Compared to other industries, the construction industry has traditionally been slow to adopt new technologies.
However, with the shortage of skilled labour, increasing urbanisation and a growing pipeline of construction projects in Asia, the construction industry is now hard-pressed to find more resource-efficient and productive methods of construction.
Here are five technologies transforming the way we build in Asia:
1) Offsite/modular construction
Conventional cast in-situ method is increasingly being replaced with offsite and modular construction, where building components such as columns, slabs and even larger volumetric elements like entire rooms are manufactured off-site in a factory-like environment.
Prefabrication has many benefits. It leads to shorter project delivery times as work is done concurrently on and off-site, with no weather-related holdups for factory production. As most work is done off-site, less manpower is required on site, working environments are safer, and it results in less construction noise and dust to the surroundings. Better quality control can also be achieved by fabricating building components in a factory-like environment.
The 10-storey building extension of Singapore’s Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Hotel was built using Prefabricated Pre-finished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) technology, where entire rooms or modules complete with internal finishes, fixtures and fittings are manufactured in factories, before being transported to site for installation in a Lego-like manner.
Image source: OUE Limited and The Straits Times
2) Mechanisation and automation
Like other industries, automation is becoming more prevalent in construction. Not only are highly automated equipment used in factories to manufacture building components faster and with a better consistency, works on site are also moving towards a greater degree of mechanisation.
Highly automated equipment is used in Singapore's Integrated and Prefabrication Hubs to manufacture building components
Image source: The Business Times
Robots are also being tested for application in construction projects. Some of these innovations include robots for monotonous and tedious work such as cleaning, painting and tiling.
Singapore electronics company Elid Technology International and Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU Singapore) had co-developed OutoBot, which automates the washing and painting of building facades to enhance worker safety and productivity.
Image source: NTU Singapore
Researchers at the Singapore-ETH Centre Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) and ROB Technologies
also came up with a prototype for a robot that lays floor tiles.
Image source: FCL and ROB Technologies
While it is still at the early stage of development, scientists at the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing are studying how to 3D-print customised concrete structures such as roofs, beams and pillars. The automated process is expected to be more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly compared to current casting methods. 3D printing can also reduce rework and the need for moulds and formwork.
Image source: TODAY Online
3) Collaborative digital technologies
As more countries adopt more collaborative contracting models and integrated project delivery, digital technologies that facilitate collaboration across various stakeholders in the construction value chain will grow in importance.
This includes Building Information Modelling (BIM) which not only enhances visualisation but streamlines and integrates the entire construction value chain from project planning, design, construction to operations and maintenance.
Project collaboration and the use of BIM technology can be further enhanced through augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). With these technologies, project parties can experience a virtual walkthrough of a building even before it is constructed, enabling problems to be identified and fixed before actual construction. Advances in technology have also enabled BIM models to be accessed on site through cloud-connected mobile devices, where real-time sharing enhances productivity and facilitates decision making.
4) Advanced building materials
Another area of innovation is advanced building materials such as ultra-high performance concrete as structural elements to reduce the weight and amount of material, self-healing concrete to reduce maintenance and cost, and durable corrosion protection coatings to increase the shelf life of steel structures.
With the move towards sustainable construction, projects in Asia have started to adopt Mass Engineered Timber (MET). This modern construction material is manufactured off-site with layers of timber panels glued together for strength and structural stability, before being transported and assembled on site. Made of harvested wood from sustainably managed forests, MET is a highly renewable and sustainable construction material with a long service life. There is also significant reduction in energy usage and carbon emission during its manufacturing and construction process compared to steel and concrete.
Mass Engineered Timber construction of the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore’s sports hall
Image source: NTU Singapore
5) Smart building technologies
With the development of smart cities in Asia, the Internet of Things (IoT) - sensors and wireless technologies that enable equipment and assets to become "intelligent" by connecting them with one another, will improve the way we construct and maintain our buildings.
For instance, sensors and autonomous control systems can improve building performance and energy efficiency while near-field communication technology like radio-frequency identification (RFID) aids inventory management. Data analytics can also be used to anticipate issues such as workplace safety and bottlenecks, and optimise the design of our living environments.
If you are interested to find out more about these latest technologies, do visit BuildTech Asia 2017 from 24 to 26 October 2017 at Singapore Expo Hall 3, and pre-register before 18 October with the promo code FBMi@BTA to stand a chance to win a free pair of tickets to the SMART Women in Built Environment Conference worth $320! For more information about the trade show and exhibitor profile, visit www.buildtechasia.com