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Thinking about tomorrow today

New issues are constantly shaping our daily work – 3D printers and robots on the building site, applications that use artificial intelligence to generate a variety of design options and connect construction machinery to planning – the list is endless. Let's take a closer look at the opportunities and challenges of the future.

PROFILE: Which developments will revolutionise the construction industry in the near future?

Oliver Hans: At the moment, I would be inclined to talk about an accelerated evolution of construction. However, there are still discrepancies in speed between the planning and construction stages. Even today, new planning tools can use artificial intelligence to search autonomously for plots in cities that could be used for a project development, make topological building proposals or even generate floor plan designs. Software is also already being used during the operational phase of a building to make a wide range of optimisations in real time, while at the same time learning for subsequent projects. While data­based plan­ ning and analysis tools are constantly becoming faster and more intelligent, many fabrication processes remain completely unaffected by this. The higher the degree of digital support provided for fabrication and the building site, the sooner we will be able to take advantage of the potential of today's software and AI in these areas as well. The use of automation and robotics will also increase in construction. However, in my opinion, this will be more prevalent in the factory than on the building site. Prefabrication in the factory allows the parameters for complying with time and cost objectives to be optimised, while increasing quality and reducing material consumption. Machinery and robotics can be used more cost­effectively in these controlled conditions and processes than on the constantly­changing building site. The trend towards relocating production facilities to the warehouse is currently particularly evident in the development of timber and timber hybrid constructions. Prefabrication and modular construction are not restricted to new developments or wood, and with attempts to keep shortening construction times and building site logistics that are becoming ever more complex in dense cities, these concepts are becoming increasingly significant. Prefabrication requires a different approach to planning as per DFMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly), which can be supported through intelligent tools and configurators. This additive manufacturing and 3D printing also have the potential to effect change in the construction industry. It will be possible to save on materials and make more complex shapes, which will push the boundaries of what can be designed and built. In addition to new load­bearing structures which make efficient use of materials, a new language of form will also come about. I am certain that we will see many more interesting developments here which go beyond the experimental. By 2025, for example, 25 % of all public buildings in Dubai will have to be created using additive manufacturing. It remains to be seen how this will be implemented in each individual case. The crucial factor here is that every time a process is automated, optimised and standardised, the potential for customisation is increased, in order to ensure a diverse built environment is created.

PROFILE: Other sectors seem to have come a lot further than the construction industry, which is lagging behind. What role will interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary cooperation across industries play in future? Which sectors can the construction industry learn from in particular?

Oliver Hans: Although construction represents a large sector of industry, its productivity over the last 20 years has barely increased compared to other industries, and has even decreased in some markets. The construction industry's very slow adoption of change compared to others is down to the perception of projects as unique entities, the large number of people involved in constantly changing configurations and the high degree of process fragmentation. The evaluation and comparison of projects – benchmarking – is therefore carried out far less than in other industries. Another point is that the essential information is still held on paper during implementation, and this slows down analysis and optimisation considerably.

PROFILE: One disruptive element of our era is startups – Proptech, for example, but also cross-industry applications that link multiple professions to one another. Which innovations have caught your eye in recent times? Where does the journey lead?

Oliver Hans: The real estate industry being recognised as a business sector for start­ups is essentially positive. The broad spectrum that falls under »Proptech« (digitalisation of the real estate sector) affects various fields of the real estate industry and ranges from the search and acquisition of plots through to site management, building use and facilities management. Data is being used in a better way and/or in new combinations, and new services are being developed as a result. This will also accelerate the use of other technologies, such as sensors or mechatronics in buildings, which supply the required data and will make models such as pay­per­use lifts possible for the first time. The Internet of Things is thus increasingly making its way into buildings. By networking access control, climate control and supply systems, they will become more adaptive and easier to manage, assess and improve. The trend towards smart buildings is consistent with the trend towards smart cities. Public buildings are using data more and more effectively and are making more and more information available (open data). This creates new services and business models. New job titles in city administration such as »Civic Innovation & Technology Manager« or »City Strategic Data Manager« show that traffic, buildings and the urban environment will increasingly be exchanging data. The diversified physical process on constantly changing building sites often makes innovations more complex. However, there are some very interesting developments in the field of »Contech« too. Using autonomous LiDAR drones, the mapping of progress checks or collision checks can be carried out and robots can assist in the construction and removal of scaffolding or build walls themselves in an automated process. Data analyses and AI are playing an increasingly important role here too. Their tasks range from monitoring and optimising progress to automatic image analysis, which can detect dangerous situations on the building site in real time and send instant notifications.