With enough precautions taken, UAE construction sector can adjust to work under virus-imposed restrictions. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Last year was a good one for the UAE engineering and construction industry. The sector witnessed healthy growth despite cost pressures, labour shortages, and trends towards fixed-bid projects.

In 2020, the industry was expected to focus on mitigating challenges while capitalising on the trends that help improve operations and deliver a competitive advantage. Two key themes that were expected to impact property assets were lower interest rates and changes in demand revenue. But another global event that is sure to change things around in the sector is the coronavirus outbreak.

The pandemic has affected almost all industries, and engineering and construction are not untouched. Given the current scenario, it can surely be said that these are trying times. So, what happens now?

See it through

Awareness and patience are the keys to minimising potential losses and preparing to come out stronger from this crisis. We must understand that the impact is not equal — some properties will be more affected than others. Hotels, for example, are immediately at risk from coronavirus, especially the ones that rely heavily on Chinese guests.

Student accommodation providers are also at risk as well as conference centres that depend on unrestricted business travel. Apart from this, the industry currently faces sustained cost pressures, ongoing labour shortages are affecting productivity, and emerging trends in fixed-bid projects often demand a level of pricing and operation precision difficult to obtain with traditional systems.

Taking on digital ways

Amid all the challenges mentioned above, borne out of the COVID-19 outbreak, companies are trying hard to compete and survive. Industry leaders are also looking at defining a new vision as well as mapping a comprehensive digital blueprint to realign business and operational processes to reflect the opportunities that innovation and technology provide in a time of crisis.

Breakthroughs amid challenges

In 2020, inherently disruptive technologies have the potential to provide the efficiency, productivity, and safety breakthroughs the industry has sought for decades.

Robots, for example, are beginning to enter construction in several areas, from autonomous rovers that can increase the efficiency and enhance the quality of site inspections to mechanical arms that can automate repetitive tasks like brick-laying.

The robotic revolution is set to gather significant pace in the coming year. Automation of construction sites, particularly concerning monotonous tasks, could significantly improve productivity while creating a safer work environment and helping to address the industry’s shortfall in labour.

View from above

Another trend that the industry has witnessed is the use of drones. From performing inspections that would be dangerous for workers to surveying vast areas of land in just a few minutes, the continued rise of drones is set to improve construction safety and productivity this year considerably. Artificial intelligence has also tremendously increased the digital capabilities surrounding predictive design, digital building twins, geolocation, remote site monitoring, personnel location tracking, live markups, and more.

All this will collectively dominate the industry and can be used for the betterment of the it as the world copes with the coronavirus crisis.

The construction industry faces sustained cost pressures, ongoing labour shortages are affecting productivity

- Mohamed Ragheb of Azizi Developments

Engineering and construction is a sector that depends on time and money. If the virus outbreak continues to create more problems, time and money will be affected, and hence the industry will suffer.

But this is a time to be aware and stay calm. Just like the sector has braved other difficult times, this too shall pass. Equipped with the latest technology and right understanding of how properties might be affected by global lockdowns and precautionary measures, the industry leaders need to make sure that the sector emerges brighter and stronger.

- Mohamed Ragheb is Executive Director — Engineering Division, Azizi Developments.