Innovation is muscling into the Middle East’s construction industry
Disruptive technology is muscling its way into the Middle East’s construction sector, which has faced criticism in the past for being slow to embrace innovation
In a line of work arguably more dependant than others on a steady flow of cash, construction projects are more likely to get funding if a technology company owns a stake in the work, says law firm Pinsent Masons.
The engineering and construction sectors are now on the cusp of change, with cutting-edge products increasingly being used in many areas of the project life cycle – from design and cost estimation, to quality control, contract management, health and safety, and to operations, and building management.
Developers and contractors alike have realised the need to work smarter for the future. It is not just about ditching the spreadsheets to manage multibillion-dollar projects or using drones to monitor construction sites. It is about embracing innovation.
Autodesk’s head of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC), and manufacturing, Naji Atallah, tells Construction Week that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy “cannot be achieved” without the help of disruptive technologies such as 3D printing and augmented and virtual reality.
Atallah suggests construction companies should explore cloud-based computing, the Internet of Things, and machine learning, in order to gain a competitive advantage in the Middle East’s complex building sector. He adds: “Vision 2030 cannot be achieved with the technology we have now. The construction sector has to collaborate, innovate, and find new ways of working to make Saudi Vision 2030 a success.”
Atallah says that he has seen a “very high adoption of building information modeling (BIM) in the Middle East” in recent years. Indeed, an increase in BIM adoption has been driven by a 2017 updated mandate from the Dubai Municipality encouraging the use of 3D-modelling software on building projects.
Engineering Contracting Company (ECC) has taken this directive to heart. In April 2018, it announced that it would integrate BIM on all future projects in order to cut costs and boost time management during the planning phase.
By rolling out the software, ECC hopes to connect all project stakeholders under a common data environment (CDE) – an online source for collecting, managing, and sharing BIM data. This may help to resolve design clashes and allow stakeholders with access to BIM to visualise the end project before it is physically built, which has the potential to cut down reworks to keep projects on track and within budget.
Building materials manufacturer TSSC uses BIM technology designed by Tekla to help create its cold rolled steel. TSSC, which is one of many subsidiaries within Harwal Group, makes rafters, purlins, and columns, which have been supplied to the likes of Dhabi Contracting and Amana Contracting. The firm uses BIM to ensure the structural integrity of these light steel frame structures.
“BIM models are used for better planning and control, and help to increase productivity and efficiency through a process of 3D virtual design,” TSSC’s marketing manager, Adeel Muhammad, tells Construction Week.
“BIM is one of the construction trends we are following as it continues to trend upward, and we plan to incorporate new construction technology products in the coming years, such mobile apps for invoicing, design, and resource tracking.”
Cloud technology is another information paradigm helping to accelerate construction work. Project coordinators at the under-construction Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah say they have seen a 290% rise in document management efficiency after adopting cloud-based management platform Aconex.
More than 30,000 documents have been processed using the Aconex system says Erin O’Herlihy, contract manager at Ssangyong, one of the several companies involved in the construction of the Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences. Before the Australian cloud-computing software was installed, the project team reviewed and returned an average of 1,750 sub-contractor documents per month. Now it averages 5,180 per month.
It is not only direct construction companies that are embracing technology, but also firms providing support services to contractors and developers. Cresco Legal closed a deal this year with UK-based Luminance Technologies to use the latter’s artificial intelligence (AI) software, Luminance, and in doing so became the Middle East’s first law firm to use AI. The software will help contractor specialist Cresco Legal track deadlines, monitor risks, and manage warranty claims by using machine learning to digitise data.
From traditional construction companies and suppliers to law firms that support the industry, it appears that many stakeholders are embracing the latest wave of cutting-edge technology products. From AI and BIM to cloud-based computing software that accelerates laborious administrative tasks, examples across the board suggest that the industry is now keen to embrace innovation.