• Construction Industry Embracing New Technologies

    29 May 2018

    Changes in the construction sector are rapid, and inevitable. Those most able to respond quickly and integrate new technologies into their businesses will be the winners, while those who do not will be left behind, says Mark Sawyer of The Business Times. The following is an edited version of the original Jan 2018 article. To read the full version please visit www.businesstimes.com.sg/opinion.

    The Singapore government’s Industry Transformation Map (ITM) for the construction sector is more than a vision for the sector’s future. It is a survival plan. It is a timely and necessary response to the technological changes taking place in Singapore and around the world.

    At the launch of ITM, National Development Second Minister, Desmond Lee, said: “Essentially, we are speaking about transformation of the whole construction sector – the entire process and value chain, from end to end.”

    The ITM’s ambitious plan to train 80,000 tech-ready construction professionals by 2025 is good news for smaller contractors. It gives them access to a pipeline of trained talent which is unavailable to them now. Hopefully this new direction will encourage more small firms to join the revolution, rather than waiting for larger companies to force technology adoption upon them.

    With a reduction in access to cheap foreign labour coupled with growing competition, Singapore’s construction sector only has one way forward. It must adopt and master the technology currently available to drive productivity and efficiencies at every stage of the construction cycle. Singapore’s construction sector has developed an excellent reputation for technology adoption, with credit due to the efforts of the Building and Construction Authority.

    So what are some of the advancing technologies driving change in Singapore’s construction sector? Here are a few examples:

    5-Dimensional Building Information Modelling (5D-BIM)

     

    Most people understand what a three-dimensional model of a building is. A more recent advancement is 4D BIM, which incorporates data on time such as building schedules and production constraints. We are now entering the era of 5D BIM – which means it tracks costs as well as time. With a 5D Model you can see exactly what the progress of construction will be, and the total cost incurred on a future date – in a week, a month or a year.

    5D BIM technology comes into its own when you need to make changes to a design. For example, if the project requires more underground parking, you modify the 3D design to include another level of parking, run an automatic 5D analysis, and immediately see what this change has done to the schedule and total cost of the project.

    Drones, Photogrammetry and Image Recognition

    A drone is little more than a camera mounted on an aerial platform. Drone hardware is interesting for the construction industry, but the software that renders the images and videos is more exciting. With the hardware and software together, we get data from previously unavailable vantage points, informing design and monitoring construction progress to better manage schedules. Drones can be used for photogrammetry which uses imaging devices and digital algorithms to produce 3D models of

    terrain, roads and buildings. Beyond photogrammetry is the field of image analysis and object recognition. Here the software can piece together images of a building to automatically create a 3D image. And beyond image analysis is the use of structured light to produce very accurate 3D models from so-called point clouds.

    The Internet of Things

    The ability of people on the project to respond to changing conditions has always been limited by the tools they use to determine what is going on. Let’s say the electricians fail to show up and you need to determine how many guys you will need next week to make up ground.

    The Internet of Things will bring a range of sensors to the job site. In real time, data from the site can be sent to the office where your team can assess the impacts on the schedule, cost, and material or labour requirements, make an informed decision and communicate that decision to crews on site. Superintendents and project managers will still decide quickly, but with some real data and analysis helping them to make the right call.

    The Future

    The building construction sector is not the first industry to face a technological transformation. From financial services to manufacturing, the digital revolution has forever altered the way business is done. Construction is also being radically transformed. Some changes are so rapid yet of such fundamental importance that for some companies their ability to survive will rest entirely on their ability to integrate new technologies into their operations faster than their competitors.

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