Roger Wahl is the chief information officer at ASGCTechnology 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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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. 

About the author

Roger Wahl is the chief information officer at ASGC