Reimagining the construction industry

Reimagining the construction industryShaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, seen here with Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, wants 3D-printing technology to account for 25 per cent of construction projects in the emirate by 2030 / Image Credit: Archives,

Recent technology-driven innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Building Information Modelling (BIM), robotics, 3D printing and prefabrication are disrupting the construction sector, changing its very nature and bringing about a major transformation in the $7 trillion (Dh25.71 trillion) global industry. 3D printing has been hugely influential in the ongoing transformation and Dubai is among the first to fully embrace this modern construction technique.

In unveiling the region's first 3D-printed building, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced the emirate's 3D Printing Strategy along with an ambitious goal for the construction industry.

By 2030, a quarter of all construction projects in the emirate will be built using 3D-printing technology, according to Shaikh Mohammad. Is this a feasible target? ''Definitely,'' says Naji Attalah, Head of AEC and Manufacturing at Autodesk, a global leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software.

''His Highness' vision is ambitious, but what he has done is push the envelope and tell the construction industry and the 3D-printing community to step up and deliver on his vision. You have seen examples of 3D-printed houses in China and a pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam. So it's a matter of expanding that scale and making it economically feasible to fit into Shaikh Mohammad's vision.''

The recent Future of Building Things conference organised by Autodesk Middle East in Dubai discussed how innovative technology is disrupting the way buildings and infrastructure are designed, built and used.

''The world of construction has evolved considerably where the physical and virtual worlds are now merging,'' Naji tells PW. ''Construction objectives have changed, the nature of demand has evolved, the consumer is more knowledgeable and demanding, and digital systems are getting integrated with design. We are headed into the third era of technology — the era of connections where digital solutions will connect designers with models and physical production, seamlessly.''

By moving from two dimensional to 3D, 4D and now virtual reality models, construction professionals can digitally create entire buildings down to the smallest detail, pre-empting issues with architecture, load bear ing, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP), lighting, energy consumption and even parking infrastructure. With technologies such as Reality Capture Data, city planners can also predict how modern cities could look and feel as they grow. Industry leaders and stakeholders also told PW how big data, IoT, business intelligence, analytics and robotics are changing the construction industry from both macro and micro perspectives.

BIM and 3D

BIM is an important catalyst in the industry's gradual transformation. Now compulsory for all building projects in the UAE, new advances in BIM have allowed contractors to visualize construction progress and related costs over time using five-dimensional models.

However, despite a government mandate, uptake of the technology has not been as swift as expected, which Autodesk says can be addressed by creating awareness and educating developers, contractors and consultants about the massive cost and time-saving benefits of BIM.

3D-printing technology, meanwhile, is taking the industry's transformation to an entirely new level, providing cost and time savings in terms of material and manpower resources, while also giving customers much greater control over the design of their properties.

''Prefabrication and other tech advancements in construction made it possible to create a cookie-cutter model that delivered the same cookies or house designs in bulk,'' says Suhail Arfath, Head of Autodesk Consulting. ''With 3D printing we can now customize each cookie cutter so that no two [properties] are ever the same. It creates a direct connection between consumers and construction, allowing them to choose the layout, size, colours, texture and fixtures before their [property] is built. The bespoke benefits of this technology for end users are unimaginable, as 3D printing makes [properties] efficient and inexpensive to produce even at a singular level.''

With rapid advances in recent years, will 3D printing ultimately replace traditional construction methods, including construction workers? Industry experts say it is unlikely to happen soon, pointing out that having workers on-site will remain crucial for any project. Furthermore, 3D printing could help in prefabricating or printing components of a building, which can be assembled on-site by workers.

Waste reduction

One of the main benefits of 3D printing is its ability to minimize waste, currently the biggest challenge in the construction industry, according to top consultancy, Dar Al Handasah & KEO, which also attended the Autodesk conference. As 3D printing creates materials to fit a specific purpose, waste is reduced considerably, with some contractors reporting up to 60 per cent less construction waste.

Implementing 3D printing at a much larger scale, however, remains a hurdle because of the prohibitive cost of the technology. But as more developers and contractors use the technology and consequently drive demand, costs will gradually reduce, say experts.

''There is a lot of global expertise involved in any [3D-printing] project, in any part of the world,'' says Naji. ''Thus major strides in the construction industry and 3D-printing technology in the region are bound to have an impact on the global community as well.''


Ghassan Zein, BIM Unit Leader at Dar Al Handasah, says these new advances have allowed consultants to devote more time on the design elements of a project. ''We have already saved a lot of time drafting changes,'' says Zein. ''Software technology that integrates and reads directly from the BIM model can greatly reduce the time for inputting data and working across multiple platforms. We are not at full integration right now, but we are getting there.

''With the precision that is required for modelling and analysis, technology can help in achieving this precision and reduce the instances of human error.''

Construction consultants are primarily concerned about the aesthetic appeal, functionality and workable design that maximizes space, light and energy benefits of a project. Zein says computeraided design and virtual reality applications now help preempt design flaws, reducing the number of times consultants need to visit the site.

''What we are currently testing will completely change how we design spaces,'' says Zein. He adds that the use of predictive and analytical data gathered through BIM models will also vastly improve building management services. ''Since 80 per cent of the cost is incurred after the building is constructed, facilities management becomes very important,'' says Zein. ''A lot of data we already have access to and are gathering can guide and help in construction and facilities management.''

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Source: Neha Kaul, Special to Property WeeklyPW


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