Experts issue stark warning for construction firms which ignore urgency of tech transformation

Leaders agree there has been strong progress in use of design tools but raised concerns that this is not being translated into construction stage.

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While optimism for the emergence of technology in the construction sector was strong, there was also a powerful message about the need to embrace change within the region in order to keep on track with global trends.
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While optimism for the emergence of technology in the construction sector was strong, there was also a powerful message about the need to embrace change within the region in order to keep on track with global trends.

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The Middle East has a golden opportunity to be at the forefront of driving technological change in the construction industry but must respond now to avoid falling behind, according to delegates at this week’s Construction Technology Forum.

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The event, which came to a close on 25 September after two days of intensive debate and discussion, attracted more than 200 industry experts at the Address Hotel, Dubai Marina.

While optimism for the emergence of technology in the construction sector was strong, there was also a powerful message about the need to embrace change within the region in order to keep on track with global trends.

Commenting on the discussions, Tim Shelton, digital transformation and innovation lead at Arcadis Middle East, said: “As a region defined by bold ambition, with an inspired agenda for transformation and delivery of major programs, the Middle East has a legitimate opportunity to enhance the reputation of the construction industry through the use of technology in order to drive productivity and efficiency.

“Regional supply chains need to respond by changing the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of asset delivery through undergoing their own structured digital transformations.

“Arcadis is privileged to have been part of this event and to tell our own transformation story.”

A number of delegates agreed that there has been strong progress in the use of design tools but raised concerns that this is not being translated into the construction stage.

Mark Andrews, MD of Laing O’Rourke in the Middle East, told delegates: “The real gamechanger is to optimise offsite production and assembly.

“That requires a complete re-engineering of the way that projects are done, with a huge amount of logistics planning.

“Our design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) goal is that we should be manufacturing 70% of the project scope off site. That will give us a productivity improvement of around 60% and reduce timescales of projects by some 30%.

“We are already achieving that in other parts of the world and it can be done here but requires a different way of thinking.”

Andrews described three main constraints to achieving this in the Middle East.

First, he said there is a need to switch from a “fixed-price, lump sum, construct only methodology, with design going on right through construction” to design and build; second, the relatively low cost of construction site labour in the Middle East is a disincentive to enhance productivity; and third, low margins limit the ability of contractors to undertake the “massive investment” required to develop their capabilities for DfMA.

Delegates at the event explored and discussed how adopting technology can reduce operational costs, boost productivity and enhance overall quality across all elements of the industry supply-chain.

READ: Levelling up with BIM

Discussion covered all aspects of digital technology within the built-environment sector, including the rise of artificial intelligence in construction, big data, BIM, and robotics and automation.

Ma Yihe, president and CEO of WinSun, flew in from the company’s Shanghai headquarters and provided a detailed insight into the latest advances in 3D printing.

He said: “The success of this year’s event shows just how seriously the construction sector is taking the impact of new technology.

“It is vital that businesses in the region are able to keep pace with the rapid changes within the sector to increase their efficiency and at the same time improving construction quality, and it is encouraging to see a strong level of debate, as well as the appetite for collaboration, that goes along with it.

“The Middle East is a leading adopter of technologies such as 3D printing, and we are overwhelmed with the popularity of our technology in this market and looking forward to continuing to build strong relationships across both the public and private sectors.”

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