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Image Credit: Supplied

It could be a scene from the future: a robot printing sections of three-metre high walls using a light, quick drying cement, for transportation to a construction site and assembly – but the practise looks set to become increasingly common in the UAE.

Since Dubai put itself on the global construction technology map with its 3D printing strategy, international companies have flocked to set up research hubs and offices. The first 3D printed buildings, such as the Dubai Future Foundation office, have been opened.

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Dubai put itself on the global construction technology map with its 3D printing strategy Image Credit: Dubai Future Foundation

Technology adoption

It’s just not about the printing technology itself, it’s also a new way of working. Today contractors are steadily adopting new technology in order to improve productivity, lower costs, and produce more sustainable buildings.

This comes as the construction industry starts to realise some tangible benefits from its investment in advanced technologies, such as more energy-efficient design, tighter scheduling, improved quality control, higher productivity and safer workplaces.

Key technologies that are taking off in a big way in the construction sector include Building Information Modelling (BIM) software, drones, virtual reality and augmented reality apps, smart sensors and 3D printing.

Growing demand

The use of technology comes as the construction sector faces growing demands due to population growth, as well as increased emphasis on sustainability.

According to the UN, the population of Earth will grow from the current 7.5 billion to 10 billion people by 2050, and the construction industry needs to 13,000 buildings every day over the next three decades, says Naji Atallah, Head of Architecture, Engineering, Construction & Manufacturing, Autodesk, one of the speakers at the FutureTech Construction Summit at The Big 5 on 27 November.

“This is very relevant for the [GCC] region because of its very young population. As the population ages, the demand for housing and infrastructure will spike,” says Atallah.

More technology and efficiency in construction can also reduce waste he believes, with estimates from the GCC putting the percentage of solid waste coming from construction at about 50 per cent, he says.

Industry professionals can discover the latest construction technologies at The Big 5 event on 25-28 November, which will display more than 20,000 products and solutions from over 2,390 local and international exhibitors.

This year, six specialised co-located events will run alongside The Big 5, covering the entire lifecycle of the construction projects from inception to completion: The Big 5 Heavy, Middle East Concrete, Middle East Stone, HVAC R Expo, The Big 5 Solar, and the Urban Design & Landscape Expo.

At the event, the industry will also get a chance to discuss these issues, with a series of summits, seminars and roundtable discussions.

On November 27, the second edition of the FutureTech Construction Summit is expected to cover topics including artificial intelligence, digital asset management and digital twins, smart home, smart buildings and IoT, BIM, and 3D printing, VR, AR and drones.

The Autodesk Construction Technology Forum will share insights on how BIM can help industry stakeholders gain competitive advantage, speed-up project delivery, and effectively manage an asset’s lifecycle.

The RTA Innovation in BIM Summit will educate and inspire specialists on the exploration and impact of BIM on the present and future of the region's infrastructure industry.

The Big 5 Talks will include a series of free-to-attend CPD-certified workshops that will showcase some of the exciting case studies and captivating debates relevant to the regional construction sector.

Using drones

The use of drones neatly demonstrates how new technology processes can quickly prove their worth. While drones can be used to capture video for marketing or to monitor worker safety, their main use is for mapping, construction monitoring and engineering inspections.

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Drones greatly reduce the labor and time involved in producing accurate surveys Image Credit: Shutterstock

Rabih Bou Rashid, Managing Director of Falcon Eye Drones, says that on a construction site larger than 1 square kilometre using drones is faster and more efficient than traditional ground surveying methods. The firm has seen steady growth in the business, which he expects to continue, with use on major sites such as Noor Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest solar project.

Rashid is one of the speakers at the Geospatial Leaders Conference on 28 November at The Big 5 Heavy, one of the co-located events at The Big 5, the region’s largest and most influential event for the construction industry.

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This year, six specialised co-located events will run alongside The Big 5, covering the entire lifecycle of the construction projects from inception to completion Image Credit: Supplied

Slow adoption

Despite the obvious upsides, the construction sector is among the slowest to adopt new technology globally, and has seen less productivity gains compared with sectors such as manufacturing.

One challenge in the UAE is that many contractors are looking for a direct return on investment that can reflect immediately on their existing projects, at a time when profit margins are thin, says Ishita Kochhar, a co-founder at WakeCap Technologies, a startup, which connects workers using a chip in their work helmets to provide safety and productivity data to companies.

“Utilising technology on the other hand [will] have a stronger effect in the long-term more than the short-term,” she explains.

Mohammad Khader Al Shouli, Head of Contracting Finance at Mashreq Bank, believes that the importance of technology in the region’s construction industry, such as greater use of off-site fabrication, modularisation and additive manufacturing “cannot be understated”.

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Contractors are adopting new technology to improve productivity, lower costs, and produce more sustainable buildings

New segment

With rapid and efficient construction delivery becoming key to business success, The Big 5 is introducing a brand new Offsite & Modular Construction sector this year. Leading brands including BK Gulf, MACS, and Katerra will be presenting their modular solutions the first time ever.

“It is the solution for some of the biggest challenges faced by the sector,” says Al Shouli. “However, before we can leverage technology, there needs to be a change in the mindset of builders, who aim to complete the project as quickly and cheaply as possible.”

Kochhar says that in the past two years they’ve seen a change in the mindset of construction stakeholders to be more open towards trying new technologies.

Construction startups

Startups have a big role to play in digitising the construction industry, believes Aref Boualwan, Senior Manager Digital Transformation & Startups at Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC), while investors are also interested in the prospects of the startups themselves.

“[Startups] could finally support the construction industry to put an end to the expansion of construction schedules, the continuous increase in labour and material costs as well as improving quality and safety,” says Boualwan.

“Across the region, investors are injecting more money with success stories of exits and acquisitions offering further trust in the great potentials at stake,” says Boualwan.

Start-up City at The Big 5

Investors will be hunting for the region’s next unicorn at The Big 5’s Start-Up City, with startups including Tenderd, ModulusTech and Embneusys presenting their solutions. Last year, WakeCap won the inaugural Start-Up City competition, receiving a prize from the organisers of The Big 5.

Nevertheless, the onus is on startups themselves to prove their worth.

While funding budgets have significantly increased over the past years, acceptance criteria have turned tougher, with an ever strong focus on the uniqueness of the ideas presented by start-ups, says Çınar Kurra, the CEO of Catalyst, a Masdar-BP Initiative.

Kurra sees particular promise in new technologies “that turn our buildings smart”.

“Today, many buildings in hundreds of cities are going into a renewal process due to their aging. We believe that new technologies for improved insulation and smart wiring (or wireless) systems are now a must.”

Find out how technology is shaping the future of construction at The Big 5, the largest and most influential event for the regional construction industry

Register online for free before November 24, at 4:00 PM (GMT +4) and save 200 AED: click HERE