“The construction industry is ripe for disruption. Large projects across asset classes typically take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget. Construction productivity has actually declined in some markets since the 1990s; financial returns for contractors are often relatively low—and volatile.”
The presentation was divided in three segments;
- Drivers: what are changes in technology and society pushing for changes in the industry
- Design: an exploration of approaches available for the design stage
- Delivery: an exploration of technology and approaches available for the delivery of major project
Mobile phones came into play years ago, but how often do people still use them to make phone calls? For many the phone is still a tool to communicate, though it takes place using email, whats app, we chat and tools like slack. The tools are now available to move to cross organisation collaboration independent of location and time.
Transporting, whether it is goods or people is on the verge of being massively disrupted. Harbours have containers moving around to get loaded onto ships, Singapore is introducing driverless buses and Tesla as well as others are pushing autonomous cars to the market.
Machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics are entering the workspace at an increasing speed. This is shaking up businesses as people are being replaced by machines. During the industrial revolution, machines took on work done at hand labour levels. The wave taking up speed is taking on positions by doctors, lawyers and finance professionals already. Shared service centers are being replaced, contracts are written by robots and robots run analyses of X-rays.
Those changes will be impacting not just livelihoods of people, but whole societies and countries. Rapid developing technology provides the market with smaller and cheaper sensors. Sensors that can measure a whole range of metrics. Let’s take a look on what there is in the market. One of those areas is the so called Smart City. Hong Kong has designated an area earmarked for redevelopment to “do” smart city. With all those sensors in place, data can be collected that can support governments in making decisions to improve the quality of living, saving costs as well as other improvements. For citizens, simple things as in better traffic flows, knowing where parking spaces are and improved government services.
Technology advantage does not only eliminate roles, it creates new opportunities as well. Hong Kong company vresidence.info has built a business around supporting sales of US based property to China based on potential buyers. It has a kit so that agents can record the property, which then can be showed to potential buyers. This allows sellers to increase their audience. For buyers, it allows us to see many more properties in a short timeframe without the travel time and cost involved. Now imagine linking this to architecture design and bim systems. Change requests can be shown using augmented reality, cost and other impacts can be provided quickly from the BIM output.
Whilst airlines are scrambling for profitability, countries are building cross border high speed rail lines. Other parties are about to participate in Elon Musks hyperloop competition, a high speed mode of transportation mode over long distances.
Despite good efforts, productivity in the construction industry in Germany and the UK actually dropped compared to 1995. On the other side, locations like Hong Kong, Macao and areas in the Middle East had a massive demand for people and buildings. A dropping productivity is not helpful. Putting that against the level of digitalisation in the industry, we can see that the industry is pretty much at the bottom of the list. So how much productivity gets lost in processing non value adding work?
According to McKinsey there are 5 areas that when worked on could help the construction industry move forward. The drop in price for sensors makes IOT (Internet of Things) tools easier available. This means that collecting data is going to be cheaper, faster and better. Big data analysis could lead to new insights. The five trends cover:
Higher definition surveying and geolocation: from high definition survey to BIM usable data.
- Next generation 5-D building information modelling: Include cost and time in the BIM approach
- Digital collaboration and mobility: The industry is still very silo-ed and operates on a lot of paper. Making speedy exchange of correct data challenging.
- The internet of things and advanced analytics: IOT Brings an abundance of connected sensors to the world, providing more data points. This requires people, processes and tools to be able to use this and translate this into insights and into action.
- Future proof design and construction: Using advanced methodologies, tools and materials to design and deliver. Materials like green concrete, aerogels and nano materials.
- New business models will be developed, and old ones will need to evolve. It has never been easier and cheaper to start a new business.
The next segment will be briefly touching upon some tools and techniques that are already available to deliver design(s).
AI Algorithms have created full size 3D art as if it were hand crafted sculptures. Though design was so detailed, the delivery was so precise that it could only have been done by…..machines.
Although that might be nice to look at, it doesn’t have industrial style benefits as such. So, the next step was to look at work done by Josy de Bruin of the IAAA in Amsterdam. They worked on Autocad plug-ins that with some parameter input autonomously could create extensions to existing buildings.
So robots can be of support, from the currently used BIM approaches we explored some options that should not be far off being utilised. A major challenge will not be a technical one though; it would be getting different organisations to collaborate at data levels. So fully integrated BIM and other systems. Imagine the impact if the BIM systems of multiple parties are connected. Changes in architecture or the engineering should run through and show the impact of changes. The stored data, with the data collection on performance will help to improve upcoming projects. As mentioned earlier, sensors can be abundantly available. So the teams can track, when does the concrete arrives, what is the quality of the mixture, what are the environmental conditions and how long does it actually take before the concrete is work ready.
Machine learning can assist in the learning and improving element. Another piece of smartness which helps systems to learn and improve themselves. Interesting to note here is that machines can learn continuously are and able\capable of processing large volumes of data faster and more accurate than humans can. Machine learning comes in to detect patterns that are otherwise hard to pick up. A critical succesfactor for being able to benefit from the data is that data gets shared between and amongst parties. This would require a high level of transparancy that is currently not the norm in the industry.
Having so much real time and real life data available will transform the way planning and risk management are performed as well in the future.
So the designs are there, all is calculated and planned, risks are understood. The time has come to make things happen. Recently GAMMON did bring in exo skeletons. Exo skeletons are worn around the body and can assist the person in a number of tasks like heavy lifting, carrying materials and the like. The military has been experimenting a fair bit in a variety of soldier modernisation programmes as well. The skeletons can vary from an oversized harness to machines that look like the ones used in the movie avatar. They can serve a number of higher goals. For example, keeping the older population of construction workers active, opening up a new labour pool of women.
Other use of machines addresses parts of jobs that can be very taxing on the body. For example, sitting on the knees by bricklayers on streets, or how about repetitive movements done by bricklayers in sometimes not comfortable or even dangerous conditions. New technology can address skill shortage, skill gaps, or make jobs easier and more comfortable.
The previous examples are rather “dumb” solutions, although useful. Lets look a bit further. The next example covered was comparing how much time it would take to build a pre-fab made mansion. The example used would need 30 people and 3 months. When this was done using 3D industrial size printers, the time came down to 1 month and just using 8 people. Imagine the impact on an organisation if you can deliver in a third of the time with less than a third of the manpower. Suddenly you would be able to increase your business massively. On the receiving side this would mean shorter waiting times on areas where there is a shortage of housing. Another example was a set of robots “autonomously” building a bridge based upon a design and being fed with local data.
In the media we can read about guys like Elon Musk working on their trips to Mars. Now we all know that is quite far away. Both Mars and the trips. Meaning you can’t just hop back and forward. Advanced technologists are working on creating 3D printed housing for environments like Mars. In other words, use the materials available locally and transform that in habitable places.
We can conclude that robots are here to stay. So it is up to corporates, governments and the society to see what needs to change to accommodate those societal transformations. The impacts of this are slowly trickling through to corporates and policy makers. MP’s in the UK were recently calling for a commission to be setup that would need to look into what the role of AI will be, and what the impact that will have.
Enlighten me, what is happening in your field?
The session then transitioned into a 30 minute conversation around the different topics that passed the revue. It was kick started by Marcel Ekkel throwing back a question to the audience to ask them knew was currently happening in their field.
The audience recognised the current challenges with regards to labour in Hong Kong. There is an awareness that the industry doesn’t operate at a high efficiency level due to the way contracts are setup. Which points towards the weak point behind some of the possible progress is the availability of data and the willingness to provide full transparency.