Coronavirus: Three reasons why the construction industry must fully embrace digital tech in a post COVID-19 world

Louay Dahmash, head of EMEA Emerging, Autodesk, on why we must be fully embracing the potential of digital technology

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact across the world and across industries, including construction, by forcing companies to rethink the way they work and operate. For construction it now means fully embracing the potential of digital technology.

The industry has traditionally lagged behind others in the adoption of new technologies. In large part this has been due to an ingrained ‘if ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset that has developed over many decades. It has not adapted because it never had to. Although disruptive, the outbreak has brought greater attention to the need to change. Here we look at three reasons why digital transformation is no longer an option but a necessity.

Traditional construction methods no longer fit for purpose

According to the UN, the global population is estimated to hit 10 billion by 2050 and as a result the need for housing is set to intensify in the coming decades. That means around 13,000 new buildings must be built every day until 2050 just to keep pace with demand. The construction industry has for too long been reluctant to adopt new technologies and that has resulted in many inefficiencies. When you consider a staggering 30 percent of all the world’s waste every year comes from the construction industry it is simply no longer sustainable to continue to operate in this manner.

A key reason for this waste and inefficiency is the lack of collaboration during projects. Collaboration – whether it happens in-person or in a digital space – is crucial in construction. The conservatism of some companies has meant that the majority of information sharing has been previously done in-person and based on paper. This mindset had already begun to change with recent events reinforcing the need to adopt cloud collaboration tools which allow employees to continue work from anywhere in the world.

Increasing complexity of projects means innovation is essential

Digital technology has now allowed architects to become far more imaginative and creative in designing buildings. This increasing level of complexity means technology must be leveraged to connect designers with engineers and builders, often on different continents to bring these projects to fruition. For example, the Abu Dhabi Louvre’s steel and glass dome was done through the collaboration of more than 1,000 employees across Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. Meanwhile, the elegant curves and sophisticated design of Dubai’s Museum of the Future would not have been possible using traditional pencil on paper design techniques. Ambitious projects such as NEOM in Saudi Arabia and Expo 2020 in Dubai are pushing construction technologies to the limit.

Only by implementing digital technologies will the construction sector be able to successfully complete such projects. Fortunately, increasing numbers of companies are recognising the importance of digitization and how it can transform the industry for the better.

Robotics will open new frontiers for the industry

It would be pretty pedestrian to say that better collaboration between teams is all there is to the digitization of construction. In the next 10 to 20 years we will see more advanced technologies like robotics revolutionizing the industry. As robots become more intelligent and aware, they will be able to handle many of the repetitive tasks on the field. It might not be anthropomorphic robots swinging hammers around construction sites, but more likely human controlled robots. Today, there are many examples of Contour Crafting from around the world. Contour Crafting is when robotic arm and the entire robot mounted to a rail system installed on site to direct its motion. The arm moves back and forth to move the building material layer by layer, and then trowels help flatten and smooth out the layers.

The future of construction seems to be bright with all the technologies already available and many more still in R&D. Cloud-collaboration and Artificial Intelligence tools are mature enough to enable companies to operate more effectively even in challenging circumstances. If for a long time, adoption of these tools was a matter of choice, today it has changed. Companies not embracing the digital revolution will be side lined by those that do.


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