated within existing business platforms. However, by further adding business intelligence and artificial intelligence (AI) layers, the UAE’s construction community will be able to further streamline procurement, distribution, and the tracking and utilisation of assets, while creating new efficiencies as companies prepare for more accurate maintenance cycles.

IoT will also give project managers greater insight into their workforce, allowing them to assign more targeted employee training and safety protocol in line with UAE labour laws.

BIM, meanwhile, is becoming the new norm. This technology makes it easy to visualise, estimate, budget, and plan a project from conception to implementation. It also helps different project teams to collaborate on a real-time basis, minimising expensive reworks, significantly reducing project costs, and improving efficiency. Ultimately, BIM has the potential to be more than just a data tool by acting as an enabling platform for the integration of other technologies.

Finally, with the completion of the world’s first 3D-printed office building, Office of the Future, Dubai has established itself as a global leader within this field. Indeed, the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy aims for a quarter of buildings to be based on this technology by 2030. But why such a large proportion? Well, 3D printing helps reduce the time required to produce critical construction components by several orders of magnitude – from weeks to hours. If used effectively, 3D printing can reduce construction and labour costs while minimising waste. It also has the potential to realise complicated designs, shorten supply-chain times, and facilitate modular assembly.

Recent estimates from BNC Network suggest that a total of 4,000 projects, worth a combined $313bn (AED852bn), are currently under construction in Dubai – a strong indicator for H2 2017. Emirates such as Abu Dhabi are also spending billions of dollars on developments within both the construction and infrastructure segments.

If used in an effective manner, the aforementioned tools will help the UAE’s booming construction sector to bridge the gap between concept and reality.

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