The UAE construction industry has witnessed an increase in the usage of drones since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic Image Credit: Supplied

Despite a fall in the UAE construction activity in the last quarter of 2020, the focus on infrastructure projects has indicated clear signs of post Covid-19 recovery, according to the recent RICS Global Construction Monitor report. The RICS Construction Activity Index for UAE shows steady improvement from second quarter of last year. The market saw -28 per cent fall in Q4, up from -30 per cent in Q3 and -50 per cent in Q2 2020, signalling some recovery in the sector.

Shadaab Shabbir Patel, Managing Director of Oscar Real Estate, who has launched several tenant-friendly homes in JVT, Al Furjan and Discovery Gardens, says despite the pandemic, construction activities in the UAE have gone on without any interruption and projects have been delivered on time. Systematic use of modern gadgets in construction ensure excellent quality for homeowners. However, construction costs have gone up, as building materials have become expensive and as developers we have to be extra careful to keep the costs down.

Andrew Knight, PropTech Analyst, Professional Standards at RICS says countries globally are looking for ways to bounce back from the impact of Covid-19. The construction sector has always been a catalyst for rebooting economies.

Gavin Britton, Technology Director, UAE, Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, witnesses a push from the sector to move to more 4.0 technologies through the adoption of autonomous operations or finding new ways to design, procure and build assets through modern technology, such as 3D printing and advancements in pre-fabrication. “The UAE construction industry has witnessed an increase in the usage of drones since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March last year. Drones are useful for collecting image data that can be used for asset condition assessments and creation of 3D models,” says Britton.

“We also see appetite from clients to invest in digital technologies and innovative solutions to optimise their existing assets and deliver new projects more efficiently,” he explains.

Britton says technologies such as robotics are being widely used in the sector to improve safety and reduce data capture time. “The pandemic has made us adopt new ways of working with fewer people on-site,” he says.

Collaborative technology

Prasoon Shrivastava, Director, Prasoon Design Studio, says that construction in itself is a complex industry, where infinite moving parts and people must work meticulously under exclusive circumstances to create a unique tangible asset. “The various processes, project phases, teams etc., usually work in a siloed environment, collaborating within themselves and not with each other. However, the latest technological interventions into the project management ecosystem defragment the landscape with their ‘common data environment’ approach,” he says.

“The foundation is to unify all the processes, teams, data, plans, assets and collaboration about a project within one place, which has manifold benefits.” He explains that project information on intelligent platforms ensures capturing all possible data points efficiently to get visibility into the current functioning and predict future outcomes. All the captured data points can talk with each other to generate insights that are not mutually exclusive. It also ensures delivery of projects on budget, schedule and quality with real-time updates on-site progress and functioning. “Given the sheer amount of data that any given construction project can generate, it becomes imperative to deploy robotics and artificial intelligence,” explains Shrivastava. “Drones, site data capturing sensors and robots can ensure faster data capturing. And interventions of robotics in 3D printing, prefabrication, production, and manufacturing reduces the load on worksites, ensuring delivery of the projects as committed,” he adds.

Tech-enables construction

The UAE construction sector has adopted technologies early on. In 2016, the world’s first 3D printed building opened its doors in Dubai at the Emirates Towers complex. “The building was printed in 17 days out of a special cement/polymer mix designed here in the UAE and constructed in 48 hours,” says Nathan Hones, COO and Partner at Carter Associates, a multi-faceted Project Consultancy firm.

He explains that in 3D printing while there are some design limitations in terms of panel sizes, opening sizes and structural adequacies of 3D printed forms, there are benefits of design coordination, construction speed, complete accuracy and the reduction in construction.

The other trends growing popular are mostly surrounding Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Building Information Modelling (BIM), he adds.

Hones points out that drones are now valuable tools for project management and visibility of construction progress. As an example, he states, “We have been assisting IMKAN Properties on their flagship master-planned community, Al Jurf in Abu Dhabi. Here, the project team utilised drone technology to accurately assess site construction progress and identify critical path programming issues. This type of technological advancement has superseded the more traditional static camera on a pole or scaffolding, which is unable to get the full picture of construction progress across such a large site area.”

Advancement in BIM

Hones points out that BIM is evolving as more and more designers, contractors, and developers see the tangible benefits of creating a 5D physical and operational model of their buildings. “Creating a live three dimensional CAD model of a building where all designers and engineers create a coordinated working model of a future building, is especially important now, during extended periods of remote working and travel restrictions.”

Knight explains that BIM now goes beyond the construction and design phase and helps professionals understand the lifecycle of the building/project by including the next levels. “It looks at not just cost and budget but how sustainable and energy-efficient the building/project can be and how the building/project will operate once complete.”

“The BIM model can also be linked to real-time data points from sensors and equipment, which is being done by increasingly using 5G to connect the internet of things, allowing it to become a shared and updated resource for multiple stakeholders and disciplines.”

Use of Augmented Reality

Hones sees an increase in the use of Augmented Reality (AR) on new development sites. “On a recent master-planned project in Abu Dhabi, the client was exploring the use of AR headsets for potential purchasers. The development was a construction site, halfway through infrastructure, so was not overly attractive to purchasers keen on seeing where their new villas were going to be.”

Here the use of AR helps clients to visualise what their future villa would like, what the streetscape would be and what the view would be like from different parts of the villa. It was a useful tool helping potential purchasers understand the future beauty of their investment and the development,” he adds.