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Digitalisation of the Construction Industry - Serene Sia, Managing Director, Autodesk ASEAN

Updated: Dec 1, 2022 speaks to Serene Sia, Managing Director, Autodesk ASEAN on difficulties faced by the construction industry, digitalisation and sustainable design and how technology helps.

Serene Sia, Managing Director, Autodesk ASEAN

What are the problems facing the construction industry in Singapore and the broader region today?

The impact of the pandemic left a backlog of impending projects for the construction industry in the region. Looming manpower shortages continue to be a concern for the wider industry as more workers are now needed than at pre-pandemic levels.

In Singapore, despite a rise in the number of construction workers, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), experienced workers left Singapore during the pandemic leading to new workers needing to be trained to meet industry demands and expectations. Similarly, additional roadblocks have slowed down the revival of the construction industry. Increasing supply chain disruptions, inflationary pressures and rising material and labour costs are changing the way the industry is operating today.

However, the sectoral outlook remains positive for Singapore. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) projects the total construction demand (i.e. the value of construction contracts to be awarded) in 2022 to be between S$27 billion and S$32 billion. This growth in 2022 will supercharge the growth of the wider industry in the medium term, as the BCA expects the total construction demand to reach between S$25 billion and S$32 billion per year from 2023 to 2026.

How can good design reduce manpower resources and material costs?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. By implementing a good design process from the planning stage of a project, businesses are able to have better foresight into the end-to-end construction process. This is where technology can play a crucial role.

A good Building Information Modelling (BIM) software is both a time and cost saver that businesses need to embrace in a project’s early stage. It allows for an increasing amount of transparency and collaboration while also improving the time efficiency and misunderstandings that may exist without full insight into the project design. The personnel involved are able to create consistent informative virtual models which result in fewer revisions and save time and costs on top of resources in the later stages of construction.

With BIM models in place, businesses can plan for the accurate quantities of materials required for their project while calculating the timescale/duration of the project depending on factors including cost and labour.

The continued evolution of the construction industry will rely on automation in its many forms, from automated digital design and analysis processes to the automated creation of construction documentation and, ultimately, the act of construction. Construction automation has the potential to address opportunities and challenges that automated manufacturing processes have helped resolve in other industries, including improving production time, material efficiencies, labour productivity, and worker health and safety, as well as compensating for labour shortages, reducing environmental impacts, creating new design opportunities, and so on.

40% of embedded carbon comes from construction. How can Autodesk help enable businesses in Singapore and the region to balance growth with sustainability?

It’s true that the construction industry is one of the biggest contributors to GHG emissions. It is responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions in the world. This is an area that needs to be tackled on a war footing and the approaches need to include optimising the use of existing assets, a concerted focus on renovation projects instead of demolition jobs, and better circular models that leverage technology. In fact, the use of digital technologies can help the industry to achieve balanced growth between business and the environment.

Advanced technologies such as building information modelling (BIM), generative design, and digital twin can boost predictive capabilities, optimise resources, save costs, and improve efficiency. These tools help to create buildings that are more sustainable, perform better, and ultimately last longer as it helps foster transparency, drive efficiencies and better control at every stage of the lifecycle.

Today's construction professionals need best-in-class digital solutions to deliver new built environments, to advance a sustainable world that caters to today’s communities and to future generations. Autodesk helps these businesses by providing powerful predictive analytics and seamless workflows that enable the sector to optimise resources and drive cost and productivity efficiencies.

For example, Autodesk’s BIM 360 and Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) solution enables construction professionals to reduce the emissions of projects by up to 30% without any significant cost increase.

As Singapore pushes ahead with ambitious infrastructure projects such as Changi T5, Tuas Port and a new town in Paya Lebar, what does Singapore need to do to drive sustainable impact in this sector? And how digitalisation and good design can play a part in doing that? Any examples of how Autodesk is involved in the building of T5 or Tuas Port?

When embedding sustainability strategies throughout the design and construction stages, businesses in Singapore can gain better insight into a host of positive results, including energy and material cost savings, faster construction times, and greater predictability leading to a more durable and resilient built environment.

To address sustainability challenges, many manufacturers are implementing smarter and more efficient design and manufacturing approaches, increasing materials productivity, developing more circular business models, reducing energy use, and enhancing supply chain responsibility. This example encourages businesses to implement a circular model which eliminates waste and circulates resources driven by the refrain of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle,’ and regenerates nature under the second set of 3Rs: ‘remediation, restoration and regeneration.’

When it comes to large-scale projects such as Changi T5, embracing technology is fundamental to staying true to sustainable goals. Addressing these sustainability challenges by implementing smarter and more efficient design approaches, the construction industry can reap the benefits of increasing materials productivity, circular business models, and reducing supply chain costs and energy consumption.

We have worked on several airport projects globally. For example, we supported the construction of Terminal 2 at the Bangalore airport in India. The client mandated BIM for the entire project lifecycle of Terminal 2 and also leveraged Autodesk® BIM 360™ as the design and planning platform for the construction of the project. Our work enabled them to integrate their sustainability and project goals into a common purpose of excellence and deliver this massive project on time.

Airports are like miniature cities. Through the use of BIM technology and leveraging cloud services in airport projects, an energy analysis can be conducted at the design stage to find the best strategies to increase energy performance and efficiency, and reduce Co2 emissions.

How can digitalisation help shape the future of Singapore’s construction industry? For example, what is the role of data and automation in helping design future urban needs?

While the development and adoption of automation technologies have evolved slowly in the construction industry, the time is now ripe for automated construction technologies to play a major role in helping to bring construction’s digital transformation into full bloom in Singapore and the broader region.

Automation in construction can occur at various phases of a project, beginning with the software-based design stage, continuing with automated aspects of off-site and on-site construction, and ending by sharing collected data on the systems and energy use of finished buildings—all captured in cloud-based living models. Several core development strategies are needed to realise this integrated feedback loop, both in software and hardware. For example, collaborative robotics; industrialised construction strategies; new types of robots and automated machines; and real-time in-situ sensing, feedback, and adaptation are among the technologies and strategies that are converging to make automation in construction a reality.

However, a lot more needs to be done in order to steer the construction industry towards sustainability and environmental-friendliness. Automation technologies, such as drones, aid in the construction of renewable-energy facilities, such as wind turbines and solar roofs. Because construction robotics tend to perform tasks faster and more accurately than people, they can cut down on production delays, which reduces pollution from running machinery and keeping a jobsite active. Their accuracy also reduces material waste from errors and rework.

As Singapore progresses on its Green Plan 2030, construction will play a key role in driving the national agenda. By digitising systems in the construction industry, authorities will be able to step up the greening of buildings in Singapore and thoroughly examine building energy performance. The Singapore Green Building Masterplan sees the BCA and Green Buildings Innovation Cluster (GBIC) programme already using innovative technologies to improve building energy efficiency. This is a stepping stone to the future of urbanisation in Singapore.

The construction industry is known as one of the more dangerous industries for workers. The construction industry in Singapore accounted for the highest number of workplace deaths and major injuries in the first half of 2022. By automating more construction processes and tasks with off-site industrialised construction, drones, autonomous robots, and more, the industry can protect more people from the risks that cause most construction injuries and fatalities, such as falls and collisions with objects. Robots can also handle larger and heavier loads and work in spaces that are unsafe for people.

How have Autodesk’s technologies been applied to projects around the region?

An example that comes to mind is the work we did with TÜV SÜD, a universally recognised brand for safety, security, and sustainability, for their new ASEAN headquarters located in Singapore. Autodesk worked as a native ecosystem for TÜV SÜD, who recently opened their regional headquarters in Singapore.

From the early stages of the project, Autodesk’s solutions were used to optimise their design and construction phases, which resulted in significant gains for the whole building lifecycle. In a single environment, the project team were able to cover all core trades, such as architecture, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) and structural engineering.

Through this partnership, TÜV SÜD were able to achieve a reduction in the facade’s thermal value. With Autodesk’s BIM and BIM-based simulations, the built environment achieved an Envelope Thermal Transfer Value (ETTV) of 32.40 W/m2, which is even 35% better than Singapore’s current code requirement. Lighting costs improved by 51% over local code requirements. Energy savings due to optimised and fully balanced aircon and ventilation systems with energy savings of 17% higher than the code requirements.

Similarly, VMW Group in Singapore used Autodesk’s software for Jewel at Changi airport’s project. Through Autodesk’s Revit file a huge amount of BIM information on the architecture and structure was unveiled meaning the Group did not need to construct from scratch.

In addition, construction firm Leighton Asia plans to create a digital twin in its Hong Kong airport expansion—and reaping the rewards of better efficiency and less rework. Creating the digital twin helped Leighton Asia optimise its operational processes. Through Autodesk Assemble, all departments on the project team integrated their workflows into the digital twin so they could use the data and model according to their specific needs.

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