Digital innovations have the potential to change the face of construction, with businesses in the sector deploying technologies from augmented reality (AR) to 3D printing to save time, cut costs and waste, minimise errors and improve workers’ safety on site.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, some companies have added sensors to their workers’ uniforms or helmets to automatically track their movements within sites, and warn them if they are too close to one another and in breach of safe distancing guidelines. In the long term, these sensors can also be used in tandem with geofencing to alert supervisors to unauthorised access to restricted areas, and to prompt workers to be more careful when they enter areas with higher safety risks.
With 3D printing machines becoming more powerful and versatile, some firms are also using them to reduce labour costs and waste. In conventional building projects, workers assemble wooden forms and pour concrete into them to produce structures. Some forms for complex structures may be used only once. 3D printing eliminates the need for such forms and uses only the exact amount of materials needed for the final product.
In Dubai, the government has set the target of using 3D printing in at least 25 percent of new buildings’ construction by 2030, to slash labour costs by 50 to 80 percent, waste by up to 60 percent, and overall costs by 50 to 70 percent. Singapore is also trialling the use of 3D printing for landscape furniture and architectural features, such as benches and pavilions, in its public housing estates.
Some construction companies are using drones and robots for surveillance and various other traditionally manpower-intensive tasks. Artificially intelligent robots equipped with cameras and facial recognition software can identify people and vehicles on site and check if they are allowed to be in the area, while drones hovering over a site can track a project’s progress.
Businesses can also tap drones and robots with light detection and ranging (Lidar) capabilities to develop up-to-date as-built models when their projects are nearing completion, instead of producing these models manually. This would save time and money.
AR technologies can enhance construction too. Firms can use them to train workers in using complex equipment, troubleshooting problems and handling potentially dangerous situations without exposing them to actual risks. With AR-enabled equipment such as smart glasses or tablets, workers on site can also share 3D images and videos with remote teammates to solve issues collaboratively when necessary.
Moreover, by using AR technologies to overlay a building’s design onto the job site, workers can minimise errors. Contractors can use an AR headset or tablet to see the locations of drill holes specified in the building plans, and ensure that they carry out the drilling accurately.
As digital technologies mature and become more sophisticated and affordable, their uses in construction will multiply. Construction firms can find out more about available and emerging technologies at BEX Asia 2021, which will be held virtually from September 6 to 10. They can also attend a three-week complimentary technical webinar from September 1 to 16.
To find out more about BEX Asia 2021 and register for the event, click here.