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“New Normal” brings Digital Transformation in the Built Environment

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Construction Week of September 8, 2021, shows us how the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environment in an article by Mina Vucic. It is no more than a step however small but lucrative and most importantly in the right direction. Here is how it is.

How the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environmentan article

Asite speaks on changing the ways in which cities operate by “using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing”.

Middle East cities have been leading the way in smart city development, acting as pioneers in implementing innovative, sustainable, and integrated solutions to become greener, more efficient, and better places to live. 

Disruption and innovation have changed the way specialists think and operate across sectors, particularly in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed most industries out of their comfort zone and into digitally-enabled environments.

Nathan Doughty, CEO of Asite Solutions, commented on the topic at the BIM Middle East 2021 Conference & Expo, held on 6 and 7 September at the Crowne Plaza Dubai hotel.

Doughty said that in order to effectively drive the digital transformation of cities, the industry should focus on enhancing the precision of structural data.

He added: “The number one method we should be prioritising in order to achieve our goals at corporate, governmental, and global levels is using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing.”

Some of the examples Doughty shared in the real world include COVID-19 track and trace systems, satellite-based navigation, social media in smart cities, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and most importantly off-site construction and BIM.

Placing his focus on the modern construction methods Doughty emphasised: “In order to retrofit and repurpose the assets we must focus on creating energy-efficient buildings, decarbonise the built environment, and improve digital infrastructure’s operational efficiency.”

According to Asite’s CEO, one of the key methods to achieve those goals is to drive the circular economy, designing out pollution, keeping materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Doughty added: “We must emphasise the use of digital technologies on smart buildings, embedding sensors, gathering data, and analysing the information received to make informed decisions.”

Although the pandemic has challenged the traditional methods of construction, many organisations are now adopting BIM in the industry, providing a platform of know-how that can be built on for future technologies and more sustainable cities.

Technology helps deliver sustainability agenda

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A MEED EDITORIAL on Technology helps deliver a sustainability agenda or a plan for a future without the nocive industrialisation development as known today.

Thus Mohammad Saleh, head of Autodesk Middle East region, argues in MEED. Let us see how the Environmental Impact on the Built Environment could be affected amongst many other things.

Technology helps deliver sustainability agenda

24 May 2021

Digital solutions play a crucial role in helping engineers and designers to achieve environmental sustainability goals, says Autodesk’s Mohammad Saleh

The debate around sustainability has moved on from recycling plastic and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. This concept has now evolved to encompass how businesses operate.

Put simply, no matter what industry the business is in, it must have sustainability at the core of how it operates.

The impact of the pandemic has highlighted the need for greater resiliency in all fields. And sustainability will play an important role in enabling industry to adjust to the challenges ahead.

Read Investing in the long term with ESG

At its heart, this means designing our businesses, infrastructure and manufacturing processes to be more resilient. Businesses must harness the power of data and insights to allow teams to collaborate closely and more effectively.

This is not a theoretical challenge. The world is faced with a race against time to meet the huge demand for new housing from an ever-growing population, estimated to hit 10 billion by 2050, according to data from the UN. This means that about 13,000 new buildings must be built every day just to keep pace with demand.

If this was not daunting enough, the fact that 30 per cent of all the world’s waste every year comes from the construction industry reveals the true complexity of the challenges ahead.

We must do more, better and with less, if we are going to be successful.

Identifying the goals

By aligning business objectives with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we can find a way through.

There are 17 SDGs in total and they include providing access to renewable energy; building resilient infrastructure; promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation; fostering innovation; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; and taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Climate change is a significant issue for the UAE and the wider Gulf region. According to research conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US centre in 2010, the UAE could lose up to 6 per cent of its 1,300-kilometre stretch of coastline by the end of the century because of rising sea levels. This is a significant impact when you consider that 85 per cent of the population and more than 90 per cent of the UAE’s infrastructure is within several metres of sea level in low-lying coastal areas.

Furthermore, a joint report in 2015 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the UAE-based Masdar Institute and the UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry’s directorate of energy and climate change found that increasing renewables to 10 per cent of the country’s total energy mix, and 25 per cent of total power generation, could generate annual savings of $1.9bn by 2030 through the avoidance of fossil-fuel consumption and lower energy costs.

Resolving these concerns and achieving targets will require new and innovative ways of doing things.

In practice, that means technology must enable customers to design and make products, buildings and even entire cities that promote healthy, resilient communities.

But what does that mean for the UAE?

Tapping into new opportunities

The UAE has a significant construction market, but like many places around the world, it is one that is faced with the challenge of tackling waste and high vehicle use. It can prepare for a new future by adapting to emerging technologies that have the potential to deliver a better life for its communities.  

Read Channelling smart tech to optimise building processes

This will be done by helping designers and engineers to gain insights into the impact of everyday decisions about materials and energy use.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) based generative design and the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), a tool that gives builders and designers information about the embodied carbon impact of building materials during the materials selection process, are already enabling customers to use resources more efficiently and productively, thereby saving money and reducing carbon emissions.

Technology must also be used to further enhance people’s ability to adapt, grow and prosper alongside increasing levels of automation.

The power of the cloud really came to the fore in 2020 as millions of people worked remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This technology helped school children to attend classes from home, and helped construction teams on different continents continue to collaborate in an effective and productive manner that allowed projects to be completed.

Read Cloud drives the digitalisation of Middle East construction

These factors, coupled with newer, three-dimensional (3D) design tools, make everything from products to building design far easier to create in ways that reduce waste while saving on time and cost.

Generative design, which is an iterative design process that can mimic nature’s evolutionary approach to create unique designs, is becoming increasingly prevalent within industry. Designers input their set of conditions for a project into a computer and then an algorithm will automate the process by going through many different permutations of the design to find the form that is best suited to the requirements.

There is no one technological solution to the problems we face, but by adopting a more sustainable approach that encompasses a broader range of technologies, these challenges can be overcome.

The acceleration of technology in construction in the GCC

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The future of the construction sector hinges on how swiftly players adapt to newer technologies says Jihad Bsaibes, president and CEO of Amana Contracting and Steel Buildings in an eye-opening article on the ongoing digitalisation symbolised by the click and mortar analogy. It is about the acceleration of technology in construction in the GCC countries.

the picture above is for illustration and is of AMANA’s Covid-19 detection lab built in 14 days.

Click and mortar: The acceleration of technology in construction in the GCC

May 19, 2021

The opportunities and headwinds created by Covid-19 have forced the construction sector to accelerate its digitisation targets. Digital transformation is imperative for offsetting pandemic-induced delays and cost overruns and achieving future sustainability and profitability in a dynamic market.

The World Economic Forum estimates that within 10 years, full-scale digitisation could unlock savings between $700bn and $1.2 trillion in design, engineering, and construction.ADVERTISING

Due to these disruptions, the convergence of manufacturing, technology and construction has emerged as a key trend. The future of construction will largely depend on how effectively players use technology to build better: safer, quicker and greener.

One example of how technology is disrupting construction are digital twins. A digital twin simulates tangible assets on a virtual platform using data. Working from a single, integrated digital model enables architects, structural engineers and builders to test scenarios and develop optimal solutions.

Similarly, modular construction – that involves manufacturing modules constructed off site and put together on site later – decreases the need for workforce by upto 30 per cent, potentially reduces material waste by 30 per cent and improves the work safety environment by up to 70 per cent compared to traditional construction.

Digitisation assists with strategic decision-making and helps construction companies tide over project disruptions during situations such as a changeover of employees. It massively cuts down underlying paperwork, which means available resources can be utilised more efficiently to analyse project-critical information such as material availability and status. According to a whitepaper from Oracle Construction and Engineering, materials can account for up to 40-50 per cent of project cost, and control up to 80 per cent of the project schedule.

Real-time material information acquaints construction planners with information about what material will be available for installation so that construction crews can continue to operate efficiently and without unnecessary or unplanned work disruptions.

Similarly, collaborative technologies aid workflows by giving access to each stakeholder in the development of a project. Each party can create, review and modify data in real-time both onsite and from remote locations, thus making it possible to track and control processes, from design and construction to signoff and completion.

Enterprise resource planning or ERP systems can automate the different project components and activities. These systems help manage day-to-day activities such as accounting, procurement, project management, risk management and compliance, and supply chain operations.

Two recent projects showcase how new technologies are being deployed in the construction sector. One such project currently underway is the 365m-high Ciel Tower, set to become the world’s tallest hotel when inaugurated in 2023. The other is a management hotel by The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC). BIM and Revit (from Autodesk) were used for the design development and structural design of Ciel Tower to simplify and speed up otherwise complex tasks. The design team also used software for renders and 3D visualisation tasks.

The pandemic may trigger consolidation across the region, resulting in fewer players. Technology adoption will be vital in meeting customer expectations better and faster.

While it is crucial, technology adoption comes with its own set of challenges, key among them liquidity concerns and availability of the right kind of human resources. As industrialised construction and technology adoption increases, there is a growing gap between the supply of talent and the digital skills needed. This requirement will be a significant challenge in Saudi Arabia’s growing construction sector. However, once set in motion, those who embrace digital transformation will reap the rewards.

Jihad Bsaibes, president and CEO of Amana Contracting and Steel Buildings

Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications

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Science‘s Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications by Jeffrey Brainard, at a time when they all seem to be still looking for a growth model especially needed in these times of pandemic. Here we have a whole region south and east of the Mediterranean whose elites had not been stranger to social mobilization and street politics in the past, presently sparing a little time to research better ways of life.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Al-Fanar Media.

Iran’s Sharif University of Technology has helped drive an increase in the country’s published scientific papers. MASOUD K/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC BY-SA)

After years of lagging scientifically, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have significantly boosted their share of scholarly articles in international journals—as well as citations to those papers—during the past 4 decades, the Clarivate analytics firm said last week. Further growth could occur if the region’s countries boost their low rate of scientific cooperation with each other, it said.

From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more. Clarivate’s report, based on its Web of Science bibliometric database, notes the “outstanding relative growth” of papers from the Middle East and North Africa came despite international sanctions against Iran and violent conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere.

The report covers 19 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran, but only six accounted for 80% of the 150,000 papers by the region’s scholars in 2019: Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Tunisia.

Iran led the way with 188,163 papers from 2015 to 2019; its output from 2000 to 2019 rose 30-fold. (Despite reports of paper mills and fake peer reviews involving papers by Iranian authors, the study notes efforts in Iran to tame the problem). At least some of Saudi Arabia’s expansion may have come from non-Saudi researchers affiliated with Saudi institutions.

“The notion that science and technology are essential for economic and societal progress, one of the pillars of the current policy in the European Union, applies to [this] region as well,” said Henk Moed, editor-in-chief of Scholarly Assessment Reports, a journal that covers research metrics, who was not involved in the Clarivate report. “The valuable trends presented in the Clarivate report, therefore, have a certain predictive value for economic and political relations in the region, especially in the somewhat longer term, and provide evidence that Iran’s economic and political role in the region will only grow stronger in the years to come.”

Clusters of the region’s papers focused on sustainable development, including soil erosion, and other areas of applied science, Clarivate said.

These and other publications have attracted growing attention: In 2019, 15 of the 19 countries had a citation score higher than the world average (when adjusted for differences across scholarly disciplines); in 2000, almost all had been well below.

The region’s international collaborations also increased, with 45% of its papers reporting co-authors from other countries in 2019; most often, the co-authors were in the United States. By comparison, the percentage in Western Europe was 65%. Worldwide, articles with such collaborations tend to attract higher citations. But countries in the Middle East and North Africa collaborated little with each other: Only 5% of their articles in 2019 had a co-author from a different country within the region.

Skirting the challenge of bridging long-standing tensions within the region, the Clarivate report encourages the countries to forge closer research ties, which “could improve competitiveness between the region and the rest of the world by focusing on shared needs and priorities.” One mechanism for encouraging regional collaboration could be a joint research-funding organization, similar to that of the European Union, the report said. Focusing on research might also “create more robust educational and social transformation through human resource capacity.”

“This would do much,” the report concludes, to “visibly rebuild the international reputation of Islamic, Arab, Persian and Turkish learning and scholarship that sustained the Western world for centuries.”Posted in: 

Jeffrey Brainard

Jeffrey Brainard joined Science as an associate news editor in 2017. He covers an array of topics and edits the In Brief section in the print magazine. 

How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?

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A New Civil Engineer‘s article by Fred SHERRATT tries to answer How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?’ Preceding these excerpts and highlights through our bolds with all due respect for all involved are our thoughts.

The debate about the digital transformation of the construction industry in its different markets across, for instance, the MENA region, has been well surveyed on projects through the role of technology in shaping the next phase of development.

The impact of digitalisation in the region’s construction will encompass a radical change in all sectors. Such sectors as electricity and transport, particularly road construction, are naturally, as it were, prone to be digitally handled through automation with a certain ease. According to many observers, the building industry though being, as it were, more vernacular in its diversity and composition, would require still lots of digital innovation and eventually be a crucial driver of future growth in the construction industry. Collected data on what digitisation means for the construction industry to be spent on in the MENA region illustrates well over the recent past. Most concerns are for those countries of the Gulf whether the future’s Construction sites will be people-free’ for obvious reasons and the opposite for the rest of the MENA region.

The picture above is for illustration and is of The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Ahmad Sufian Bayram.


Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University

How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?

Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution! Under Construction 4.0 robots lay bricks and drones carry out surveys. Improved connectivity and data management means AI and machine learning can plan projects better than humans ever could. Building information modelling (BIM) has blossomed, projects completed in the virtual world before ground is even broken. Computer controlled craftsmanship optimises design, whilst the Internet of Things enables the use of real-time data processing and digital twins to optimise delivery on site.

Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University

And for an industry told to Modernise or Die this could not have come at a better time.

Construction 4.0 promises increased efficiencies, enhanced and optimised productivity. Not to mention savings of time and money through reductions of labour, material and processing costs. This is trumpeted across the industry through voices heavy with technological optimism, industrial progress, all the benefits and rewards this revolution will bring, as well as scare stories for those not getting on board now – you’ll be left behind if you miss the boat!

But maybe we should think a little more critically about this. Because we have been here before. Three times to be precise.

And, it hasn’t always gone well. Not least because technology is not neutral, as Jacque Ellul argued in 1954. The underlying rational and objective methods that drive its implementation also instil within it an autonomy and amorality that is potentially dangerous. People and industries are compelled to adapt to technological change – as who but a Luddite would challenge all the promises it brings? – but such change is not always positive. History shows that technology can fundamentally disrupt the ways industries are structured and operate: workers are not just replaced by robots, things change so much neither robots or people are needed at all. So just because we can, doesn’t mean we should, and certainly not without careful deliberation.

Our industry contributes significantly to UK employment, including many site workers who’ve struggled with formal education whilst their myriad practical skills have long been devalued. For them, Construction 4.0 presents a positive narrative of “reskilling” or “multi-skilled” workers, but history suggests a downgrading of both job roles and earning potential is actually much more likely. Technological advancements tend to reduce labour requirements overall and also split skilled roles into two: new tasks only requiring one degree-qualified manager and some unskilled labour, with reduced quality of work and thus less remuneration. Estimates suggest 50% of traditional construction work could be automated over the next 20 years, making this a significant concern. But Construction 4.0 doesn’t care, the amorality technology brings to progress creates a convenient myopia for social consequences such as this. Any reduction in the numbers of people employed or their potential earnings is beneficial – a reduction in wage costs, hurrah! It’s just a shame about the jobs, and the satisfaction people used to be able to realise from skilled manual work.

And it is not just site workers who are vulnerable to such “progress”. Engineers have already seen their work shift into the virtual, where they now sit in front of screens to design and provide information to control and guide subcontractors. Their work is now shaped and structured by new technologies which require specialist skills for operation, and which also created new roles that potentially undermine professional autonomy. Whilst professionals were upskilling themselves, “BIM managers” took charge of the design process as a whole, because they were best able to navigate and negotiate the software, not because they were best skilled to lead design development or coordination. Although things have rebalanced as training caught up, professionals across our industry are now forced into ways of working as the technology dictates, choice is no longer an option.

Indeed, the “technology owner” may even become the dominant industry professional in the future, through the autonomy unquestionably conferred on them. Indeed, Cui bono [who will benefit] is never a bad question to ask, particularly in a US$10bn global construction software marketplace. Software vendors promise solutions to all manner of construction process inefficiencies, but in doing so they are also redesigning industry structures to fit their technologies. But the confidence (arrogance), that technology developers can capture (and inevitably improve) what we do is never challenged: they are now gurus to the industry, with little sense of history, craft or profession. The consequences of this dominance could be considerable: a built environment constructed to meet the dictates of technology, rather than the manifestation of the imagination, fun, creativity and humanity of a real person. Are we happy about that?

We should therefore consider carefully whose agendas Construction 4.0 is serving. Our industry does more than simply create our built environment, it also employs vast numbers of people who gain both income and self-validation from this process. Construction 4.0 is challenging how we do things, disrupting us, bringing progress at last to our dinosaur of an industry. But who is challenging Construction 4.0? Luckily it’s all still relatively piecemeal, smoke and mirrors are plentiful, and we are not (yet) at the point of no return. But it’s up to professionals to point out that Construction 4.0 has the potential to do harm as well as good. We should all think a little more critically before we add our voices to the current tsunami of technological optimism. It’s a common trope of our industry that people are our biggest asset. Why don’t we try to keep it that way?

  • Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University