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MAY 2019

SMART CONSTRUCTION IN THE MIDDLE EAST A MEED knowledge transfer initiative



Wednesday 5th, December, Komatsu Middle East FZE and Topcon Positioning Group have jointly organized the “2018 Technology Day” to showcase their latest technologies for construction site management. The event, which took place near the Jebel Ali Shooting club, demonstrated and simulated earthmoving processes on a realistic construction site. Showing how state-of-the-art technology can optimize machine productivity, workflow and reduce operating cost. Over 180 Visitors from UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey attended full day informative lectures, watched live demonstrations and had face-to-face discussions with industry experts from Komatsu and Topcon. Live demonstrations included Komatsu’s D155A-6R bulldozer, GD7555R motor grader and PC220-8M0 hydraulic excavator. All equipped with Topcon’s latest machine control systems.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Ashraf Hashish – Sr. GM of Marketing in Komatsu Middle East FZE – expects the growth trend to continue in UAE for the next three years especially with the AED 50 Billion stimulus package announced by the Abu Dhabi government earlier this year. “Komatsu and Topcon partnered in order to introduce machine control solutions which will enable our customers to increase their productivity and decrease their operating costs even with new or low-skilled operators” Ashraf added. The infrastructure needs in the GCC are increasing every year. “Today, conventional construction methods are time and material-consuming and can have a negative impact on the project cost. Contractors will have to turn to technology like Topcon in order to get the jobs done quicker and with less cost.” John Fahy, construction regional sales manager in Topcon Positioning Group, said.







Saudi Arabia

United Arab Emirates

Y.K Almoayyed & Sons +973 17 730 698

Saud Bahwan Projects & Equipment +968 245 78000

Egyptian International Motors Co. LTD. (E.I.M.) +20 2 506 1600

Jaidah Motors & Trading Co. +974 4463 8804

The Near East Equipment Co. (NEEC) +962 6 581 2816

Abdul Latif Jameel Machinery Trading Co. +966 9200 25543

Dar Al Hai General Trading & Investment Co. +965 247 12905

Galadari Trucks & Heavy Equipment Co. +971 4 338 8800

Middle East construction is entering a new era. A phase vital to the future of the region and one that will provide exciting new business and career opportunities for those willing and able to adapt. But the new era also requires fundamental changes to the way Middle East construction operates. For decades, engineers, contractors and manufacturers in the region have thrived on the vast capital investments in infrastructure and real estate. The results have been spectacular. The region is now home to an incredible array of world-class projects that have laid the foundations for the future. Going forward, growth will not be driven by unlimited top-down spending. Uncertain oil prices, tight fiscal controls and limited access to finance will restrict project spending. Competition will increase and success will go to those who can deliver projects most efficiently, most safely and with the least impact on the environment.

TIME FOR CHANGE Technology will be one of the key ingredients to success in the future. From robotics to 3D printing to blockchain, technologies are emerging that promise to transform our world. One of the biggest challenges is knowing which ones to invest in. It is a critical choice because, in order to make the most of these new technologies, companies must invest in new skills. They must develop new business models with disruptive technology companies. And they must learn to work collaboratively with other project stakeholders. Smart Construction in the Middle East showcases the technologies, innovations and trends that are transforming Middle East construction. Combining expert insights with case studies and technology profiles, it provides a unique guide to smart construction that aims to enable change. The project boom years have seen the regional construction industry mature. Where once, major project clients depended on international contractors to deliver their biggest projects, local players now lead the way. These are the companies who must take responsibility for transforming the way the construction industry operates in the Middle East. It is my hope that this report will be the first of many in MEED’s knowledge transfer series that will help them do so. Richard Thompson, MEED’s editorial director

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OVERVIEW Construction firms must get smart or get left behind


BIG PICTURE ASGC’s Roger Wahl on the technologies transforming construction


PARTNERSHIPS Working with technology start-ups is a vital step

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TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION Getting ready for the construction industry’s vital transformation


INNOVATION LAB Simulated worksite acts as testbed for construction players and tech experts


LESSONS LEARNT The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre provides a model for change

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The future of the construction industry is intelligent equipment that can enhance factors ranging from productivity to safety





EMERGING TECH Artificial intelligence opens doors to advanced actionable insights

IMPROVED VISIBILITY Blockchain can streamline complex projects with multiple stakeholders

SEEKING DATA Quality information is needed to improve learning models for artificial intelligence

IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE Complexity and integration gaps hinder the adoption of augmented reality


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DUPLICATING EFFICIENCY Mott MacDonald takes up modularisation to build schools in the UK


AUGMENTED REALITY Next generation helmets can reduce the occupational hazards of welding

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56-57 36-37

GAME CHANGER 3D printing of concrete has transformed the entire construction value chain


BRICK-LAYING ROBOTS Semi-automated masons take the pressure off workers and boost productivity


ORGANIC CONCRETE Nanoplatelets from root vegetables strengthen concrete mixtures


INFORMATION MODELLING Dubai RTA’s adoption of BIM sets the path for all players in its supply chain

EXOSKELETONS Protective exosuits support workers in strenuous tasks and reduce accidents As costs start to fall and demand for increased efficiency rises, automation is becoming a viable option in the construction sector


AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES Volvo CE is boosting site productivity with automated equipment


AN EYE IN THE SKY Drones are transforming inspection and surveillance

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GET SMART, OR GET LEFT BEHIND Construction is undergoing smart transformation and companies failing to invest in innovation will be at a serious disadvantage, says Heriot-Watt University’s Ammar Kaka


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Professor Ammar Kaka is the provost of HeriotWatt University Dubai, and vice-principal (Dubai), Heriot-Watt University

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here is an overwhelming consensus that the construction sector is lagging behind other manufacturing industries in its pace of development and innovation. Where industries such as automobile manufacturing, ship building and aerospace have managed to double their productivity rates over the past three decades, construction productivity has remained static at best. This is mainly because it is measured by on-site factors, which are an intrinsically inefficient part of the process. Construction projects feature a set of characteristics that are not found together in other industries. They are generally one of a kind, built in situ and delivered by an assembled team that is likely to change from project to project. These characteristics, coupled with the fact that construction products are physically large in scale, means that much of the assembly has to take place on-site. And, as we all know, every site has its own peculiarities with varying degrees of accessibility, climate exposure and ground conditions. The industry is also responsible for intensive energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. According to the UK’s

Constructing Excellence, energy from fossil fuels used in the construction and operation of buildings accounts for about half of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions. Buildings are estimated to account for up to 70 per cent of energy consumption in major cities. Demand for construction will continue to rise. Around the world, 200,000 people a day are migrating to urban areas, where they need affordable and sustainable housing and infrastructure. The lack of skilled labour is one of the biggest global challenges facing the industry. The cost of construction in Dubai is lower than most developed cities, mainly due to intense competition and low wages. So, even though there are more workers on a typical site in Dubai, construction still works out cheaper than in other markets. At the same time, the UAE is recognising the need for improvement in workers’ welfare. The Taqdeer initiative, launched by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, is the world’s first points-based awards programme that recognises excellence in welfare practices.

of smart building technologies to transform the customer experience. Smart innovations will result in a more efficient use of space, but will undoubtedly generate demand growth for the construction industry. We are witnessing this in the hospitality sector where hotels are being retrofitted with new equipment at least every 10 years. Increased room security, customised climate, lighting and appliance control through mobile apps offer leading hotel chains a competitive advantage. Building information modelling (BIM) is transforming the industry’s approach to projects with clients, consultants, contractors, fabricators and facilities managers working collaboratively and concurrently. BIM is reducing risk, enhancing scheduling and cost estimates, and improving productivity. BIM data instantly generates production drawings or databases for manufacturing purposes, allowing for increased use of prefabrication and 3D printing. It also influences on-site assembly, whether in automation, augmented reality or drone-assisted monitoring. Finally, as-built models, together with archived data on progress, will improve building operation and maintenance.

Expo 2020 is aiming to have improved workers welfare as part of its legacy. Together, a global shortage of skilled labour coupled with improved welfare and standards of living will result in a cost escalation, which will be a significant challenge to the industry and its clients. Innovative solutions There is a pressing need for automation and technology. The significant and rapid developments taking place in the digital sector cannot be ignored. Artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing, blockchain and big data are all too impactful to be ignored and will transform how buildings are constructed and operated. We are witnessing a significant growth in venture capital being invested in construction technology start-ups. The journey has started and it is progressing quickly. Companies must either be part of the journey or get left behind. Smart construction comprises two main themes: smart buildings and infrastructure; and the way in which these are designed, procured and built. On the smart building front, the majority of developments are focused on making buildings more environmentally sustainable. They learn occupants’ energy needs, respond to changing weather conditions and automatically adjust themselves to maximise efficiency. The potential for smart buildings is massive. Emerging smart workplace technologies can be used to improve productivity, comfort, security and more. The ability to connect systems through IoT will streamline inventory management at warehouses and improve operational efficiency across the supply chain. As e-commerce continues to take market share from the traditional brick-andmortar stores, retailers must take advantage

There is a pressing need for automation and technology. The significant and rapid developments taking place in the digital sector cannot be ignored”

Investment in technology The development of artificial intelligence and data analytics, coupled with the big data created and generated as a result of designing, constructing and using the assets, will result in an industry that is smarter, more innovative and more efficient. The business case for investing in research and development is clear. Moving towards smart construction will deliver a return on investment from cost savings, increased productivity and greater safety. Perhaps the most significant point in all of this is that the technology underpinning all of these factors already exists.

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ENVISIONING THE FUTURE OF MIDDLE EAST CONSTRUCTION Technology combined with data could be the most important difference between success and failure


echnology and digitisation in construction is just now hitting its stride as companies try to gain a competitive advantage, increase their project win-rate and optimise cost in a highly competitive, razor-thin-margin industry. ASGC’s Roger Wahl considers the different kinds of disruption that future technologies will bring to the Middle East construction industry.

ROBOTICS Robots currently build modular construction and perform repetitive functions such as bricklaying. They are also used as exoskeletons for agility and strength and for intricate, surgical demolition. As robots become smarter through augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), they will assemble complex construction components and be just as effective as a mature automobile assembly line. Robots will increasingly also be used in safety and quality control. Robotic process automation (RPA) bots are used to automate financials and other manual processes. As processes and data matures, RPA will execute higher-level tasks and lead to AI breakthroughs.

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Roger Wahl is the chief information officer at ASGC

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AI uses technology, data, sensors and intelligent algorithms to continually improve construction logistics, supply chain, defect recognition and other processes. AI and embedded sensors work in concert for time optimisation of de-shuttering and early alarm of any unexpected failure through monitoring deflection and concrete strength. While technologies such as drones, 3D printing, video processing/image recognition, predictive modelling and hazard image recognition exist, linking technologies together in a continuous learning cycle and adopting innovations from more mature AI industries is the next step and will transform the construction industry.

3D PRINTING 3D printing is currently used for modular homes and building models. Construction size, complexity and industrial endurance have been barriers to wide-spread usage. But we believe that it will reach a mature state in the coming decade. Improved technology, better building information modelling (BIM) data and the ability to produce innovative materials provides hope. Materials are the key. Current 3D printing methods use plastic composites, metal, glass, etc. Although quality is fantastic – 3D metal is becoming more intricate and as durable as casting – more complex materials, including concrete and metal composites, need to be developed. We believe we will get there, especially with the government’s support and vision to have 25 per cent of Dubai’s new buildings delivered through 3D printing by 2030.

BIG DATA AND INTERNET OF THINGS Perhaps the biggest opportunity for technology disruption is Big Data and the internet of things (IoT). These will weave into every process and set of operations in construction companies. Companies are embracing BIM 3D, 4D and 5D as a differentiation, and using the data – combined with other innovations – to create a distinct advantage. Companies such as Oracle are investing in construction Big Data and systems by creating construction verticals, buying Aconex and creating fully connected (BIM, ERP, Supply Chain) platforms. Big Data and IoT are going to be huge differentiators and feed all other disruptive technologies.

FUTURE OF AUGMENTED REALITY AR has evolved through gamification and simulation programmes, but is now differentiating in construction. AR takes a real-world depiction of a building and augments it with computer-generated graphics (similar to image recognition and augmentation in media). AR connected with BIM can blend a myriad of simulations, historical depictions or futuristic possibilities into the current planned or created structure. AR allows overlaying of planned versus actual progress, giving real-time status updates. While mostly used by builders in an office, AR will evolve into a disruptor that is used on sites, in real-time, to visualise progress versus plan, reduce defects, shorten timelines, lower cost and improve safety.

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MEED anD MashrEq KnowlEDgE PartnErshiP MEED and Mashreq have partnered to provide unique industry insight and understanding of UAE Construction

Exclusive and topical Market research reports Access industry knowledge via Mashreq Construction hUB Networking and insight sharing at Mashreq Construction Clubs Celebrate the industry success at MEED Projects awards in association with Mashreq

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CONTRACTORS MUST HARNESS TECHNOLOGY TO GROW PROFITS Construction companies need to nurture digital disruption to unlock its extraordinary promise for the built environment


he construction industry is one of the world’s least automated industries and continues to feature extensive manual labour as a primary source of productivity. However, with the increase in the complexity of construction projects and the tough market conditions in the region, the industry is on the cusp of a new, ever evolving era of engaging technological solutions within construction, that will ultimately provide cost reductions, improve safety measures and enhance quality standards. However, while there are many good ideas out there, the bottleneck nowadays is not in the ability to build a minimal viable product, it is having the business intelligence and know-how to develop a disruptive product and make use of this product to take on actual projects. Multinationals and start-ups have the potential to bring each other gamechanging opportunities through collaboration and partnership, but first they must

recognise what they can offer each other and thus break the mentality of ‘us vs them’. The bottom line is in putting this disruptive technology into execution. It is all about bridging the gap by forming diverse strategic partnerships with stakeholders across the technology value chain and life-cycle in order to support disruptive technologies and create new innovative lines of business. Providing support A holistic strategy is to support technology providers at various stages of their lifecycle by granting them access to the industry’s ecosystem along with the opportunity to pilot their new technologies. The inclusion of experienced cross-disciplined subject matter experts, as well as the provision of infrastructure and a live environment, will help start-ups deliver proof of value. Inspired by the World Economic Forum’s vision for the future of construction and guided by the emerging technologies high-


Number of active projects CCC is working on worldwide

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lighted in their latest reports, Lebanonbased CCC has launched a research and development task force to seek out innovators working on disruptive built-environment technologies. The chosen innovators are given the opportunity to pilot their technologies in different locations and in a live environment with real data and customers. One of the start-ups that is currently making use of this opportunity is Dubaibased WakeCap. WakeCap is a scalable safety and tracking device that generates data on attendance, location and, most importantly, safety – given how the fatal four (fall hazards, struck by object, caught in object and electrocution) account for 63 per cent of all fatalities and more than 60 per cent of total accidents, according to Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. WakeCap is piloting their product at the Opera Grand Tower project in Downtown Dubai, where the aim is to use technology to help improve on-site safety measures, including in relation to worksite evacuation, emergency response optimisation through fall and head impact detection, preventing unauthorised access, and providing workers with a panic button to use at their disposal in case of an emergency. The real time, accurate and automated data collection on CCC’s workers helps to monitor their attendance and location, but with the internet of things (IoT), you store data for one reason – in this instance, safety – but then find new applications for it. The collected data will help digitise the time keeping/attendance process, but we are also aiming to make use of the stored data to try and optimise productivity and cost norms. CCC is also piloting a project involving 3D printing machines’ spare parts with Immensa Labs, a Dubai-based start-up that specialises in additive manufacturing, which

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Aref Boualwan is manager for management information systems and business process re-engineering at CCC

150,000 Number of people employed by CCC internationally

is expected to revolutionise traditional manufacturing processes. After some trials, we have successfully reverse-engineered, 3D printed and installed spare parts on some of our machinery fleet. The quality of the 3D printed parts has proven to be on par with parts produced through conventional manufacturing methods, and in some cases it has been even deemed better. CCC aims to use this technology to digitise as many spare parts as possible and thus potentially reduce the size of our inventory warehouses and avoid the risk of unexpected costs incurred through having replacement parts custom-made in small batches. Helping the community Leaders in the construction industry should also be conscious of their corporate social responsibility and the need to work on achieving the sustainable development goals represented by the UN. With about 68 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, according to a 2018 figure by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, no less than 150 million homeless people, according to Yale Global in 2017, and with 1.6 billion people living in inadequate housing, according to the UN Habitat in 2016, CCC is seeking to raise awareness of the use of technologies such as IoT and 3D printing to make construction cheaper and more sustainable. We wish to replicate the successful model implemented internally at CCC to envision affordable housing on a grander scale to have a positive impact on communities both regionally and around the world. This will be done by engaging more construction-related technology providers and start-ups and by leveraging the strengths of an integrated value chain by collaborating with stakeholders who are willing to share the risk on and/or fund pilot projects.

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EMBRACING INNOVATION The adoption of technologies such as 3D printing will be the norm in the coming years and companies need to be ready for it, say Hercu Viljoen and Imad Itani from Alec Alec is looking at modular construction, and has tested surveillance drones on one of its projects (image via Shutterstock)


hen Dubai’s 3D printing strategy was first announced, achieving a target of 25 per cent of 3D printed buildings by 2030 was

considered impossible by most. But the more we applied our minds to it, the more it seemed achievable. After all, we work in a country where setting impossible targets often pushes you to do your best. Obstacles to innovation Construction industry players – not just regionally, but globally – are used to doing things in a certain way, which makes it difficult to change. There is also the question of testing new technologies on site, which can never be done at the risk of structural stability. We have to be sure of the product before we test it, or create a controlled environment to trial it. This can be quite burdensome for many companies, especially smaller ones that cannot accommodate these added costs. The fragmented nature of the industry is often its downfall. Convincing all parties to agree on a solution can be tricky. Furthermore, people want immediate results. Due to the industry’s delivery-oriented nature, construction projects could be stalled if a technology does not deliver promised results. This

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can become a major problem, especially if these technologies have already been worked into a contract. The labour-intensive nature of the Middle East construction sector is another factor. For now, the cost of labour is far cheaper than the cost of using robots or automated systems to do the tasks. Having said that, the industry is not stagnant. Younger people are propagating change, and as technology evolves, it will become cheaper, making adoption easier. We’ve tried to make our business smarter by adopting apps and a ‘mobile’ way of doing business. This helps us collect information to analyse, predict and prevent problems. At the same time, we are trying to make things simpler, which may sound contradictory. You can often overdo technology so much that you cannot achieve progress. We want to get back to the basics while at the same time doing these basics better. Modular construction We are actively looking at modular construction, and have tested drones for surveillance on one of our projects. Just recently, we tested exoskeletons on site – it is an expensive technology, and we gave our feedback to the supplier on what worked best for us. Our IT department is focused on developing apps for safety and gathering information. One of the problems we faced in the past was having adequate accurate data. For instance, cost meetings are now conducted with information we have collected in a ‘smart’ way. The meetings are now used for solutions. The safety app works on the principle of ‘action notices’, whereby managers

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Hercu Viljoen (top) is Alec’s managing director for related businesses Imad Itani (bottom) is innovation manager


Ideas Alec received this year for innovation in business


Ideas Alec plans to implement

can take photos of potential hazards on site and enter them into the app alongside relevant metadata. The app uploads this data to the system, and this is later used during our trainings and workshops. The adoption of technologies such as 3D printing and robotics will be the norm in the coming five years. Costs and materials will get cheaper, making it easier for the industry to adapt to these changes. Collaboration among stakeholders could smooth the process, but this is still a competitive industry with very tight margins. There is an awareness that we need to work closely with academia and startups, which is a step in the right direction. We believe it will be possible to have an industry-wide adoption of technology when every person in the business is convinced we need it. Innovation awards At Alec, innovation is one of our core values. We recently concluded our annual company-wide innovation awards, which aims to encourage employees to submit ideas of how things could be done better. We received almost 200 ideas this year, out of which we are planning to implement more than 50. With every passing year, we want to double our drive to adopt new initiatives. We may not be fully ready for more advanced technology such as exosuits, but we are not limiting our mindsets. When the time comes, we know we will be ready for it. The next few years will be phenomenal for this industry. Alec will be taking the lead in this transformation.

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SIMULATED WORKSITES CAN DRIVE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION Oracle’s construction and engineering innovation laboratory integrates sophisticated technology into a simulated jobsite to help companies explore the latest technologies

T ABOUT THE AUTHOR Burcin Kaplanoglu is executive director and innovation officer at Oracle Construction & Engineering

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here is a perception that construction is lagging behind other industries in terms of digitisation, but that is changing as more builders embrace digital transformation to improve operations and stay competitive. Innovation is indeed alive and well in engineering and construction. As the industry continues to battle low productivity resulting in projects running over budget and getting delayed, more companies are turning to technology to transform their systems and processes, as well as their approach to projects. Yes, paper-based processes and manual approaches to some activities still exist, but the technology innovations and venture investments in the industry are staggering and make this an exciting time to be involved. We are seeing a flow of investment coming into the industry and more construction-focused start-ups

looking to capitalise on this lucrative and solution-thirsty space. This combination is fuelling a rise in technology solutions that target specific challenges facing construction and engineering. Transformative change All the while, this is happening against a backdrop of transformative technological change at the macro level, with 5G on the horizon, the rise of wearables, and a raft of new internet of things (IoT) devices offering greater and more sophisticated capabilities than ever before. When you add to the mix increasing access to and importance of data, it is no surprise this excitement is accompanied by confusion and trepidation. There is just so much change that it is difficult for decision-makers to truly know what to look into, and it is even more challenging to understand what to adopt and why. Justifying budget spend on

technology solutions becomes increasingly complex when you multiply the options available by a factor of 10 or even 100, especially if they have no precedent. That was part of the thought process behind the Oracle construction and engineering innovation laboratory located in the US. This facility is designed to accelerate efforts to help project and asset-intensive organisations explore the latest technologies and drive digital transformation in a familiar worksite environment. Input from customers as well as technology providers shaped the vision for the lab. The indoor/outdoor facility integrates sophisticated technology into a simulated jobsite with girders, concrete-block walls, industrial fencing, gravel underfoot and a double-wide trailer housing cloud systems that display and analyse data transmitted from the solutions outside on the site. It enables project delivery professionals to interact with leading-edge solutions, including connected devices, autonomous vehicles, drones, augmented reality, visualisation and artificial intelligence tools to see what is possible to put to work right now. The innovation lab is especially important in the low-margin, risk-averse construction industry because technology has to be proven in order to be employed. The success of the lab is that it is open to partners with many of the best construction technology solutions available. This is something the industry has not traditionally done very well, but the more construction and engineering businesses share best practices and data, and work together, the more successful the whole industry will be. One of the partners at the innovation lab and a fascinating start-up story is Reconstruct, a visual data analytics platform for construction. Reconstruct provides a 3D timeline that tracks visual progress, labour

productivity and predictive analytics that empower executives and their project teams to take actions to stay on time and on budget. Mani Golparvar co-founded Reconstruct and developed a prototype with Derek Hoiem, now chief technology officer of the business. Recognition for the solution grew and soon they were able to explore funding, including assembling a business-driven team led by Silicon Valley veteran Zak MacRunnels as CEO. Today the platform enables web and mobile devices to seamlessly integrate with reality capture, building information modelling and schedule. It creates a user-friendly, accurate and predictive visual environment in which users can manage their projects.

Oracle’s innovation lab enables companies to interact with leadingedge solutions including connected devices, autonomous vehicles and augmented reality

Time machine Imagine having a regular cadence of images of a construction project taken from every angle by 360 degree videos or self-managed drones. The software can automatically compare the digital model of the project plans with every change at the site and then provide a dashboard view of potential issues affecting the project. This sort of intelligence could be the difference that helps ensure a project finishes on time and on budget. MacRunnels likens the solution to a time machine because it is not only using the digital models to look into the project’s past, it also uses predictive analytics to assess the project’s future. Reconstruct is an excellent example of the level of innovation that is happening in the construction industry right now. With all of this technology available to the industry and the opportunity to see it in action, construction and engineering businesses are at the centre of a rapidly transforming space that has a bright future and is evolving all of the time.

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GOVERNMENT IN ACTION The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre provides a model for change that brings together stakeholders from government, industry and academia to tackle deep-rooted issues


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Lucy Black is head of business relationships at Construction Scotland Innovation Centre

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he UK is facing an affordable homes crisis. The government has committed £7.2bn ($9.4bn) to build 1.5 million homes by 2022. In Scotland, the Scottish government’s affordable housing supply programme has targeted the delivery of 50,000 homes by 2021, a 67 per cent increase over the previous five-year target of 30,000 homes. Delivering this significant increase in volume cannot be achieved using traditional construction processes, thus opening up huge opportunities for advanced offsite solutions and mass-customisation approaches to design that can be a catalyst for change. Many of the challenges facing the construction industry in Scotland will be familiar to construction stakeholders in the Middle East. Productivity growth in Scotland’s construction industry is about one-third of that in the wider UK economy. Scottish construction also suffers from low investment in innovation, research and development and technology. Where other sectors have embraced digital and technological advances, construction in

Scotland remains principally analogue and paper-based, with limited smart connectivity between activities on and offsite. Scotland’s construction industry is highly fragmented and sees limited collaboration. In addition, an already significant skills shortage is set to get worse. It is estimated about 30 per cent of the UK construction workforce will retire in the next decade. Additionally, outmoded procurement practices are undermining industry performance. The conventional, layered contracting model is proving increasingly unfit for purpose as demonstrated by the recent collapse of large contractors such as Carillion, ROK and Connaught. Innovation centre In a drive to tackle the deep-rooted issues facing construction, the Scottish government established the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) in 2014 to build a culture of innovation that drives transformational change and delivers economic impact for Scotland. CSIC is one of eight industry-led innovation centres in Scotland that aim to bridge the gap between industry, academics and

the public sector. The Scottish Innovation Centres programme is operated through Scotland’s universities and CSIC is hosted by Edinburgh Napier University. The other seven innovation centres are hosted by other Scottish universities. The aims of the innovation centres are: ■ To offer collaborative knowledge exchange to address industry problems; ■ To provide an environment to support innovators, academics and entrepreneurs; ■ To simplify the innovation landscape. Since its launch, CSIC has engaged 226 partner organisations, including 152 industry partners, 11 housing associations, 36 public sector partners, 14 Scottish university partners and 13 Scottish college partners. By the end of January 2019, it had supported 236 projects that over the coming five years are predicted to deliver £738m in additional revenues, including £204m in exports to 47 new international markets, safeguard 3,252 existing jobs, create 1,383 new jobs, and deliver 117 new products and 81 new services. In September 2017, CSIC launched the ‘Innovation Factory’, a £2m, 35,000-squarefoot facility furnished with state-of-the-art technology and equipment that has created a physical hub for construction innovation activity in Scotland. This facility has also been hailed as the UK’s first digital manufacturing, prototyping and future skills centre of excellence. At a connected ecosystem level, all seminars, workshops and such have been provided free of charge to the industry to date to assist in stimulating innovation. CSIC’s proprietary Collaborative Innovation Project Funding funds up to 100 per cent of academic input to a project that is delivered by one of CSIC’s 14 Scottish university partners, including Heriot Watt University, which has a campus in Dubai.

Access to the CSIC Innovation Factory is on a commercial model. It is therefore open to industry and academia both inside and outside Scotland through different means. This model also allows UK and international firms to use the Innovation Factory on a subcontract basis to deliver projects funded privately or through other innovation funding programmes. Raising awareness in the construction sector is an ongoing challenge, as is increasing engagement with small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up the majority of the industry and supply chain.

CSIC’s Innovation Factory is furnished with stateof-the-art technology and equipment


Number of projects CSIC has supported as of January 2019

Pushing stakeholders Another challenge is to encourage stakeholders to understand innovation and include it on their agendas. Many firms lack resources to support the project and are focused on short-term management. They often view innovation as an aspirational activity. CSIC’s ability to operate as a catalyst, building open communities and fostering partnerships around common issues is transforming the connectivity of the sector. There is no reason why, with key government backing and potentially financial support, this model cannot be delivered within the Middle East. Numerous reports stretching back generations have dissected the industry, exposed its flaws and suggested what should be done differently. What has been consistently lacking, however, is a recognition that for industry change to be effective, clients, both public and private, must change the way they contract with the industry too. When clear objectives are identified, industry must also have access to the necessary facilities and expertise that can help translate good intentions into tangible outcomes.

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THE DIGITAL DIFFERENCE From the tracking of equipment on site to an app for concrete and machine-learning precast tools, ASGC is using digital technology to make itself stand out from the construction crowd

A When you bid on construction contracts, the competition is so tough that anything that improves your supply chain can gain you a huge advantage – you have to have a differentiator”

20 Smart Construction

Dubai-based construction group that is a prime example of digitalisation in process is ASGC, which is implementing an array of data handling and analysis systems across the group aimed at transforming the way in which its resources, projects and customer interactions are managed. One fundamental and group-wide change under way at ASGC is the deployment of asset management software (AMS) to manage each and every construction resource, from equipment to spare machine parts and precast concrete structural elements, throughout its lifecycle. For its physical infrastructure, the AMS makes use of a combination of Bluetooth radio frequency identification (RFID) and GPS tags for unpowered and powered equipment respectively. At its simplest level, this allows the AMS to provide comprehensive asset-tracking functions across the group, enabling it to raise alerts in response to unauthorised movements and provide ASGC project supervisors at the touch of a button. The holistic nature of ASGC’s AMS, however, means its true value lies in the analysis

and optimisation of productivity and costs that it facilitates. Plant and equipment are also equipped with smart sensors that deliver real-time telematic updates on engine health and the behaviour of equipment operators. All of this information is in turn fed into the enterprise resource planning system to allow issues or delays caused by problems with plant, equipment and personnel to be factored into the cost of operation and the organisation’s operating cash flow. Although it is only six months since the project’s implementation, the AMS is already delivering results. As Shiv Shankar, manager for IT strategy and transformation at ASGC, notes: “We have seen huge benefits, including improved asset utilisation and reduced idle time. In all, there has been a 3 per cent improvement in asset utilisation and a 4 per cent reduction in fuel consumption. We have the equipment at our fingertips, and the result is greater efficiency across all of our projects. It helps us finish on time, on schedule and under budget.” Concrete appification Another development being worked on by the group is the integration of the point-of-

sales process and asset tracking for readymix concrete orders from Emirates Beton into a mobile application. The app has been designed to handle the full order process for the business, recording everything from the properties of each mix to the size and interval between batches. It provides live updates on the status and the location of each batch, as well as the estimated time of delivery incorporating any delays due, for example, to traffic. “This is a customer-focused application that provides more transparency on the status and delivery of customers’ orders,” says Ahmed Adel, IT manager for ASGC’s Concrete Industries Complex. He notes that the improved level of transparency is also benefiting Emirates Beton internally by reducing confusion over order status and delivery that could potentially lead to costly administrative mistakes. So far, there has been an extremely positive reaction from customers to the new ordering system, which supersedes a website browser-based system that could be tricky for project managers to access on site. Precast planning A third highly significant development underway within the group is the implementation by Hard Precast Building Systems (HPBS) of a full integrated precast management software developed internally to manage the entire precast lifecycle from design through to installation, that feeds directly into BIM project models. Within the system, HPBS has implemented a machine-learning solution that works to categorise the precast components based on their complexity and similarity to each other in order to optimise production, delivery and installation by, for example, scheduling the manufacture of similar parts together.

ASGC’s asset management interface (above) and the Emirates Beton concrete ordering app (below)

1989 Year ASGC was established

As Adel comments: “The system was engineered and developed using the latest technology to meet the objective of delivering complete control over the precast element lifecycle to minimise costly surprises and waste, improve efficiency and quality, and ensure live visual status of the project available for stakeholder instantly.” ASGC notes how construction has been following automobile manufacturing, where simple, repetitive processes over and over again on a production line with standard components. At HPBS, which does not use standard components, the new management system is helping to bridge that gap. Speaking on the broader technology trends, ASGC controls director Maged el-Hawary, notes: “When you bid on construction contracts, the margins are so thin and the competition so tough that anything that improves your supply chain can gain you a huge margin advantage – you have to have some sort of differentiator.” For ASGC, this differentiator has now become digital technology. El-Hawary adds: “Our CEO, Bishoy Azmy, is very dynamic and he sees what technology and innovation can do. So he’s a huge support of these initiatives and we’re really carving our way from a digitalisation perspective.”

Smart Construction 21

CONSTRUCTION 4.0 Digital and technological innovations are transforming construction project delivery around the world. These innovations are delivering higher levels of efficiency and productivity, while at the same time removing many of the traditional practices that are barriers to progress in project delivery.

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES Using drones for surveying work is reducing planning costs and opportunities exist to exploit the technology for site monitoring and inspection, reducing labour costs

IMPROVING EFFICIENCY AND PRODUCTIVITY IN PROJECTS Offsite manufacturing, prefabrication, modularisation and onsite assembly can reduce construction time

TRANSFORMING DELIVERY 3D printing can create efficiencies on site, replacing expensive materials and spare parts and enabling prefabrication

VIRTUAL TWINS Digital platforms drive closer collaboration between project parties, enabling better designed projects that can be built more efficiently

THE FUTURE One day, large-scale production of buildings will be delivered using 3D printing

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ROBOTICS IN CONSTRUCTION Mechanised systems are already transforming key operations in the industry. With the right action, the benefits will spread rapidly


obots are seen as a solution to many of the structural problems facing the developed world – sagging productivity, ageing populations, swelling healthcare budgets and even epidemics of depression in an increasingly fragmented society. Of course, not everyone shares this view, and many are worried about the impact of robotics on employment and social structures. Whatever you think of them, a revolution is occurring around mechanised systems. Software and processing technology, sensors, commercial drones, autonomous vehicles and developments around collaborative robots (co-bots) are all driving robotics capabilities to new heights. This has encouraged the uptake of millions of consumer, entertainment, service and industrial robots. In the construction industry, robots and drones are increasingly taking the place of humans to undertake dangerous, repetitive or difficult tasks. The technology has the potential to make construction sites safer and allow companies and workers to operate in more efficient ways.

The greater integration of robotics on construction sites can have a positive impact on worker safety. Hazardous or physically demanding tasks can be carried out by machines designed to replicate the work of staff. A robot that could carry a heavy load more quickly and easily than a human, would speed up the task without risk of injury, and improve productivity. Robotics in construction may also facilitate greater consistency of processes and products. Controlled by computers with sensory feedback, machines can be programmed to undertake precision operations to a high standard. As robots are increasingly being used to undertake mundane tasks, humans are

Smart Construction 25


able to focus on more complex challenges requiring expertise or technical knowledge, thus improving efficiency. Case studies US-based Sarcos Robotics has three new products of use to the construction industry. One is a small robotic snake, useful for industrial tasks such as pipeline inspection. Another is a two-armed tele-operated robot that can be used for heavy construction. The third innovation is an exoskeleton suit that allows workers to more easily and quickly perform tasks such as lifting heavy objects or equipment. EksoZero is an innovative exoskeleton that helps ease the physical burden on construction and electrical workers. With EksoWorks’ exoskeleton technology, workers can complete heavy hand tool tasks with less fatigue, better workmanship and fewer workplace injuries. US-based drone manufacturer DroneDeploy has developed a technology to create aerial construction site intelligence for the surveying and construction industry. Recommendations for construction The construction industry is characterised by a highly disintegrated and fragmented value chain, which can hamper the flow of data and the full integration of systems and technological adoption. It has been generally slow to adopt new robotics technologies (amongst others), and remains heavily reliant on manual labour and mechanical technologies, resulting in low productivity. The use of robotics can be complicated and requires a comprehensive understanding to use them to their full capacity. Investment in staff training is required to effectively utilise robotics in the construction industry. Robotics technology holds the power to transform the construction industry

26 Smart Construction

ROBOTICS COMPANIES GAINING STRONGHOLD IN CONSTRUCTION Brokk develops remote controlled machines for safe, efficient, powerful and profitable demolition. Husqvarna’s construction division develops, manufactures and sells remote-controlled demolition robots, capable of a variety of tasks around the construction site, such as cutting, drilling and lifting. Built Robotics has utilised the latest sensors from self-driving cars, retrofitted them into proven equipment from the job site and developed a suite of autonomous software designed specifically for construction and earthmoving. Conjet has developed robotic hydrodemolition units, which remove concrete using water pressure with no micro-cracks, leaving a good bonding surface for fresh concrete. Fastbrick Robotics’ bricklaying robot Hadrian X is a unique construction robot that can be mounted onto truck cabs, tracks, barges, boats and cranes. Shimizu Corporation has developed a number of robots to undertake a variety of functions across a construction site, including the Robo-Carrier, the Robo-Welder and the Robo-Buddy.

over the longer term. However, it remains predominantly in the pilot or early development stage. Recommendations for robotics Technology companies should identify and address the needs of construction firms, prioritising innovations that are most appropriate for the industry. This can be achieved through ongoing consultation, engagement with companies, and acceptance of feedback. Many construction companies are unable or unwilling to invest large amounts of money and time in robotics technology without fully understanding the potential benefits. The ability to rent or lease robotics technology, which would require a much smaller financial obligation than full ownership, could be a far more attractive option for companies, particularly while they are learning how to fully utilise the technology. Staff training will enable companies to take full advantage of the new technology, making them more likely to invest in the future. Robotics companies should therefore prioritise ongoing training programs for clients in the construction industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Kurtz is head of construction research and analysis at GlobalData


INVESTING IN EQUIPMENT THAT THINKS The future of the construction industry is intelligent equipment that can enhance factors ranging from productivity to safety


eople get surprised at the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI), but today, the region’s heavier sectors are leaning on AI for the enhancement of everything from productivity to safety. The GCC’s reliance on heavy industry, from steel and chemicals to ship-building and aerospace, goes back decades. And as oil-rich Gulf nations pursue economic diversification programmes, construction projects will only become more plentiful. Consider the factors that are front of mind for a project foreman: resource management; asset tracking; health and safety; cheap and easy site surveys. These issues are the domain of smart construction – the application of AI to the building site. More with less The region is rapidly turning to AI as a means to do more with less. Digital transformation is a means to engage, empower, optimise and reinvent; and AI is the engine behind those improvements. In October 2018, Microsoft surveyed more than 1,300 Middle East-based infor-

mation technology (IT) decision-makers about their 2019 digital transformation plans. When asked about AI, almost two in five said their organisation had already adopted a solution using smart technologies, and more than one third (37 per cent) are planning to adopt in 2019. Regional companies are also relaxing their AI budgets. Some 72 per cent will spend on AI this year; 34 per cent are setting aside more than 5 per cent of their budget and 9 per cent are investing more than 10 per cent of their budget. Technologists have seen this change escalating across GCC industries over the past five years or so. Organisations, including contractors, have heard the success stories and are eager to join the parade. While many factors have driven this adoption, the proliferation of data probably deserves most of the credit for making smart construction viable. The intelligent cloud can guzzle up mountains of workplace information and homogenise it, given the right IT stack. On construction sites, this means photos, logs of materials and equipment used, labour timesheets and

Smart Construction 27


even video footage are fodder for the intelligent cloud. So, the range of real-time capture scenarios available to decision-makers today is greater than ever, allowing deeper analysis of projects, leading to shrewder use of resources and greater profitability. AI opens the door to the kind of actionable insights previously hidden behind impenetrable complexity – analyses too timely or intricate for a human to undertake. Productivity, safety, quality and scheduling can all be enhanced through such deep dives. Real-time field reporting through voice or text is child’s play. Based on keywords such as ‘delay’ or ‘safety’ within reports, the intelligent cloud can generate alerts for onsite or offsite stakeholders. The cloud is also home to AI-driven smart-workflow systems that use optical character recognition technology to make engineering drawings easily searchable and allow those blueprints to be routed to the personnel that will need them, without the need for unnecessary human actions. The Internet of Things (IoT) can support the use of wearable sensors to keep tabs on who is where onsite and what they are doing, generating further alerts in the event of distress or injury. Other smart solutions allow unmanned aerial vehicles to map sites ahead of time and in real time, slashing survey costs, eliminating the need for many site visits and enhancing the assessments of project managers, as they add a level of detail often not captured by ground-based surveyors. Meanwhile, mixed-reality headsets can allow unprecedented collaboration between onsite and offsite personnel. The autonomous vehicle is only a few years away, and while it may be many years before they are common on public roads, imminent widespread commercial use, especially on construction sites, seems

28 Smart Construction

Necip Ozyucel is cloud and enterprise business group leader at Microsoft Gulf

assured. Caterpillar has, after all, already brought a range of autonomous dozers, drills and haulers to market for the mining sector. Robots capable of constructionspecific tasks are also on the way.


Perfect union Meanwhile, the cloud oversees all, being capable of taking existing infrastructure, such as closed-circuit TV cameras, and infusing them with human-like intelligence. When fed real-time digital footage from a CCTV network, the intelligent cloud can analyse video with such nuance, it can augment your security and health and safety teams. This is the perfect union of the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge. The IoT, computer vision technology, machine learning, cognitive reasoning and advanced analytics come together with the chatbot to deliver the most advanced workplace safety. Back-end AI can analyse video to spot fires, leaks, spills and non-compliance. Building sites have never been so efficient. This is the future of the construction industry – not replacing workers, but keeping them safe and enhancing their output.


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BALANCING BLOCKCHAIN HYPE WITH REALITY Blockchain could make the construction sector more efficient and transparent for all the players involved in a project, but the cost of implementation is still too high for many firms

T ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Bicknell is principal analyst, thematic research, at GlobalData

30 Smart Construction

he arrival of blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, has been accompanied by hype and scepticism. Those on board see the clear potential in its adoption and those who do not argue that it continues to be a technology looking for a problem to solve. Simply put, a blockchain is a timestamped series of immutable records of data managed by a cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these ‘blocks’ of data are bound to each other, or ‘chained’, by cryptographic principles. In construction, blockchain remains a nascent technology whose applications are still in the pilot phase. It could have the potential to revolutionise the sector, but the real impact of the technology is believed to be three to five years away from delivery. Already, the cost and complexity of implementing blockchain-based solutions has led to early projects being

quietly shelved, or having to evolve in a way that reduces their independence on the technology. One core benefit of blockchain is the ability to execute transactions without third-party control. But this freedom typically carries a cost that has left the claims of improved efficiency open to debate. Bright future UK data analytics firm GlobalData nevertheless sees strong growth in blockchain-related revenue over the next six years, and forecasts the overall market for blockchain will generate revenues of just under $2bn by 2025. Of this, service-based revenues attributable to blockchain will see higher rates of growth, albeit from a lower starting point. These service-based revenues are why blockchain is so attractive to larger technology players and systems integrators. Tech

Using smart contracts – based on blockchain – “can reverse and improve this worrying trend in the construction industry and unlock the benefits within the built environment sector”, the ICE said. Smart contracts operate using workflows that operate on the basis of ‘if/then’ principles. An example could be a contractor only receiving payment upon satisfactory completion of work, or only ordering supplies for the next phase of a project when certain works are completed.

Blockchain market forecast $bn 2,000 1,500 1,000 500








0 2018

leaders such as IBM and Microsoft, and IT services companies such as Accenture are using blockchain as a catalyst to engage with clients on the more complex challenge of modernising inefficient and only partly digitised processes. Advocates of the technology in construction include the Construction Blockchain Consortium, which argues that the sector is largely characterised by fragmentation in processes, services and firms, with a persistent disconnect between design and construction. This disconnect, it adds, is mainly due to the lack of trustworthy information across the supply chain. Blockchain, it believes, can bridge this disconnect through the use of transparent transactions. ‘Blockchain Technology in the Construction Industry’, a December 2018 report by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) also pointed to the “highly fragmented, scattered and complex supply chain” of capital infrastructure projects around the world. It cited London’s Crossrail project, with its more than 700 UK suppliers, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which saw more than 12,000 workers from over 100 countries on site at the peak of its construction. Managing such complexity requires “enormous effort and resources”, the ICE noted, and such projects typically experience “mistakes, delays and accidents at various stages”, which, combined with systemic problems with accountability in the industry, often result in blame deflection. These are the main ‘pain points’ where blockchain can make the process more efficient and transparent for all participants involved in the project, the ICE said. According to the report, 75 per cent of capital projects in the UK are over-budget and 20 per cent of cost overruns are caused by errors such as inefficient project governance and poor project control.

Blockchain services Blockchain technology Source: GlobalData


Capital projects in the UK that have exceeded their budget

Providing proof Beyond smart contracts, blockchain could be used to provide digital proof for certain critical data, such as personal identification or professional certification, in the construction sector. Blockchain can also be used to provide greater supply chain transparency. Construction materials typically have scannable codes so that purchasers know everything about the product back to the raw material stage. Every transaction occurring on the supply chain could be recorded in a blockchain. It can likewise facilitate the development of longitudinal life-cycle records for buildings and facilities from planning to design and construction through commissioning, usage, maintenance and decommissioning. However, construction industry users would be well-advised to treat blockchain as one tool in a well-stocked toolbox, and by no means assume that, whatever the problem, blockchain will somehow help fix it. There is a risk in thinking blockchain will be a panacea of sorts for managing complex transactions. So far, only a few construction firms have taken strides towards adoption, which either suggests the use-case remains uncompelling, or that the industry is being risk-savvy, as it should continue to be.

Smart Construction 31


CONSTRUCTIVE DATA FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE Data-backed AI has considerable potential, but technology experts face challenges when it comes to implementation

T ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nour Kassassir is the vice-president and chief information officer for Parsons Middle East and Africa

32 Smart Construction

he human mind can process only a limited amount of information at any point in time. However, artificial intelligence (AI), which is modelled on natural human intelligence, harnesses the processing power of computers to capture large amounts of data then analyses this information to identify patterns and trends. AI uses machine learning to solve problems and execute tasks with greater speed and accuracy. As computers begin to process more data over a longer period, they continue to learn and adjust their algorithms in a similar way to the human brain. This process is known as ‘deep learning’. A pilot project conducted for a leading transport provider in the region sought to use AI-enabled computers to improve safety and inspection on the client’s worksite. The AI software used images and data captured on-site to ‘understand’ hazards and dangerous situations. Through

computer vision recognition, the system could determine which construction workers were wearing safety hats. The AI computer vision algorithm was exposed to numerous photos of construction workers wearing safety hats, and these photos were classified accordingly. The primary challenge we faced in this pilot was feeding sufficient data into the software system, a challenge that can be tackled once more clients are open to the idea of collaborating and sharing data to improve the technology industry-wide. With cloud-based applications and mobile devices, the amount of data that is captured on a job site has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. This information is valuable in conducting deeper analysis, as well as in capitalising on trends and scenarios to make projects and companies more profitable. AI provides insights into data that humans cannot process – or cannot process quickly

enough. It can be used to improve productivity, safety, quality and scheduling. The price of learning Engineering and construction (E&C) companies’ initial use of AI technologies comes with an upfront cost that not all companies are willing to pay. Mature learning models have a direct bearing on the effectiveness of the AI applications that use them, and the quality of the data that is collected to develop a learning model has a direct bearing on its success. Technology start-ups that operate in the field currently face several challenges in encouraging companies to work with them to develop learning models. ■ Uncertainty

Various tech start-ups are developing AI applications that solve the same problems in the E&C industry. Which AI application will survive? Which tech start-up will survive and mature into a full-fledged business? E&C companies are faced with the challenge of choosing AI systems at the risk of losing their investment if the tech start-up that owns the application becomes insolvent, or if they invest in a product that does not become widely adopted. ■ Resource

investment AI applications need data to develop learning models, which requires the cooperation of the E&C companies. Not all firms are willing – or can afford – to invest their resources in developing and testing learning models. Some may also be reluctant to share data that they consider to be their intellectual property. ■ Ownership

The creation of new business structures that encourage construction companies and

With cloud-based applications and mobile devices, the amount of data that is captured on a job site has grown exponentially over the past 10 years

Through computer vision recognition, the AI system could determine which construction workers were wearing safety hats”

tech start-ups to work together are required to avoid disputes over ownship of the learning model. ■ Learning

models Models developed for the E&C industry may vary by geographic markets, which could require the development of different learning models for each market. For instance, in North America, white hard hats are the de facto standard at construction sites. In the Middle East, hard hats could be of different colours. AI models would need to understand these regional differences. ■ Slow

return on investment E&C companies may be reluctant to adopt AI technologies that require a longer period of return. Regardless of the challenges, AI is here to stay and is gaining momentum. E&C companies that are willing to invest their resources in researching AI innovations, conducting proofs of concept and developing plans to adopt these technologies will position themselves to maintain competitiveness and grow their market share.

Smart Construction 33


A NEW VISUAL REALITY Despite the high costs and safety issues associated with the use of augmented reality in the construction sector, the technology is forecast to become more common on construction sites Investment intentions for augmented reality (% of total), 2018 40




0 Not invested and no plans to invest Not invested but plan to invest within two years Invested, with further investment planned within two years Invested, with no further spending planned Source: GlobalData

34 Smart Construction


mong the various disruptive technology trends affecting the construction sector, one that has quite recently made the transition from theoretical to practical use is augmented reality (AR). While virtual reality (VR) involves the creation of a totally artificial environment, AR superimposes information on top of an existing environment. In construction, an example application would typically be a platform enabling engineers to visualise a project directly within a real-world space. Extended reality Some contractors prefer to speak of extended reality (XR), a catch-all term for all AR, fully immersive VR environments and assisted reality, which can provide additional guidance to workers on site by means of in-view text or audio feed through smart-glasses or headsets. AR’s potential in construction lies in the ability to overlay data onto real-world environments and allow users to see what is not yet built, or what is hidden. Despite this potential, AR adoption has yet to truly take off. A 2018 survey by UK

data analytics firm GlobalData examining new technology in construction found that only 29 per cent of respondents had made investments in AR. Slightly more – 32 per cent – said they had yet to invest, but plan to do so in the next two years. One reason for the relative lack of investor interest in AR is the series of challenges that inhibit its adoption in comparison to other technologies. One of these is the ongoing integration gap between AR devices and building information modelling (BIM) systems, which are currently used extensively across the construction industry. In order for AR technology to be utilised more widely, this integration gap needs to be better targeted by AR developers. However, it would equally be a mistake to consider AR as a purely theoretical technology. It has been used on London’s Crossrail project, where the US’ Bechtel deployed it to give live access to the BIM information in the field, driven by a desire to improve the efficiency and safety of field personnel. The ability of AR to visualise BIM data can be a highly effective way to create a safer site, for example by revealing utilities beneath the ground to mitigate the risk of cable strikes and similar incidents.

Bechtel also trialled an AR application developed by its infrastructure division to track the progress of the installation of pre-fabricated super-structure components. After the trial, however, it was concluded that some of today’s AR solutions remain too expensive for widespread practical use. The business logic is also a challenge. In order for AR to be used to solve a problem, vendors need to provide AR solutions with business logic that adheres to common minimum standards, for example to retrieve the correct product data sheet for a piece of equipment that needs to be maintained. Limited knowledge Another concern is the perception that AR technology is complex, coupled with a general lack of understanding of how AR tracking results can be used to make more informed business decisions. How ‘real’ AR content needs to be for construction is also yet to be answered, as well as the lack of strong Internet and data connections at construction sites. AR solutions used in gaming typically require photo-realism and high refresh rates to persuade users that the augmented content is real, but this could be unnecessary where AR is intended as a purely indicative guide. Bechtel found it was better to deliver a very simple block AR model over a highly rendered version, and that this also offered the advantage of reducing the data volumes and overheads of data transfer. From a broader XR perspective, VR and assisted reality can be used to supplement training activities or safety procedures. VR can prove highly effective as a training tool for machine operators, by providing a lowcost but still immersive virtual experience through the use of videogame-like controls. Bechtel is implementing such a system for crane operators and expects it to im-

USING AR IN CONSTRUCTION Project planning: A 3D sequencing model can be overlaid on the real-world site environment to ensure the sequence can be verified on site Site safety: Safety issues can be augmented over the real-world site environment using 3D pop-up icons 2D or 3D virtual blueprints can be accessed on site Training: Systems operations and maintenance information can be overlaid over installed equipment on site to improve the familiarisation of systems during handover and operations and maintenance

ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Bicknell is principal analyst, thematic research, at GlobalData


Survey respondents that had invested in AR


Survey respondents that plan to invest in AR

prove the screening and selection process for operators, and ultimately lower the risk, protect the equipment and save money. With assisted reality, technicians undertaking an inspection of equipment could receive overlaid details of a machine’s maintenance history, danger warnings or in-view annotations from remote experts. At the same time, construction sites are rugged environments and since AR or XR solutions typically rely on relatively fragile wearables, such as glasses or mobile devices, to deliver information to the user, the risk associated with damage to augmented equipment could make adoption difficult. Safety is a further difficulty, and there is an ongoing health and safety concern that the use of AR technology on site necessarily diminishes an individual’s awareness of immediate surroundings. Yet despite these issues, AR’s usage is likely to become increasingly common. GlobalData has identified the likely AR winners as Google, Apple and Microsoft, with its HoloLens headset. The VR leaders will be Google, Facebook, HTC, Nvidia, Samsung and Sony.



3D PRINTING TO TAKE OVER CONSTRUCTION 3D printing is set to disrupt the traditional process of construction management and will deeply influence building in the future


ABOUT THE AUTHORS Fahmi al-Shawwa (pictured) is founder and CEO and Edem Dugbenoo is an engineer at Immensa Technology Labs, a Dubai-based additive manufacturing company

36 Smart Construction

here is a lot of work happening around 3D printing of concrete across the world, with as many as 65 companies and organisations developing construction-based 3D printing, according to a study by USheadquartered Boston Consulting Group. The concrete dispensing printing systems being developed are generally based on one of two processes, either extrusion using robotics or binder-based using gantry systems. As with all 3D printing technologies and their application across various sectors, the value add of 3D printing lies primarily in the possibility to create complex shapes – complexity of design comes free. There is a lot of focus on robotic 3D printing of concrete structures due to the technology’s ability to generate freeform structures that would be difficult or impossible to make using traditional methods. To tackle the issue of strength, there is ongoing collaboration between industry and academia to allow for the incorporation of reinforcements without compromising on the design freedom that 3D printing enables. At present, 3D printing of concrete is suitable for architecturally complex designs

that are geared more towards monumental and sculptural structures than everyday buildings, although foot bridges, building facades and the use of 3D printed moulds are some of the applications that are providing immediate value to contractors. However, the technology is advancing, and investment in materials being used for 3D printing construction is growing. Over the next 5 to 10 years you will see a convergence of robotics and 3D printing with conventional and existing building processes, as we have seen across many sectors. Increasing automation Today we are still at the first generation of 3D concrete printers, but we can easily see robots and robotic processes at construction sites by 2025 and in turn being an integral part of the construction process. US space agency NASA is making significant investment in the development of 3D printers for building functional structures, with a view to construction in outer space. One key area in which 3D printing will have a big impact in the short-to-medium term in the construction industry is the methodology and process of building. As

people advocate 3D printing of concrete, you will find an increasing number of 3D designs and drawings being created. As 3D data is created, the traditional process of construction management will be disrupted and 3D printing technology will deeply influence architectural design and construction methods in the future. We expect to see the combination of building information modelling (BIM) and virtual reality completely change the way traditional building is managed, with approvals done in 3D drawings, and inspections and approvals obtained based on 3D evidence. This is a space to be watched. We expect the biggest impact 3D printing of concrete will have is not from the actual physical extrusion of concrete via a machine-controlled tool, but from the entire workflow process – a disruptive change to the entire value chain and methodology of how construction is done. A lot of building designs that would have been deemed impractical in the past are now deemed possible with 3D printing. There is an increasing fusion of 3D printing with traditional construction methods such as casting that has enabled the fabrication of concrete structures that would have been impossible with each of the technologies alone. This trend of combining 3D printing with the best of other technologies is likely to become mainstream in the future. Key challenges The main challenges now are the costs associated with using 3D printing and the strength of the resulting concrete structures. Compared with traditional construction methods, 3D printing can seem expensive, especially when the resulting structure does not exhibit strengths comparable with that obtained from traditional methods. However, research is ongoing to address

Location of embedded touch Electrical cables sensor

Demolded concrete structure with electronics being installed

One key area in which 3D printing will have a big impact is the methodology and process of building


Number of years by which there will be a fusion of 3D printing with traditional construction

2025 Year by which robots will be an integral part of the construction process

3D printed light covers

Demolded concrete structure with 3D printed light covers installed

Demolded concrete structure with 3D printed light covers installed and electronics activated

these issues. For example, polypropylene fibres have been found to significantly improve the strength of 3D-printed concrete, and hybrid methods of construction, which involve the placement of reinforcing iron rods at critical sections, are being explored. As for cost, once the strength issue is fixed, the benefits of design freedom and rapid construction are likely to outweigh the capital costs of the 3D equipment. Regulation is also a huge challenge as this requires governing bodies to qualify and standardise 3D printing to incorporate it into building codes. Without this, neither the technology nor the materials used for 3D-printed concrete will be able to enter the commercialisation stage. There is also still more research and development work to take place between educational institutions and private companies. The projects being committed to in places such as Dubai and Riyadh, for example, are provide a massive amount of learning. These projects are not viable if evaluated solely from a commercial or technical perspective, but are a necessity if 3D printing is to progress in the construction sector. The Dubai government’s push into this area can only expedite development.

Smart Construction 37


SMART DEALS CAN BUILD CONFIDENCE Contractual relationships in the construction industry can improve significantly if all stakeholders agree to use transparent ledger systems to store data


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Aaron D’cruz is chief marketing officer and cofounder of Build Sort

38 Smart Construction

roductivity in the $10 trillion global construction industry is lower now than in the 1950s. Factors contributing to this decline include inadequate communication along the supply chain, contractual misunderstandings and poor short-term planning. While tackling the industry’s many challenges may seem complicated, the main issue is the clear lack of trust between stakeholders in the industry. One potential solution could be blockchain, and firms and even governments are exploring the technology to solve critical challenges. You can think of blockchain or distributed ledger technologies (DLT) as a network of ledgers where entries – which can be transactions or contracts – are replicated across many agents. To alter an entry in the network, you need to simultaneously hack the agents storing the data, making hacking DLT technologies impossible. By design, DLT maintains trust in transactions and agreements, with all entries becoming immutable. We should keep in mind the technology is simply a programme that runs over a network. Thus, it can also

execute instructions such as payments and contract actions autonomously. The introduction of blockchain or DLT in construction can bring enormous benefits to an industry where the cost of trust is so expensive. For example, typical contracts can be digitised to run in the technology’s trust-keeping environment to automate its stipulated clauses. This programme is called a smart contract. Expensive tasks DLT technologies can help us perform expensive tasks such as automating payments upon project milestones and computerising contract administration. Changes to documents are also immutably stored and tied to an end-user’s digital identity for validity. Based in Australia, Build Sort believes its DLT software can improve operational efficiency, cut project completion times, protect payments and reduce material manufacturing operating costs by 30-40 per cent. This article has only touched the surface of what we know is possible. More applications include digitising title deeds and proving the provenance of materials.



Construction Robotics’ material unit lift enhancer (Mule) can lift and place materials weighing up to 135 pounds on construction sites, allowing for greater worker safety

Using robots to construct buildings and structures is the new hot topic in the industry, says Zachary Podkaminer, chairman and co-founder of Construction Robotics


ew York-based Construction Robotics has created two robots that are transforming the way construction is done. The semi-automated mason (Sam) can lay bricks nearly six times faster than a human bricklayer. Meanwhile, the material unit lift enhancer (Mule) is a lift assist

device designed for handling and placing materials weighing up to 135 pounds on a construction site. This allows on-site team members to effortlessly move heavy objects without the worry of physical wear and tear. It is clear that Construction Robotics is on to something. We speak to chairman

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and co-founder Zachary Podkaminer to find out more. Has robotics changed the way construction is done? Absolutely, and the newest example, which will be huge in the Middle East, where construction heavily relies on block or concrete masonry units, is our MULE technology. It follows the same trend as the automotive industry, which uses technology and automation to make the process safer for workers, and is focused on efficiency and productivity. What are the key trends in construction robots in the market currently? Ergonomics, semi-automated and co-bots. The reality of onsite construction is that a fully automated job site will require significant investment and a fully vertically integrated contractor to own the process from design to project completion. But the industry is not currently designed in that way. Are robots cutting out human workers from the sites? How can we successfully create robot-human workspaces? There is a shortage of skilled workers and the industry is suffering across the globe. The younger generation does not want to enter the trade, and the majority of workers are more than 40 or 50 years old and will be retiring soon. Technology implemented to increase productivity will only create more jobs and make the trade more appealing to the next generation. What is the biggest advantage of using robots in construction? Safety, production, scheduling, reliability and consistent quality. Automation allows real-time status updates and it allows workers to be safer and more productive.

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Construction Robotics’ semi-automated mason (Sam) brought down the amount of time needed for the construction of masonry from months to weeks on a US project

How can these robots further refine construction work? Prefabrication and modularisation, using robots to build panels thus reducing onsite construction time. SAM, the bricklaying robot, was recently used to build panels for a hotel in Indianapolis and the onsite construction of masonry was brought down from months to weeks as the panels were brought onsite and dropped in place. Is the construction industry open to the idea of robots simplifying their work? Yes, because the industry has struggled for a very long time and there has been a real change in the past year to two years, which has made using robots the hot topic.


VEGGIES COULD HELP STRENGTHEN CONCRETE Engineers at Lancaster University are working with Cellucomp in the UK to research how concrete can be strengthened and made more environmentally friendly by using root vegetables. Mohamed Saafi, lead researcher and professor and chair in structural integrity and materials at the university, discusses the project The idea The idea is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from cement consumption in the construction industry by using a nanomaterial derived from carrots and sugar beetroot. The construction sector is urgently seeking ways to curb its carbon emissions. The production of ordinary Portland cement, one of the main ingredients for concrete, accounts for 8 per cent of total global CO2 emissions. This is forecast to double in the next 30 years due to rising demand. The nanomaterial is in the form of very thin sheets made from vegetable nanoplatelets. It is designed to strengthen the cement by amplifying its main hydration product, known as calcium silicate hydrate and which is the main glue that holds the concrete components together. This yields a super-strong concrete with low cement content. The research project is looking at adding the nanosheets to existing concrete

structures to reinforce their strength. The researchers believe the nanosheets will outperform existing alternatives such as carbon fibre. This is partly because concrete beams reinforced with the sheets will be able to bend more, which would help deflect potentially damaging forces. The research The researchers successfully produced concrete products using carrot/ sugar beetroot with superior mechanical properties and higher crack resistance. The products also use less cement by about 10 per cent and reduce CO2 emissions by 40 kilograms per cubic meter of concrete. Possible applications The results of the research can be applied to precast concrete, buildings, bridges, pavements, oil and gas, and concrete pipes.

Field tests will be conducted in the summer of 2019

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BIM CAN SOLVE CONSTRUCTION CHALLENGES As the demand to build more with less resources increases, we must explore new ways to meet this demand and the key is automating the construction industry


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Louay Dahmash is territory director for the Middle East and Turkey at Autodesk

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he interconnected nature of building information modelling (BIM) overcomes one of the biggest issues in construction: lack of coordination and communication between the teams. Teams often find themselves working with outdated data and plans that are riddled with errors and omissions. Data silos, disconnected teams and poor visibility into real-time information affect project performance, causing countless delays and unnecessary costs. Overcoming this issue is achieved through the information management system that lies at the core of BIM, which is used to foster collaboration among architects, engineers and construction teams so they can make decisions in real time. As the demand to build more with less resources and less skilled labour increases, we must explore new ways to meet the demand more efficiently and faster. Automation is the key to the future of the industry because it will drive down building costs, provide increased safety and easier monitoring, provide more time for

human workers to focus on other aspects and, most importantly, allow for real-time collaboration between parties. By automating repetitive tasks and using artificial intelligence (AI) for various stages of the construction processes, we can make more things and make them better and with a less negative impact on the world. Real-time benefits It is hard to name ‘the biggest’ advantage of BIM, since there are so many. One of the main ones, as mentioned previously, is the opportunity for real-time collaboration between various parties and contractors involved in the construction process. This huge advantage causes a domino effect leading to several other advantages – fewer chances for error and less time wasted putting together different parts of the blueprints. One other pressing issue that BIM addresses is waste generation. In construction, waste is rapidly increasing due to the increase in the standard of living, demands of infrastructure projects, consumption-habit changes and the

evident increase in global population. About 30 per cent of construction resources are wasted on every single project and another 40 per cent of all landfill waste comes just from the sector. BIM affords many advantages with better planning and design, fewer reworks, cost cutting on materials, and better support for prefabrication (which also saves more time and money). However, there are a few downsides. For example, BIM is not yet used universally among construction professionals. This means there always lies the possibility of one of the parties not being able to use models aligned with everyone else. Due to its collaborative nature, BIM requires a real shift in mindset from traditional silos to new ways of working. Once the shift is made, however, companies will see remarkable results. Enhancing expertise An important benefit of BIM is how it enhances the quality of workers involved in a project. Because BIM alleviates many of the stresses and time wasted on minute details and mundane issues involved with the construction process, human workers are able to focus their time on bigger and more critical issues. They can focus on the more creative and design-related problems, and focus on building more at a faster rate, as growing populations demand. This means all the time and energy professionals spent on simple activities can be focused on more important areas through processes such as automation. It is basically helping solve the industry’s talent gap too. Our built environment and its entire value chain are in the midst of an extreme transformation. AI, the internet of things (IoT), robotics and other technologies are

BIM requires a real shift in mindset from traditional silos to new ways of working

responsible for the emergence of smart cities, automated processes and an array of new business opportunities. It is said that in the future, buildings will not be built, but rather manufactured. We believe this is where the future of construction lies. Prefabrication and automation are the future. With all the advantages of such tools and software, the architecture, engineering and construction sector will no longer be a siloed one. BIM is almost evoking a domino effect within the industry. We will be able to focus the necessary talent where it is most needed and eventually save money and costs in all phases of the construction process, all while being more eco-friendly and sustainable.

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DEPLOYING BIM FOR BETTER PUBLIC TRANSPORT Building information modelling is transforming project delivery for Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Abdulredha Abu Hassan is the director of rail planning and projects development at Dubai Roads & Transport Authority

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ubai’s Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) has transformed its asset management processes to a building information modelling (BIM)-enabled system. In doing so, the RTA has become the world’s first BIM Level 2 certified business against all the PAS and British standards in the suite. The RTA analysed its existing BIM capabilities and assessed its key business drivers in order to set the BIM vision and strategy. A framework was then developed, identifying the technological solutions (platforms and software) and the processes to be utilised in the BIM implementation process. The targeted outcomes were: Easy access to essential information so critical data can be retrieved smoothly and instantaneously Faster delivery for new assets so new or refurbished infrastructure can be completed sooner Smarter maintenance powered by better data Enhanced reliability and safety so assets can be better monitored for performance

Improved decision-making and reactive planning Clearer digital plan of work The process The aim is to derive significant improvements in cost and value through collaboration within the supply chain and specifying delivery of optimised shareable asset information to improve management functions. An employers’ information requirements (EIR) document highlights the necessary BIM information needed during the early stages of work. In addition, the RTA has obtained a common data environment (CDE) platform for both capital expenditure (capex) and operational expenditure (opex) phases to share information and work in progress in order to deliver project information models as specified in the EIR. The contractors are required to deliver a BIM execution plan in the early stages of the project, translating what the RTA has specified and required in the EIR. A BIM centre is used to share information during the development of the projects,

enabling all concerned parties to have detailed access to models and information on the spot. This ensures prompt decisions can be made without delaying the project. The centre is also used for conducting advance BIM training courses for employees. The RTA is identifying all the required BIM uses in the EIR of each project, targeting the generation of an organised, accurate information during the capex phase to be used in the opex phase. It has also communicated the plan to implement BIM as the new approach to manage information throughout the entire asset life cycle to all stakeholders and the supply chain. The aim is to change the culture of delivering capex projects. Impact on stakeholders Currently, the RTA is globally recognised as a leading organisation when it comes to the implementation of BIM Level 2 of PAS 1192-2 and PAS 1192-3, for which it has achieved BSI Kitemark. One of the core principles of the BIM Level 2 approach is the effective collaboration and information management by utilising a single source of truth. This is through the CDE where project stakeholders will create, share and use data in a controlled and auditable manner. In accordance with the EIR, CDE supports the creation, management and validation of 3D, geospatially correct information models that will be shared to give a very accurate rendition of the new design works and the interfacing stakeholder infrastructure in context, before being taken to site. The CDE controls project stakeholders’ access to BIM software while serving as the single central source for model files. The RTA and the supply chain has adopted the deployment of CDE in both

The RTA is gaining considerable benefits from implementing a BIM system, especially within its Route 2020 metro extension project

The expected return on investment (ROI) of implementing BIM considers the following: 1. Cost of hardware and software 2. Monthly labour cost 3. Training 4. Productivity lost during training 5. Productivity gained after training The results indicated that the worst-case scenario for ROI would be achieved within five years with a gain of at least 10 per cent in productivity.

the capex and opex phases to manage the data throughout the full asset life cycle, due to the following benefits: Reduced time and effort required to check information Easy selection from the common area featuring latest approved information extracted from the model Reduced number of coordination checks, a byproduct of the detailed design production process, which ensure models are as per the project standards and the design intent Reuse of information to support the project’s BIM uses Reduced time for coordinating models Challenges overcome The challenge was not limited to resistance to change and technology limitation. It also extended to interoperability, where the aim was to establish an open, collaborative working environment and assess how the supply chain would exchange information. The RTA is gaining considerable benefits from implementing a BIM system, especially within the Route 2020 project, thanks to the support of reliable platforms and clear processes. It has recorded a 20 per cent improvement in the productivity and efficiency of 3D and 4D (time/simulation) modelling, a 10 per cent improvement in 5D modelling (estimation and quality surveying) and an overall average improvement of 15 per cent.

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MARKET TALK more immediate and interactive. For example, there is a petrol station near my house that has recently closed temporarily for maintenance. The next nearest is in the opposite direction. Imagine the hundreds of minutes wasted by that errant journey made by multiple users. But it’s only the petrol service that’s closed. The shop, ATM and service bay are still operational. To receive a digital update would save time, not to mention fuel along with more accurate journey selection. Each group has a role to play to facilitate creating a happier, more productive and enjoyable experience.

David Manfredi Vice-president, design and consultancy services at Parsons Strategic thoughts:

Building a robust design ecosystem The need for digital adoption within construction is a global issue

■ It is still common for

project tender stages to require hard copies, causing the whole process to become paper-heavy

■ If digital solutions

are not considered at commencement, your project is in catchup mode before you even start

■ Our collective appetite

to consume digital products, be they devices or apps, is insatiable and moves quickly

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What are the key advantages of greater connectivity within the design ecosystem? It’s important to visualise a design ecosystem in the context of who it serves. We can get distracted by the fact that we’re designing and delivering in an increasingly streamlined and digital way, but in the end the design ecosystem must support a community and be a connector of and for that community. The advantages of this come out of the objectives set with that agenda. Greater connectivity means being able to deliver timely and useful information to users, operators and authorities in a way that is accessible, saves time, provides feedback, assists monitoring and maintenance, and can be tailored to be


Why is it so important to incorporate smart technologies, sensors and systems at the point of design? Everyone in the industry would agree that it’s simpler to design something from new rather than take on a retrofit or refurbishment. This is no different. It depends on the vision of the client and their boldness to plan strategically from the very earliest stages. Overlaying a series of new ideas into a design is unsettling, inefficient and expensive – not as much as in the field, obviously – but it is not done just at the push of a button, so you need to start early. At Parsons, we talk to clients across the spectrum, from those who have bold digital visions and those who believe they can allow a small service corridor and fix it later. We also have a strong delivery ethos built around the digital tools we use, digital solutions and the built outcomes – intelligent buildings, interactive and inspirational public spaces, connective systems and the like. If these are not considered at commencement, your project is in catch-up mode before you even start, and you

might not even realise it. It’s a competitive market place and the stronger strategies sell. Parsons simply makes that happen and we do so by undertaking technology planning even as we create proposals for clients. What regional examples are there of such systems at this stage? There is an extremely healthy appetite in the Smart arena regionally, but you need to scratch the surface to get to the good stuff. I have seen many presentations and projects that simply add the word ‘smart’ in front of the usual list of city components, but fall short on delivering a real solution. No doubt they carry ideas, but rarely do they articulate a vision so you can’t really see where they wish to go. Designers need to help clients clarify their vision, refine it, consult on it and deliver it. I hasten to add that there are some good examples. One of our measures of success at Parsons is fulfilling a vision by providing those solutions. We consider a solution as an overall strategic outcome that combines and connects many systems. It affects every decision we make throughout the process. How do such technologies feed into the broader development of a smart construction landscape? One of the most significant challenges in the industry is the lack of take up of digital by the construction sector. As designers, we offer the full digital experience, from virtual reality and augmented reality to the digital twin and therefore intelligent asset management. Yet, it is still common for project tender stages to require hard copies. The whole process suddenly goes paper-heavy and the digital flow stumbles or, worse, simply

ends. It is common knowledge that this part of the architecture, engineering and construction industry cycle has shown the smallest increment of technological progress when measured over decades, and it’s alarming when compared to other industries. Regionally, this may be due to labour costs or a lack of required talent, but actually it’s a global issue. How can a client take possession of a digital twin without the construction period embracing full participation? How much regional infrastructure is being designed with a view to IoT-enabled functionality? That’s hard to quantify, but it is rare now to not have that discussion and at least have digital aspirations for project outcomes. Parsons is doing a good amount of it and we’re providing connections to wider topics such as mobility, security and resilience as well. The real test is how much of it is actually going to be delivered. You could parallel this topic with sustainability targets historically, and sadly, even now, where accreditation levels are initially set high and then costs hit the table and markets challenge ROI, clients start to trim. Some call it value engineering, some call it cost cutting. It is also dependent on the intentions of the developer. Is it a build and flip? Or do they wish to contribute to a quality built environment outcome that adds responsibility to the agenda? Is the commitment there? The market will dictate success since the most desirable tenants, residents and users will seek out quality and that extra layer of interactivity, user experience, operability, and quality of life that this wave of digital opportunities can deliver.


“It’s a really exciting time in the built environment field and, like never before, collaboration within the industry, and increasingly learning from adjacent industries, is important” What is the future for people’s interaction with connectivity within designed ecosystems? There are several facets to this. It might depend if we are talking about systems within the overarching ecosystem that tell you about your day which might challenge security protocols between work and private data, to automation of errands which would require a huge leap in connectivity with your supply chain, to the predictability and security of transactions which brings in the blockchain piece. One thing that’s certain is our collective appetite to consume digital products, be they devices or apps, is insatiable. And it moves quickly. That’s why at Parsons we work on and promote a solutions approach built on a relationship rather than a transactional interaction, which is relatively short term. Static outcomes are of markedly less value to our clients and to their customers. We need to go deeper.

In partnership with

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BUILDING SCHOOLS THE MODULAR WAY Mott MacDonald and Bryden Wood have developed a prefabricated way to build more schools in a short period of time

N It’s like creating a jigsaw: we needed to know what the final picture would look like in order to create the pieces and put them back together”

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inety new schools in five years? That would be a tall order using conventional construction, but a standardised, prefabricated solution developed by the UK’s Mott MacDonald and architect Bryden Wood promises to deliver, making life better for children and their teachers across the UK. In 2015, Mott MacDonald was brought on board by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) in the UK during the first phase of the latter’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP). Mott MacDonald was to conduct research on the modular construction market and lead procurement of a contractor. Phase one involves delivering six design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) primary schools. The US’ Portakabin was appointed to construct the schools using its Yorkon system that has been tested on dozens of schools, hospitals, offices and warehouses. Yorkon is described as a ‘design and build’ solution. It employs an off-the-shelf approach, but allows a high degree of variation in the way designs are combined, offering the client a bespoke end-product.

Portakabin reckons that Yorkon buildings are about 50 per cent faster to erect than a conventional building of the same size. Mott MacDonald wanted to know how much more efficiency it could achieve if it came up with a brand-new module range designed specifically for schools. Not only was Mott MacDonald tasked to develop a solution offering real economies of scale, it needs to work equally well for a wide range of school sizes – from the smallest taking in only one class a year, to the largest taking in three. The firm’s modular design would need to make a functional, comfortable and replicable school that met stringent EFA rules for natural light, thermal comfort and ventilation. A 2.7-metre ceiling height and depth (corridor to wall) of 7.2 metres was specified. Building blocks Transportation set the basic dimensions of the new modules: measuring 13.6 metres long and 3.5 metres wide, they can fit on the back of a lorry. Then came the process of configuring the modules to provide all the functions needed in a school. Internal walls can be

fitted during manufacture to divide modules into smaller rooms; or several ‘empty’ modules can be combined to create large assembly or dining spaces. Modules are pre-fitted with mechanical parts, electrics and plumbing where needed. Rooms serviced by water, wastewater and air are clustered to keep pipe and duct runs short and simple. This helps keep capital costs down and minimises disruption to the school during maintenance. Modules were digitally mapped onto several real-life locations to show how they tessellate to form a whole school. They are designed for use in single and multi-storey arrangements. A linear plan offers the most spatially efficient layout. But almost unlimited permutations are possible. Some clever thinking was required to arrange the anatomy of a school in such a way that it can be ‘cut apart’ into modules. “We needed a standardised, replicable layout that could be constructed from the same pieces, used in different ways, to meet the diverse needs and site constraints of many different schools,” says Andrew Williamson, project director at Mott MacDonald. “It’s like creating a jigsaw: we needed to know what the final picture would look like in order to create the pieces and put them back together.” Many types of room, including plant rooms, are split between modules for transit, then bolted together on site. Taking the linear school layout, Mott MacDonald modelled solar gain and natural lighting. Potential for overheating was modelled using TAS software, using temperature data for a scorching summer. The EFA’s indicative design brief suggested mechanical ventilation. The firm found it could largely avoid that by opening windows. Natural lighting throughout the year was studied from all points of the compass. The

initial glazing configuration, accounting for about 35 per cent of the facade area, was optimised by raising the height of the windows. “Making them higher ensures incident light reaches across the 7.2-metre room depth,” says principal simulation engineer Yudish Dabee. The EFA demands that 80 per cent of teaching and learning spaces are naturally lit. The design passed comfortably, with 90 per cent daylight.

Modules were digitally mapped onto several real-life locations to show how they tessellate to form a whole school

Flexible design The full array of modules has been created using building information modelling (BIM) and each is saved in a digital catalogue as a BIM object. This means designing and specifying for new schools can be massively accelerated. Primary school designers can use BIM to create a school that will be correctly configured, fully costed and compliant with the EFA’s requirements. In principle, BIM designs can be used for automation of the fabrication and assembly processes, with digital information enabling just-in-time delivery of the components required for each module to the factory. BIM models are level 2-compliant, providing data for the schools’ operations and maintenance crews. Mott MacDonald estimates fabrication and construction time will be comparable with that for a school made by Portakabin – about half the time of a traditional school build. Excluding time taken to complete groundworks and enabling, the modular school could be constructed in three months, compared with 10 for a conventional building. The weatherproof school envelope itself can be built in just 14 days. Mott MacDonald and Bryden Wood have now been awarded the next stage of the EFA’s modular schools project, which focuses on secondary schools.

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CONNECTING WORKERS WITH WEARABLES Wearable technologies can keep workers connected to the worksite and give management access to real-time data that can be used to improve safety and optimise labour


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Hassan al-Balawi is the founder and CEO of tech startup WakeCap Technologies

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ontractors around the world are in dire need of safer, more connected, transparent and automated project worksites. The challenge for the industry is developing technologies with a return on investment (ROI) that can immediately reflect on their existing projects. Technologies that are used to collect data and provide insights often have a stronger effect in the long term than the short term, and this lack of immediacy is evident in their slow adoption by the construction sector. Some key challenges to the adoption of such technologies are the lack of knowledge of existing solutions among stakeholders, as well as lean construction profit margins, which often leave less scope for investing in technology. The dynamic nature of work at construction sites is also a barrier to technology integration. However, a key advantage of a connected construction enterprise includes access to real-time data, which can allow

all the different stakeholders involved to monitor project progress and delivery. Today, some of the core technologies being used to promote connectivity are wearable technologies such as helmets and clothing with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips or smart watches and smartphones with Bluetooth connectivity. Managing labour Tangible benefits of connectivity include automating attendance, reducing the manual supervision needed for a project, and reducing the overall labour cost. Real-time site data can let management know in real time which labourers are idle and where, allowing project directors to optimise workforce allocation across the different sites and optimise hiring. On-site operators with access to such data can also make better decisions, with a view to increasing productivity and decreasing waste. A worker connected to the site results in a safer environment as monitoring is improved.

At WakeCap, we connect workers at the construction sites through their safety helmets to get real-time field data to make better decisions and gain visibility on the project. As the sensors are integrated into mandatory safety wear, there is no need for the worker to be concerned with carrying or maintaining additional hardware. The solution is seamless, scalable and easy to integrate at any construction site. The issue of achieving a stable connection at the site is one of the hardest goals and WakeCap solves this by using a mesh network technology – wireless connection through beacons – to offer stable connection without relying on power, GPS or the internet. With WakeCap, safety helmets are equipped with a buzzer and a panic button to facilitate a two-way alert system between the workers and a safety manager. In the case of an emergency incident, each worker is simultaneously alerted with a loud buzzer; as soon as a worker hears a sound, he presses the button on the knob of the helmet to acknowledge and notify that he heard the alarm. He then moves to a safe zone. The safety officer has access to a dashboard where he can check who is still stuck at the site in real time and efficiently improve the response time towards a worker who is in trouble. Since we know the location of each worker, we can administer a faster response and an effective evacuation. Previous worksite technologies have failed because they demanded time and attention for learning, using and troubleshooting, affecting other work processes and eventually causing their rejection by field personnel. WakeCap has taken all of that into account when thinking about the design and placement of our data re-

ceptors. We say at WakeCap that we aim to disrupt the industry without disrupting the work. The world’s most valuable asset is no longer oil; it is data. With that in mind, collecting volumes of pertinent data will be key in the three-to-five-year strategy of any organisation, regardless of the industry in which it operates. Connected devices will revolutionise the industry and allow for optimisation and monetisation strategies that were not previously possible. With on-site wearables, the ability to measure the productivity of tasks at a granular level for each labourer also unlocks functions such as, for example, the ability to correlate accidents with analytical heuristics, which can be used to predict and prevent accidents, improving worker safety. WakeCap connects workers at jobsites through safety helmets to get real-time data

Safety helmets are equipped with a buzzer and a panic button to facilitate a twoway alert system between the workers and a safety manager”

Competitive edge As the construction industry becomes more connected, the opportunities for contractors will increase. Technology adoption is contingent on organisations and individuals being willing to try something new in a traditional and very mature market. Once they do, they often do not ever want to go back. This is a proving time in which technology is becoming acceptable to the construction industry. If a contractor successfully implements a new, valuable solution to a problem, he will be able to take advantage of efficiencies before any other contractor. When this happens, the ROI is much greater, as the contractor will be able to gain a margin advantage over their competitors. The companies that are willing to take risks and embrace technology will likely be the ones that come out on top in the future.

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AUGMENTED REALITY HELMETS CAN AID WELDERS Nytilus’ smart helmet can enable welders to see the welding point and its surrounding areas clearly with all the details that will help them produce quality work


very year, industries that employ welding, such as the construction sector, lose billions of dollars due to inefficiencies caused by welders. Industries such as shipbuilding are losing an average of $3,000 a year per welder due to poor quality welding, rework and costs of related delays. Due to the difficulty of welding jobs, there is less interest among newer generations in choosing this profession as a career. A shortage of 400,000 welders is predicted in the US by 2024, with a similar trend being observed across many industrial vocations.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Abi Ghafari and Debanga Raj Neog are the cofounders of Nytilus

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Dangerous intensity Most of the welding processes such as arc welding and gas tungsten arc welding generate a very bright light. The intensity of the generated light in these processes is so high it can damage human eyes, so welders have to use protective equipment to protect their body, especially their eyes and face.

Apart from the intensity, the ultraviolet and infrared portions of the generated light can seriously damage human eyes. In general, welding is considered one of the most difficult jobs among all professions. As of now, welders use helmets that employ very old technology – basically a dark shade that blocks the light and protects the welder’s eyes at the same time. Although the shade blocks the bright light,

With the traditional welding helmet, welders cannot see the welding area very clearly

it also significantly reduces the light in the surrounding area. Due to this reason, welders cannot see the welding area very clearly and they have to rely on their muscle memory, making welding a very difficult job to perform. Welding is also considered one of the most dangerous occupations due to the likelihood of workplace injury. Traditional helmets do not sufficiently protect welders, leading to 21 per cent of industrial eye injuries stemming from welding, including flash burns and loss of vision. Nytilus is a Canadian technology start-up that develops augmented reality (AR) technologies and solutions for industrial and consumer applications. One of the technologies it has developed is a welding helmet powered by mixed reality technology. Quality work Nytilus’ AR technology can enable welders to see the welding point and its surrounding areas clearly with all the details that will help them produce quality work. At the same time, by providing them with augmenting information such as torch speed and torch angle, welders can improve weld quality further and those with less experience can weld at a professional level without relying much on muscle memory. Nytilus’ technology has been tested in laboratories and some workshops. But the solution is expensive and needs more support from the industry to succeed. Some of the biggest challenges for our technology in the Middle East include labourers who work for cheap wages, their low level of education, which leaves them open to exploitation, and their unfamiliarity with new technologies. These challenges make it difficult to introduce products based on new technologies such as AR and virtual reality in the market.

BENEFITS OF USING AR HELMET FOR WELDING CLEAR VIEW: A high dynamic range colour image of the weld along with real-time torch speed is displayed in the helmet. This can allow for an increase in performance and reductions in rework and material costs DATA COLLECTION: It can collect visual data to train artificial intelligence for welding guidance systems that will assist humans and robots SAFER: Unlike traditional welding helmets, welders will not have to directly look at the welding light, which makes it safer AUGMENTED TRAINING INFORMATION: Real-time visual feedback using AR allows new welders to learn consistent and repeatable welding techniques during training sessions in a shorter amount of time compared with traditional learning methods REAL-TIME INSPECTION: Real-time monitoring and inspection of welding quality is possible both in the viewfinder of the helmet and also remotely, with live warnings and alerts for any danger or mistake

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USING BLOCKCHAIN TO IMPROVE SAFETY ON SITE BeSure has created a unified safety protocol using blockchain technology that allows organisations to unite on how they approach and report on safety


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Pedro Pereira is the cofounder and CEO of The BeSure Network

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ne of the biggest challenges facing safety leaders in the construction industry is positively engaging hundreds of thousands of workers in safety initiatives. But could things be made easier through a rewards system? Health and safety practices in the construction industry are limited by certain rigid factors: the first is behaviour, where safety is focused on top-down key performance indicator compliance and simply ‘ticking a box’ on a checklist to meet the necessary protocol. The second is the complexity of projects, which causes a problem in trusting that regulations are being complied with across the site. Lastly, inconsistency between companies that are working together can be a challenge, since they often have different systems and practices. This is where a decentralised software as a service (SaaS) model can help. Individuals and companies alike can coexist on a safety compliance network. By bringing together the technology of blockchain, individual safety ownership and a new way of looking

at the problem, BeSure has created a unified safety protocol allowing organisations (which might not typically share technology or work practices) to unite in how they approach and report on safety. The business case for organisations that are members of blockchain networks relies heavily on real-time visibility of performance from third-parties’ health and safety procedures, quickly finding anoma-

lies in process and people compliance, and the ability to influence workers’ behaviour across the world. The BeSure architecture has been designed to work autonomously using smart contracts to reduce end-user complexity and add checks and balances for smooth network functionality. Digital passport A digital passport or wallet will hold a worker’s safety credentials, including certifications from accreditation bodies and a track record of their compliant practice. Individuals and companies can be recognised for proving compliance by being awarded with tokens or ‘reputation points’, which are stored on the passport. The biggest advantage of blockchain in this scenario is that it is tamper-proof. Everybody on the network can view this transaction data, which can be especially useful for companies looking to hire workers for short-term projects. The worker can share his skills and safety record, or his personal passport via a QR code.



A safety task is performed using a BeSure app or thirdparty system

BeSure is running pilot projects with DP World, Aecom, Serco, Emirates, Dubai Municipality and others


Transaction data is written to the BeSure network with the consensus of its members


Reputation points are allocated to the companies and individuals involved for participating

BeSure validates this information and the employer can trust in the tamper-proof nature of this service. Similarly, critical equipment will also have its own ‘passport’. In this case, rather than skills and training, it will record maintenance records and usage. For the ecosystem to be successful, it is vital to have as many participants as possible. This includes other software providers, training and certification authorities and, of course, construction and transport companies, which are the primary customers of this solution. Of course, you would still need to carry out your internal safety process. However, imagine a world where you know how committed individuals are in carrying out their duties; how engaged they are with co-workers; and how responsible, accountable and rewarded they feel for their own positive safety behaviour. That is a world that moves from top-down safety governance to bottom-up safety assurance and ultimately safety being treated as a value.

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EXOSKELETONS LEND MUSCLE TO THE WORKFORCE Innovative robotic systems offer the construction industry a solution to work-related fatigue, and improve quality and productivity levels in the workplace


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Homayoon Kazerooni is a professor at the University of California in Berkeley and co-founder and chief scientist at SuitX

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nyone who has worked in construction knows that there is potential to suffer on-the-job injuries. The strain associated with heavy lifting or even repetitively performing the same activity, puts workers at risk of being injured every day. Exoskeletons are an emerging solution to this problem and reduce the risk of work-related injuries in highly manual environments, such as construction sites. Exoskeletons can also reduce work-related fatigue and improve overall quality and productivity. So, what are they? Exoskeletons are wearable robotic systems that enhance the abilities of the people who wear them. They go around a user’s body or part of the user’s body so that they can move with the person when they are performing tasks. A range of models protect against different injuries. Back, knee, and shoulder injuries are responsible for 66 per cent of all worker compensation costs, according to the US

Department of Labour. To meet the need to reduce these injuries, suitX, a California-based company, has developed three industrial exoskeletons modules to be used by the workers: backX, to reduce low back forces while bending forward; legX, to reduce knee joint forces while squatting; and shoulderX, to reduce forces in the shoulder complex during overhead operations. By using modules workers can pick and choose the best system for them without needing to wear extra hardware that wouldn’t help them with their jobs. This results in the lightest and most economic exoskeleton solution. Laboratory and field evaluations show that suitX’s exoskeletons reduce the forces in the lower back, knee joints and the shoulder complex by about 60%, which leads to a substantial reduction of injury risk for the workers. Not only can these exoskeletons reduce the risk of injury, but they also substantially increase the productivity of construction sites. Muscle fatigue is a progressive loss of ‘force generating capacity’ that occurs

during prolonged heavy loading of muscle tissue. Workers who use an exoskeleton are less fatigued because they are losing less force generating capacity during the day. In one set of experiments with backX, the duration of the workers’ endurance increased by 40% when wearing the exoskeleton. In another test, workers equipped with the shoulderX exoskeleton were able to finish grinding and buffing jobs scheduled to be completed in two days in just a single day. Reducing worker fatigue also lowers the risk of fatigue-related mistakes and workmanship defects. For example, a welder is able to maintain a straight and high-quality weld for a more prolonged period of time when wearing a shoulderX exoskeleton. Construction sites are unstructured work environments, where staff perform all kinds of tasks that will not be automated in the near future. Automation thrives in structured environments with repeatable tasks, but construction sites present a wide spectrum of operations, making robotic automation more challenging in the industry. With exoskeletons, however, human workers can benefit from both the strength advantage of robots and the adaptive intellectual advantage of humans. The exoskeletons from suitX have also been developed with the specific constraints of the construction environment in mind, including infrastructure, deployment and management. The exoskeletons are fully adjustable in size, making them a onesize-fits-all wearable system. The strength output can also be adjusted through a tool-free adjustment mechanism to tailor the suits to the user strength and tasks at hand. The exoskeletons are also compatible with all tool belts and fall protection safety harnesses.

Exoskeletons reduce forces in the lower back, knee joints and shoulder complex by about 60 per cent

Comfort is also key. Workers will not use exoskeletons if the they do not allow for comfortable operations, regardless of the benefits to their physical wellbeing. Walking, climbing and descending stairs and slopes are also common manoeuvres in various construction sites. The workers who load delivery trucks are often also the same people that drive the truck or forklift, so an exoskeleton must not impede motions, such as climbing into and operating a cab. In five years’ time, further fundamental developments are expected to include embedded intelligence that will allow exoskeletons to adapt to a worker’s posture and task type. The ability of exoskeletons to adapt to all types of locomotive manoeuvres, such as stairs and ladder climbing and even running fast will be of paramount importance if they are to provide maximum assistance and safety without any delay. Future hardware will also see the miniaturisation of components such as actuators, batteries and sensors. In general, the construction industry is open to the use of exoskeletons to improve quality of work and enhance productivity. However, this is conditional on the new systems successfully lowering the burden on managers, achieving worker acceptance and delivering suitable tool compatibility, robustness and cost. If the use of exoskeletons leads to extra work and planning for the managers, then their adoption in the industry is likely to be hindered. Equally, if the devices cause discomfort or physically impede the workers, employees willbe reluctant to make use of the technology. As we move towards a more progressive work environment, we need to align the development of exoskeleton systems with these critical performance goals.

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DATA-DRIVEN DECISIONS Connected ‘smart IDs’ provide real-time data to improve productivity, reduce costs and enhance work environments


he ability to provide insights based on reliable data is transforming the way many projects are planned and executed. Digital start-up, Ottogee, offers labour-intensive industries an internet of things (IoT) platform that connects resources and digitises the way they are managed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Omar Ghazzaoui is the CEO of Ottogee, one of the 10 start-up companies selected in the second Techstars Dubai accelerator program, held in partnership with Ginco

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The company uses wearable ‘smart ID’ trackers to provide real-time, AI-enabled insights with the aim of improving productivity, reducing costs and enhancing work environments, on even projects of considerable size and complexity. The aim is to use IoT technology to solve substantial construction and oil and gas management challenges, while

improving the work environment. With the sizeable amount of data now collected, the feedback we have received has been highly positive. Not only are customers able to digitise attendance in these complex environments, but also, the early deployments of Ottogee are driving important decisions that range from identifying skill gaps on-site to how many workers are needed for each activity, including overtime management and subcontractors management. The platform will soon be able to predict completion dates and budget spent to a high level of accuracy. Reducing costs Access to actionable data and insights will ultimately help our clients reduce costs from between 2 to 8 per cent. Backed by such results, we hope our analysis will be at the centre of decisions across the lifetime of construction and energy projects.


Analyse data on resource safety, allocation, efficiency and more

Connect workers using advanced and practical IoTenabled wearables

Enable rapid, factbased decisionmaking through real-time analysis

Provide fact-based insights to improve safety, reduce costs and increase productivity

The company is now in talks with some of the most innovative companies in the region, namely Arabtec, Khansaheb and Ginco. Not only do the senior executives of these companies have clear digital transformation strategies, but also talented teams that can implement our solution and drive digital transformation across their organisations. While still headquartered in Dallas, Texas, we are proud to have established a permanent presence in Dubai. Given the supportive nature of the ecosystem here, extending from the legislators to our customers, we have gladly made the strategic decision to stay.

Access to actionable data and insights will ultimately help clients reduce costs by 8 per cent

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THE BUSINESS CASE FOR AUTOMATION As costs start to fall and demand for increased efficiency rises, automation is becoming a viable option in the construction sector


e talk about ‘automation’ as if it is a new thing, but when it comes to construction equipment automating processes has been happening for decades. The automatic gearbox and climate control are just two examples, relieving us of the responsibilities of changing gear or turning the air conditioning up and down. What is now different is that thanks to advanced technology, the level of operator assistance is set to transform the overall productivity of machines. And it is not just productivity that will be enhanced – autonomous machines will also increase safety in hazardous working environments and eliminate the possibility of accidents caused by human error. They will also perform repetitive tasks more efficiently and precisely than a human operator. And, because machines will be operated in the most efficient way, customers benefit from improved performance, productivity, fuel efficiency and durability.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Uwe Müller, programme manager commercial pilots at Volvo Construction Equipment

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Supporting operators Before there is an influx of fully autonomous machines on the market, we will see machines fitted with systems that are less

dependent on operator skills; ones that support operators with guidance or control primary functions. With the latest excavator digging machine control systems, such as Volvo’s Dig Assist, the operator does not need to step out of the machine in order to take measurements – because the system will have calculated exactly what material has beenremoved. This represents savings in time and money, as well as improving safety. But even this level of sophistication is not the whole automation story. There is another level – where machines ‘talk’ to each other, boosting total site productivity. Machine telematics relay large amounts of data – so much so that it can be overwhelming. What is emerging now are active monitoring services that automatically highlight problems, triggering the sending out of technicians with a detailed diagnosis of a problem and the tools and equipment to remedy it. But to connect business-critical machines and vehicles requires a solution that is able to handle the massive amounts of data with guaranteed connection. This month, Telia, Ericsson and Volvo CE launched Sweden’s first 5G network for industrial use, to test remote-controlled machines and autonomous solutions.

Trials are highlighting the benefits that automation brings to the construction industry. But for fully autonomous construction equipment to become commonplace, we will need to see acceptance and trust in the technology, a reduction in cost and an increase in the pace of technological change. The construction industry has a lot to learn and one way to progress quickly is to look to other sectors that already have advanced automation. Lessons from other sectors Industrial automation began in the manufacturing industry with the use of basic hydraulic and pneumatic systems to today’s modern robots. Now automation is revolutionising the cars themselves. The Google self-driving car project Waymo launched a commercial self-driving car service last year and other companies are following suit. One of the biggest obstacles to the technology has been public safety concerns and the legislation around it. But even here, confidence is rising as more trials end successfully. The construction industry can learn from these trials. In a recent survey carried out on behalf of Volvo CE, almost half (46 per cent) of construction workers feared safety could be put at risk by automating tasks. These concerns are valid and need to be addressed. This is why Volvo CE is running studies with customers, such as the electric site project in cooperation with Skanska. The study also highlighted concerns about how automation will affect job security. Machine operator roles were perceived to be most at risk – according to almost half of respondents (48 per cent). But experts agree that while the job of an operator will change with more automation, complex and unpredictable tasks will almost always require operators controlling the machines.

Volvo Construction Equipment’s electric site project aims to transform the quarry and aggregates industry by reducing carbon emissions by up to 95 per cent and the total cost of ownership by up to 25 per cent


Proportion of construction workers in survey who feared safety could be comprised by automating tasks


Survey respondents who believed machine operator roles were most at risk from automation

As machine autonomy increases, the operator will generally act more in a supervisory capacity. This will provide safer, less stressful and more interesting work for operators, with perhaps several machines being controlled remotely by one operator. In many areas of the world, such as the US, there is a shortage of skilled operators. And there are also plenty of cases where job sites are so remote, such as in Australia, that they must fly operators in and build the infrastructure they need to live while working there. Automation would provide a solution to both problems. A look to the future Fully autonomous machines will not arrive suddenly. The journey in the construction industry will come in stages. There will probably be a number of repetitive applications that can be performed fully autonomously, while others remain semi-autonomous for the foreseeable future. The technology is just one part of the equation, however. Customers must want it, and while some would be happy to use the technology today, others would prefer to wait until it is more mature and affordable. However, as costs start to fall, and as demand for efficiency, safety and productivity increases, automation is becoming an attractive and viable option in the construction sector. Change is coming – just slower than the headlines suggest.

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MARKET TALK machine performance by prompting preventive maintenance, ultimately helping operations run more efficiently and save costs.

Komatsu page

Smart machines for efficient worksites Komatsu is building intelligent machines to facilitate peak performance

Ashraf Hashish is senior general manager for marketing at Komatsu Middle East

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What technologies is Komatsu currently realising within the construction sector? To date, Komatsu has introduced numerous innovations to the emerging smart construction landscape, including a raft of technologies under its in-house SmartConstruction project – a comprehensive suite of information communication technology (ICT) solutions for the sector that includes site-mapping software, the Komtrax machine monitoring system, intelligent machine control systems and autonomous haulage systems (AHS) for the mining segment. The Komtrax provides detailed data and analytics about fleet equipment, and is currently equipped on more than 8,500 Komatsu units across the Middle East. It facilitates peak


What regional partnerships has Komatsu formed to deliver smart technology? Komatsu Middle East and Topcon Positioning Group have partnered to introduce machine control solutions that will enable our customers to increase productivity and decrease operating costs, even with new or low-skilled operators. In December 2018, Komatsu Middle East and Topcon organised a technology day to showcase their joint technologies for construction site management that was attended by more than 180 visitors from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey. Over the day, Komatsu held live demonstrations of simulated earthmoving processes with a D155A-6R bulldozer, GD755-5R motor grader and PC220-8M0 hydraulic excavator all equipped with Topcon’s latest machine control systems. What is the scope of Komatsu’s involvement in autonomous haulage systems? In early 2018, Komatsu celebrated 10 years of commercial deployment of AHS. Today, there are more than 100 of our autonomous trucks operating in Australia, and North and South America. As of the end of 2017, our AHS trucks had safely, efficiently and economically hauled 1.5 billion tonnes of materials. Our AHS technology has delivered proven benefits in safety, productivity, environmental resistance and system flexibility in an array of mining environments. In particular, AHS trucks are significantly safer than conventional mining operations.

Komatsu [plans to] launch next-generation products that will achieve further automation and unmanned operation Komatsu has also successfully retrofitted AHS technology on existing conventionally operated trucks, and is now committed to accelerating the deployment of automation to mining sites across the world. What further developments lie in Komatsu’s future in the spheres of telematics and machine control? Komatsu will launch nextgeneration products that will achieve further automation and unmanned operation, designed to substantially improve safety, environmental performance and productivity of customers’ jobsite operations. We will also supply parts and provide services by using Komtrax. Komatsu provides customers with solutions such as SmartConstruction and AHS to help them solve lean management problems, which in Japan is tied into the Gemba Kaizen concept of continuous improvement and waste reduction. It is Komatsu’s aim to connect the information of everyone in the construction equipment vertical (suppliers, producers, distributors and customers) through IoT technology in order to improve safety and productivity. GPS and Topcon positioning for machine control systems (above and centre) and Tango (below)

In partnership with


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CARBON-NEUTRAL CONSTRUCTION Volvo Construction Equipment and Skanska’s electric site project cuts carbon emissions by 98 per cent

O 70%

Energy cost reduction achieved by the electric site project

40% Reduction in operator costs


Potential reduction in total cost of operations if applied to a full-scale commercial application

64 Smart Construction

ver the course of a 10-week project in late 2018 at Skanska’s Vikan Kross quarry, near Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) tested the viability of a project it refers to as ‘electric site’, a research initiative to test replacing the machines deployed in quarry with electrified equivalents. This included: a 70-tonne, EX1 cable-fed electric excavator prototype to load the primary crusher at the quarry; an LX1 prototype electric hybrid wheel loader, which yielded a more than 50 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency as well as a large noise reduction, to organise the material at the site; and eight HX2 autonomous, battery-electric haulers to transport the material from the primary mobile crusher up to the secondary static crusher. The project resulted in a 98 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, a 70 per cent reduction in energy cost and a 40 per cent reduction in operator costs. “The results we have seen so far confirm that this research project is a step towards transforming the quarry and aggregates industry and creating emission-free quarries,” noted Uwe Müller, chief project manager for the electric site, pointing to

the project’s environmental, efficiency and safety benefits. The findings support the potential for a 25 per cent reduction in total cost of operations based on projections for the impact of the results of the pilot if applied to a full-scale commercial application. “Testing prototype machines with a customer at an early stage in the process speeds up development and brings more value to us and our customers,” said Melker Jernberg, president of Volvo CE. Alongside electrification, the LX1 and HX2 designs also incorporate more fundamental changes. On the LX1, the central driveline has been replaced by four electric drive motors mounted at the wheels, while the lifting power is provided by electric-driven hydraulics. The HX2 can follow an adjustable, pre-programmed GPS path and is equipped with a vision system allowing it to detect obstacles in its path.


CONTRACTORS CAN BENEFIT FROMÂ USING AN EYE IN THE SKY Several contractors employ drones, but not all harness the full power of this technology. Accurate topographic maps and reduced costs are some of the benefits drones have to offer


nfrastructure is one industry that can derive significant benefits from the regular use of drones. One of the clearest reasons for using a drone on a construction site is its ability to produce aerial surveys at high speed and efficiency, giving the contractor quick and accurate topographic maps and digital surface models (DSMs). These are usually time-consuming, expensive exercises for large linear projects. This will then produce a base map that can be used for the duration of the project. Depending on the type of construction or project, these topographic maps might need to be regularly produced, increasing the efficiency and speed of development. Data collected at a certain point of time can be used for multiple purposes and can serve as a snapshot of a building.

It can be digitally saved for future improvements of operations. Accurate data The raw data is generally high-resolution 2D imagery; this data can be converted into maps and used as a tool to monitor the progress of the site. The monitoring can be done merely by looking at all the information gathered, but the technology today allows us to convert this data into a 3D model with accurate geographical information. This data has many benefits, such as inventory tracking by means of volumetric calculations. It can even be integrated into the building information modelling (BIM) of a project, enriching existing intelligence by adding an extra layer of information. A simple example is the use of the data to compare the current, as built, information

By Rabih Bou Rashid, managing director at Falcon Eye Drones

Drones can produce aerial surveys at high speed and efficiency, giving the contractor quick and accurate digital surface models



with the pre-existing plans for early detection of faults or deviations. On top of that, management or the project owner will not need to conduct regular live inspections. The as-built digital format delivered to their computers will have a bird’s eye view in a high-resolution format. Frequent monitoring will lead to improvement in the speed of communication between the multiple stakeholders and, as a result, faster actions being taken to improve the life-cycle of a project. Drones can also check the integrity of structures such as scaffolding during construction, or do the field check and quality control before handing over the project once it is completed. An optical sensor can search for defects and errors in the finishing. Because drones are flying overhead and need minimum space for landing and takeoff, almost all drone operations do not interrupt normal day-to-day activities. Live feedback Beyond using a drone for geographic information system (GIS) and BIM purposes, a drone can be used for surveillance. Live video feedback to the operations or security rooms reduces the need for regular patrols. An eye in the sky improves safety and security almost instantly. Less health and safety infractions will be committed, leading to fewer accidents, and illegal or irregular activities can be quickly detected. Another benefit to drone surveillance is the reduction in insurance costs. Many insurers now offer a reduced premium if sites are using drones for their safety and security, due to the dependable footage and historical data in case of a claim. Additionally, drones can be used to transport parts and hardware through

66 Smart Construction

Drones can check the integrity of structures during construction, or do the field check before handing over the project once it is completed


Increase in inspection quality as reported by customers using Falcon Eye Drones


Decrease in snag list compilation time as reported by customers using Falcon Eye Drones

hard-to-access construction sites, including timely delivery of first aid. For example, when spare parts are needed due to a component failure and road/scaffolding access is difficult, delivering them may be time-consuming and expensive. A drone can operate from a central warehouse, delivering random equipment where needed. The same applies in a medical emergency where a first-aid kit needs to be delivered in minutes to, for instance, stop a person from bleeding out. In the future, as technology evolves and we have stronger power sources, as opposed to the current lithium batteries, drones will be able to carry more weight and possibly be equipped with robotic arms. Today drones are smart enough not to crash into structures or people, and they are great at following pre-planned routes and instructions. However, once they are enabled with artificial intelligence, they can start making decisions on the fly and learn from their past behaviours. That might mean to some that we will lose our jobs to flying robots soon. I do not believe this to be the case. Drones will function more like an added safety tool that we will use to reduce risk and injuries to human beings. As a matter of fact, none of the drone applications mentioned here replace human expertise. They might disrupt some industries, but they also create new jobs and professions such as drone pilots and data analysts. Several construction sites have drones, though not all of them harness the full power of this solution. Many drones are being used just to monitor progress for marketing reasons and these companies are missing out on the massive benefits and improvements drones can bring to their operations.

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Profile for MBR

Smart Construction in the Middle East  

The May 2019 issue of MEED Business Review includes a 68-page supplement showcasing the technologies, innovations and trends that are transf...

Smart Construction in the Middle East  

The May 2019 issue of MEED Business Review includes a 68-page supplement showcasing the technologies, innovations and trends that are transf...