Data-driven technologies to revolutionise construction sectors of emerging economies

Around 55% of the world’s population – or 4.2bn people – lived in urban areas in 2018, up from 47% in 2000, according to the UN. Because of the rapid rate of urbanisation, this figure is expected to reach 68% by 2050, with growth concentrated in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The shift towards the cities put the onus on the construction sector to respond to the burgeoning demand for housing, transport and supporting infrastructure.

New Technology

The global construction sector is forecast to expand by 2% in 2020 and 5% in 2021, with emerging markets leading the sustained growth. Technology will play a more significant role than ever as countries adopt building information modelling (BIM), a data-driven artificial intelligence process that is used to plan, design, construct and manage construction and infrastructure projects.

BIM generates multi-dimensional digital models of planned structures based on information gleaned from exhaustive scans of an area and its conditions. When BIM software is used, energy and material use can be reduced across the lifetime of a project, while engineering processes can also be optimised and costs lowered. North America dominates the market, and its use is compulsory for high-rise projects in some developed economies such as the UK. Emerging markets are now looking to the technology to innovate and modernise their construction sectors.

The worldwide BIM market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 12.7% between 2019 and 2024, expanding in value from $4.9bn to $8.9bn. The increase is largely due to high power utilisation in business structures and a rise in electricity expenditure, causing firms to turn to BIM to develop power-efficient systems, ease costs and reduce the need for retrofit enhancements.

Latin America

Construction activity is picking up in Latin America, and sector was forecast to expand by 1.1% in 2019 before rising to an average yearly growth of 2.6% between 2020 and 2023, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. There have been encouraging signs that nations across the region are utilising construction technologies, with 18 countries being members of the Inter-American Federation of the Construction Industry’s Latin American BIM Forum.

Peru first utilised BIM technology to design and manage the infrastructure projects related to its hosting of the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima during July and August of that year. The government recognised the potential of the technology in the run-up to the event, and in September 2018 released a decree approving the use of BIM in a wider array of public investment projects.

BIM has considerable potential as a force for making the construction sector in Peru more transparent. There are numerous projects in the pipeline that could benefit from the technology, as the National Infrastructure Plan released in August 2019 includes 52 projects totalling PEN99.2bn ($29.7bn), consists of work on Lima’s metro network and several highway projects. Indeed, the government released a strategy to expand the use of BIM and establish the next steps for the incorporation of the technology in all public investment processes in September 2019. In December 2019 María Antonieta Alva, the Peruvian minister of economy, told local press that BIM had been deployed successfully during the games and that the ministry was looking to systematically implement the technology in other projects.

A reduction in public infrastructure spending has caused Mexico’s construction sector to expand at its lowest rate in 17 years, with the Centre for Economic Studies in the Construction Sector forecasting 2% growth for 2019. BIM could be used to reverse the stagnation, and Mexico has made strides in implementing BIM to meet the needs of a heavily urbanised population. One example is the third stage of the construction of a railway line between Mexico City and Toluca that is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Consorcio IUYET, the company overseeing the project, is using a BIM platform that creates a high-resolution, topographical analysis of terrain. “In terms of the specific technologies that can be used in Mexico to facilitate development, BIM will be key in making infrastructure projects far more efficient and transparent, and enable the country to better tackle issues such as climate change,” Fernando Romero, CEO of global architecture and design firm FR-EE, told OBG.

Around half of the construction projects in Mexico use BIM, but between 80% and 90% of these do not use 3D modelling, which often leads to delays, Héctor Quezada, director of manufacturer Victaulic Mexico, told local press in April 2019. The Mexican Chamber of Construction has been promoting its use since 2011, and in March 2019 the government published its strategy for implementing BIM. The phased plan will start with projects related to communications, transport, tourism, health, education, natural resources and the environment adopting the technology in 2022, with an aim to use BIM in all public infrastructure projects starting in 2023.

Looking to the future, architectural technology is set to expand in the region. In October 2019 Graphisoft, a company that created the architectural 3D design software ArchiCAD, told industry press that it was in discussions with authorities in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru to introduce their technology in major construction projects.

MENA

The transition to computer-aided design (CAD) in the MENA region has increased productivity and improved design quality, and BIM holds the potential to stage a similar revolution. Construction is one of the industries that has been slowest to adapt to new technologies in Egypt, hindered by the relative availability of low-cost labour. However, in recent years the country has slowly adopted BIM. Notably it was used during the planning and construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), a complex with a number of unique architectural specifications that was completed in October 2019. The folded roof of the museum – built by Belgian contractor Besix – was designed using BIM software. “Nowadays you would consider that completely normal – every project generally gets done using BIM,” Laurens Schokking, project director of the GEM, told international industry press in August 2019. “But, bear in mind, this project was awarded at the end of 2011 to early 2012, and at that time it was quite an impressive feature to do it fully through BIM.”

Dubai has prioritised infrastructure development in its drive to diversify its economy, and this has been reflected in state spending, The emirate’s 2019 budget set aside Dh9.2bn ($2.5bn) for infrastructure projects, 16% of its total budget of Dh56.8bn ($15.5bn). The preparations for Dubai to host Expo 2020 between October 2020 and April 2021 saw an flurry of activity related to transport infrastructure, including a 15-km expansion of its metro with an Expo 2020 station to cater to the estimated 522,000 event attendees per day. At least 80% of the infrastructure built for Expo 2020 will become part of District 2020, a planned, integrated community that will feature 65,000 sq metres of residential land and 135,000 sq metres of retail space.

Dubai Municipality issued a mandate in 2013 requiring large-scale projects to use BIM. UAE construction giant Al Shafar General Contracting expanded the implementation of BIM into all of its departments in 2018, and the technology is being used in the construction of the 54-storey Investment Corporation of Dubai Brookfield Place Tower managed by South Korean contractor Ssangyong.

Elsewhere, US-based structural and engineering consultants SA Miro provided BIM modelling and scanning services for five new train stations in Oman as part of the larger Gulf Cooperation Council rail network, and in Saudi Arabia the long-term development and diversification plan, Vision 2030, is driving demand for technologies such as BIM.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Most sub-Saharan African countries lack the infrastructure needed to support cloud-based storage and communications, as internet connections can be weak. Additionally, the construction sector as a whole is largely traditional and paper-based. Taken together, these factors have slowed the adoption of BIM throughout the region. More widespread use of would necessitate changes in many of the everyday processes, from conceptualisation to execution to management.

BIM is steadily finding widespread acceptance in East Africa, but one of main barriers to its full expansion is the practice of clients to employ separate contractors for the various stages of design and construction. However, similarly to other regions in the world, urbanisation is causing city planners and other officials to consider new technologies to cope with the influx of people. More than 26% of Kenyans live in cities and the urban population is growing at 4.2% per year. As such, Nairobi requires at least 132,000 new housing units each year to keep pace with its expanding population. However, only around 50,000 homes are built annually – leaving a deficit of more than 80,000 units.

On top of the demand for housing, major infrastructural projects across a number of sectors are under way, including the KES40bn ($392.3m) Avic Global Trade Centre Towers project, due to be completed in 2020; an expansion of the Mombasa Port that will increase capacity by 1m twenty-foot equivalent units; and the $25bn Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor linking Kenya with Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan. The use of construction technologies such as BIM would make such projects more cost-efficient and timely.

Some 148,000 people are formally employed in the Kenyan building and construction sector. The local industry is expected to grow on average by 6.2% through 2026, outpacing the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, according to a study released in 2017 from industry tracker BMI Research. CAD technology, dominated by Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD software, is widely used, but there has yet to be a concerted, government-led shift to BIM. To reach the full potential of the growing construction industry, Kenya will need to adopt technologies such as BIM and CAD to economise materials and project time frames.

Across the continent, in Nigeria 2D CAD is more common than its 3D counterpart, and pick-up of BIM has been slow, largely due to the fragmented nature of the market. However, this is beginning to change. In December 2019 the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria announced that it would adopt BIM to professionalise the sector, speed project delivery, and reduce waste and overheads.

Asia

Many of Asia’s emerging markets face similar challenges to their African and Latin American counterparts when it comes to making BIM mainstream in their otherwise burgeoning construction sectors. Many are focusing primarily on meeting the soaring demand for housing, prioritising that over a rebooting of construction processes.

In Indonesia – the country with the largest population and GDP in South-east Asia – demand for affordable housing boomed as the urban population expanded. According to the World Bank, over half of the country’s population resides in an urban area, and one in five city residents live in informal housing. This trend is expected to continue, with the international organisation projecting over 70% of the population will reside in urban areas by 2045.

The swift growth of urban areas has led to high levels of pollution, congestion and pressure on infrastructure and basic services. These factors threaten to undermine the liveability and sustainability of cities, as well as stall economic growth. The Indonesian authorities are looking to the implementation of BIM and smart city initiatives to alleviate some of these challenges. One opportunity for the adoption of these technologies will be in the construction of the new Indonesian capital to be built in the forests of eastern Borneo. In October 2019 the Ministry of Public Works and Housing launched a competition to design the new “smart forest city”, offering a prize of IDR5bn ($35.3m) for five winners. The design must include trees and public spaces for residents to create a biocity. The government expects the relocation from Jakarta to cost IDR466tr ($3.3trn), more than half of which will be sourced from public-private partnerships. Construction on the city is scheduled to begin in late 2020.

Addressing the housing deficit is also a priority for the Philippines. In March 2019 the Philippine Statistics Authority released findings derived from the 2015 census that showed 51.2% of the country’s population – or 51.7m people – lived in urban areas, up from 45.3% in 2010. Rapid urbanisation rates have gone hand-in-hand with strains on the housing market, and has led to a housing deficit of 4m units.

Although to date there has been little government interest in implementing BIM on a wide scale in the Philippines, the private sector is investing in new innovations as some recognise the technology’s innovative potential. “There is a pressing needed for easy to build, affordable housing,” Robbie Antonio, the founder of Revolution Precrafted Properties, told OBG. “Increased competition in the construction and real estate industry will incentivise companies to improve their systems and operations, and it is expected that firms will centre their innovation on streamlining production.”

BIM was used in the construction of Malaysia’s Forest City, a $4bn project that will create four manmade islands spanning 30 sq km, in southern Johor. Developers used the construction technology for project design, quality improvement, sustainability, and facility and asset management. The project will tap internet-of-things technology as well, with remote digital management over smart metres, building monitoring and the automatic irrigation system of the complex’s green wall. Artificial intelligence will inform the central control of building security and energy consumption. As of September 2019 the first island had been 50% reclaimed and featured a retail complex, a five-star hotel, commercial units and an international school.

Meanwhile, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) announced in September 2019 that it would use BIM to plan, coordinate and carry out the construction of an integrated terminal at Chennai International Airport in the east of the country. The 336,000-sq metre terminal will span three levels and is expected to be completed in 2020. BIM will enable the AAI to create a digital stimulation at every stage of construction to see how the completed facility will look. This information will be used by the agency to make the changes necessary to meet the needs of passengers. “[The use of BIM] helps in fast decision-making,” S Sree Kumar, director of the Chennai International Airport, told local press in September 2019. “When a change is made during construction, it will have an impact on all levels of the work. This system will help contractors and sub-contractors know about the changes that will be reflected in their portion of the work.” The authorities plan to use BIM beyond the conclusion of the project and into the maintenance and operations stages.

Forecast

There is potential in developing and emerging markets for the use of new construction technologies such as BIM. With worldwide building activity and population forecast to grow steadily in the coming years, BIM will play a crucial role in streamlining and economising the construction of infrastructure needed to meet rising demand for housing, transport, utilities and public services brought on by urbanisation. As such, emerging markets worldwide must be ready for this shift by digitalising their construction processes, and it will be necessary for governments to implement dedicated policies facilitating the successful adoption of BIM.

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