The construction sector is pushing for faster adoption of technology Image Credit: Supplied

As we start living in this strange ‘new normal’, industry experts say technology will play a greater role in this transformation. The market is set to see a renewed interest for latest tools such as intelligent building monitoring systems (BMS), touch-less access control systems, facial recognition, heat sensor, advanced HAVAC and drones, to name a few. According to Jon Sander, associate partner of Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ), which has created some of the UAE’s most iconic buildings, “the emphasis should be on how can we futureproof our homes while having spaces for social interaction.”Architects and designers are being called upon to think ahead of time and come up with something that is authentic but at the same time adaptable to an individual’s needs while addressing issues arising from being socially distant.

Sander says developers and architects need to be able to see ahead and establish what the market will need. “They will also need to show and prove how advanced technological buildings will improve the way we live, and how they can be adapted. The market is becoming more informed and will demand a much more informed response,” he says.

AEC undergoing transformation

As the industry is going through a transformation, construction companies involved in executing projects are also upping their game by adopting technologies and tools that not only create a safe and secure working environment for their employees but also ensure that projects don’t get affected by design, supply chain or manpower issues.

Experts at 3D design and engineering software firm Autodesk say the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) has undergone rapid transformation in the past decade, and Covid-19 has accelerated change like never before — from new requirements for physical distancing and impacts to the supply chain to the sudden need for remote work.

“To increase efficiency and reduce waste, companies have continued to advance digitising construction and automation of design workflows,” says Louay Dahmash, head of EMEA Emerging Autodesk.

He points out that Building Information Modelling (BIM) is right at the centre of this transformation. “Coupled with cloud technologies, BIM is enabling companies to streamline their process and help the industry to become more efficient,” adds Dahmash.

American engineering firm AECOM which helped build projects such as Etihad Towers and Damac Heights agrees technologies such BIM, common data environments and data science have helped the company in achieving higher work efficiency, optimized delivery workflows, increase in safety on and off-site, and increase in work quality due to the cloud-based technical quality review processes.

“With innovation at our core, we continuously see the benefit technology solutions bring to our business. The pandemic has proved to many that the industry needs to work digitally and have a data-centric approach to project delivery,” says Mohammad Al Ktaishat, digital project delivery lead at AECOM.

Technology adoption

Experts say construction technologies or tools that were there for quite sometimes but set to be used more extensively for projects include BIM, pre-fab construction, GPS-enabled devices, 4D & 5D simulation, drones and robotics.

With the pandemic disrupting project delivery due to the manpower and supply chains issues, designers and engineers are relying heavily on digital collaboration tools such as BIM, 4D and 5D simulation to replan projects and reoptimize schedules. Sander of GAJ feels the technology that already exists needs to be understood as a toolbox to be used to achieve our goals. “These could vary on how we interpret the new normal and what our personal needs are for the spaces we use,” he says, adding that vulnerable elderly people would have a different set of criteria to a young outgoing family. “How technology is applied can then be designed accordingly to meet the needs of the specific client,” adds Sander. While technologies such as BMS and sensors are already prevalent in modern buildings, experts suggest they need to be able to collect data and control the building infrastructure while updating users of potential risk.

All the tools used for managing a building infrastructure such as access control, heat sensors, parking, elevator and dispensers need to be connected to a contactless system that can then be linked to a user’s smartphone, allowing better communication between the building and the occupant.

Construction technology

In the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the construction sector is pushing faster technology adoption, with off-site and modular construction taking a lead as companies and contractors have to consider the availability of manpower, social distancing, health and safety norms. The UAE-based Speed House whose core is into prefabricated construction, modular and offsite products is seeing a rise in clients wanting to explore such solutions. Michel Hanna, group general manager at Speed House says the pandemic has pushed people to connect with nature and previously non-developed places are now being considered by developers.

“With modular construction not only has it become possible for developers to quickly develop these areas for their visitors but has also given them a mobile solution where If the locations master plan changes these modules can be shifted to new sites and locations with minimal losses compared to traditional construction,” he says.