Contractors must harness technology to grow profits

28 April 2019
Construction companies need to nurture digital disruption to unlock its extraordinary promise for the built environment, says CCC's Aref Boualwan

The 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 game-changing 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 life-cycle 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 highlighted in their latest reports, construction contractor 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 Dubai-based 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 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.

 About the author

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

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