Should Gulf builders be swapping bricks for clicks?

Construction work at the site of the Expo 2020 in Dubai. Some 200 countries will take part in the fair, which runs from Oct. 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2019

Should Gulf builders be swapping bricks for clicks?

  • The construction industry needs to digitize if it is to expand in the region

LAS VEGAS: The future of construction is digital — anything else is doomed for the scrap yard. From planning, selecting the right contractors to the process of purchasing, the industry is fast becoming mastered by computer operators.

Reporting an accident is more efficient when it is done on software that enables patterns to be discovered.

And it does not stop there — the construction industry is a massive drain on natural resources and produces a third of the world’s waste.

Andrew Anagnost, CEO of the US-based multinational tech company, Autodesk, which focuses on the construction industry, told Arab News that the industry  had a long way to go.

“The industry has to digitize … Construction generally, its productivity is terrible — we can’t afford this as a society anymore — it is like flushing money down the toilet,” he explained on the sidelines of a recent construction industry conference in Las Vegas.

Like all industries, data is a valuable commodity to the construction industry which can be shared — at a cost — with other projects, to reduce costs, waste and accidents.

“We can help people to build projects through the use of AI before they actually do it; this will give them a greater insight into the effectiveness of a project,” Anagnost said.

In doing this, he said, there could eventually also be a significant decline in unfinished building projects due to poor financial planning and erratic funding, where developers raise pockets of funds, build until that is spent and stop until more is raised.

The introduction of technology at a building site also allows joined- up thinking between the various aspects of the project, allowing any slight changes to a plan to be communicated to all departments.

All too often project managers complain about a breakdown in communications in the construction industry — an electrician drilling through a water pipe because the plan was not updated when the layout was changed is just one small example of the kind of things that go wrong on building sites worldwide.

By equipping project managers with tablets, they are able to be kept informed of any alterations to the plans.

Dubai this year completed the world's largest 3D printed building in Warzan, standing at 9.5 meters tall with an area of 640 square meters. (Picture: Apis Cor)

The collection of data that is made possible through the digitization of the industry has the potential to revolutionize the construction industry, not least with safety.

Pat Keaney heads up the team at Autodesk that helps to solve workplace problems through the collection of data, which is being used to enable construction site firms to work more efficiently and safely with the hundreds of sub-contractors and trade companies that can be found on any given day. The more data there is, the better it gets.

“We have been able to look at things that go wrong on building sites — assess accidents and see what the recurring themes are,” Keaney added.

The technology being offered to the construction industry is so informative that designers are now able to feed vast amounts of information into a computer and then leave the software to map the most effective workflows.

This is especially useful in manufacturing and assembly plants where there is a lot of movement of people and objects.

By analyzing the mapping both the architect and the client are then able to establish which is the best layout for their operation. And if a company or developer does not even have a site, there’s technology to help with that too.

The US-based firm NearMap flies planes over cities, taking a vast amount of highly detailed images which are then used to establish the ongoing land use.

The imagery is available to clients who are able to identify where there is green space, or buildings that are being demolished.

“With the use of a selection of images taken from a number of angles, we are able to give people an insight into how their plans will look if they are put into practice,” said Nearmap CEO Rob Newman.

He said that the information gathered can tell tech firms whether a phone network will function, or if reception is blocked by towers — information especially important with the expansion of 5G networks.

While it is not currently being used in the Gulf region, the data that a company such as Nearmap is able to provide would be invaluable to developers in cities such as Dubai and further afield in Jeddah and Riyadh.

The question remains just how fast the construction industry will take up the technology being made available to them.

In the US there are signs of an ever-increasing ripple effect — but it will require companies such as Autodesk to chase the region’s business if it is going to expand into the Gulf.

At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

Updated 24 January 2020

At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

  • A single tree that to bear 40 different types of apple

DAVOS: The World Economic Forum is not all about the fourth industrial revolution or the rise of AI.

You can also find all manner of strange and intriguing products on display from biodegradable plastic made from algae to wallpaper made from recycled corn husks.

One stand titled “How do you design a tree?” is part of a conservation effort where a single tree is designed to bear 40 different types of apple.

Another stand displays colored seaweed on a rack, showing how clothes can be dyed in a sustainable, non-chemically corrosive manner.

Propped along a large wall is Fernando Laposse’s wallpaper made of variations of purple corn husks that are reinforced with recycled cardboard and cork to create wallpaper and furniture. The husks come from corn that needs very little water and can be grown in the desert, which makes it all the more sustainable.

“This initiative helps the local economy as it brings in jobs and a resurgence of crafts and food traditions while also ensuring sustainability,” Laposse said.

Another display shows a machine that extracts pellets from a mixture of algae and starch and is used to create a thread that is the base of 3D printing. These sustainable, biodegradable plastics made from algae are being experimented with in different regions.

With the rise of deep fakes — a branch of synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness — another stand delivers a warning on the looming dangers of unregulated software.

The Davos forum prides itself on its sustainability, and key topics have included climate, mobility, energy and the circular economy. Everything is recyclable, and participants must download an application in order to keep up with the program and any changes — a move to cut down on paper waste.