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Reconstructing the industry with digital solutions, prefabrication


The engineering and construction sector across the Middle East has been seeing colossal advancements in building processes, mostly thanks to the availability of digital solutions, and the introduction of modular construction and prefabrication into the mainstream. 

At the same time, there is still a growing need for construction workers of all trades to upskill to keep abreast with the rest of the industry as the industry completes one ambitious skyscraper after another.

Modern innovations that are gaining the spotlight in the region include modular construction and Building Information Modelling (BIM) workflows. Leading developers and construction companies in the region have achieved great success with their projects by applying the underlying principles and supporting technologies.

One prime example is the UAE’s construction of the Museum of the Future located in Dubai. The oval-shaped building is arguably one of the most challenging architectural structures ever attempted in modern history. To succeed with the project, the teams, which previously were more comfortable with 2D drawings, had to upskill and learn BIM.

In Saudi Arabia, a joint collaboration between Saudi Aramco and US-based contractor McDermott will explore the feasibility of localising onshore modular construction. The success of this endeavour would mean so much to the entire construction sector in terms of stimulating the construction technique’s adoption across the region.  


Points for improvement: Design and Construction Workflows

However, looking beyond the geometrical wonders of buildings in the Middle East, Trimble has also acknowledged the fact that the region still has space for improvement. Specifically, while construction giants and architecture leaders are taking the global spotlight for their modern construction concepts and visionary designs, others are barely keeping up.

The challenge is therefore not only to encourage companies to adopt modern engineering and construction approaches. It is to ensure all contractors, consultants, and engineering teams are at pace with each other to minimise disruptions and achieve the target results.

This concern is not exclusive to the Middle East. In one study, KPMG evaluated the future-readiness of engineering and construction companies. According to the study, only 20% of companies were considered innovation leaders. Up to 60% identified themselves as followers, while the remaining 20% were behind the curve.

The reasons behind this are understandable. Generally, many companies still see innovation as costly and risky. If they haven’t tried something before, they would rather stick with methods that they know will do the job.

However, this keeps them from exploring technology solutions that are designed to reduce costs, enhance construction accuracy and actually reduce risk.

Beginning from the bidding phase, some estimators for smaller scale projects still use traditional methods for quantifying and pricing the construction costs. This causes concerns, since they use simple spreadsheets that have obsolete materials or outdated prices. To win the bidding, some contracting companies would actually offer unrealistic bids that may lead to cost overruns later on.

During the design and engineering phase, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) designers would use one specific tool for BIM modelling, another for mechanical and electrical engineering calculations and sizing, and perhaps another for lighting calculations. This by itself leaves room for errors.

Then there is also the matter of MEP designers needing to sync with the architectural and structural design aspects. In many cases, these are produced using different platforms, which further complicates the coordination process due to interoperability issues with different file formats. All involved in the design and execution process will have to deal with errors and discrepancies, which require extra time and resources.

Meanwhile, some MEP contractors would use yet another platform to create the construction model from scratch during the fabrication phase. This is due to the fact that, at this stage in the process, they need to make sure their models are fully detailed with high level-of-development (LOD), manufacturer-specific content, which may come in a tool and file format that is different from the design models that they exchange data and information with in the BIM.

This creates discrepancies between the design models and the construction models. Design and construction teams take time to sync any changes on the design with the construction model.

Moreover, others still use a separate tool for computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) for digital fabrication of pipes and ducts. This requires additional synchronisation between the tools used for CAM and BIM.

Again the same concerns come up during the installation and layout phase, as contractors still approve of tape-measure methods to mark up the layout points on site.

At the handover phase, the as-built conditions for the project would have had too many discrepancies from the final documentation submitted to the building owner or operator.


Digital solutions at hand

As an active contributor to the needs of the engineering and construction industry, Trimble has developed solutions that use modern digital technologies to ensure seamless work coordination, design synchronisation, and cost efficiency.

Our solutions have been receiving positive feedback from clients across multiple projects over the last several years.

The success of many leading projects in the region has been inspiring many to follow suit, and a significant part of the success can be traced back to their decision to incorporate these digital solutions. By applying modern systems and software, project teams from different trades have been able to participate in real-time communication to ensure that they will work with the right and accurate data at the right moment.

High-LOD BIM information exchange with manufacturer content has been particularly helpful in solving the long-standing concerns the industry has faced for years. Trusted model and information exchange has supported many designers and engineers in ensuring that the design will be constructible and that materials can indeed be procured from a specific manufacturer.

Field installations also required less time and benefited from better accuracy. Since BIM has allowed teams to visualise the project better, they were able to identify potential issues that may arise and they could revise their designs in anticipation, which is cheaper than on-site rework.

For instance, Trimble Connect’s open collaboration solutions enable project teams to access real-time data and have better and informed decision making, leading to more efficient project execution.

Teams can also collaborate better by using multiple devices — be it a laptop, phone, tablet, or a mixed-reality (MR) device such as Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2. Field teams are able to use other devices such as Robotic Total Stations (RTS), which allows them to use their tablets to access and download the layout points directly from the BIM on the Trimble Connect collaboration platform, for automated and precise on-site installations.

By connecting the physical and digital worlds, construction teams benefit from significant improvements in productivity and accuracy on site.

Procurement teams, meanwhile, are able to access the latest project information and ensure that the right materials and quantities are being sourced from suppliers. Off-site fabrication teams can then deliver the correct materials to the site based on the latest and approved designs.

Trimble’s Stabicad for Revit, which enables designers to create highly accurate MEP designs, has also been receiving great success since it is powered by a massive database of manufacturer-specific 3D components for MEP.

The software brings the mechanical and electrical project teams together to streamline their workflows from concept to installation, with time-saving productivity tools and comprehensive integrated calculations.

Trimble also developed Total Estimating for MEP contractors; a full-featured estimating solution backed by a powerful database of over 1 million individual items with updated product descriptions and pricing data sourced from a multitude of electrical, HVAC, and plumbing manufacturers. Best of all, both of these databases are maintained by Trimble to ensure that engineers and architects can access up-to-date and accurate information at all times.

Case in point: Museum of the Future

During the construction of the Museum of the Future, teams used Trimble Connect as the Common Data Environment (CDE). Other Trimble products such as SysQue, Tekla Structures, and Robotic Total Stations were also used during the project.

Trimble’s SysQue was used for the intricate MEP design, allowing designers to leverage an array of high-LOD manufacturer-specific content and ensure the design’s constructability. Tekla Structures also proved helpful in designing the building’s highly complex structure and Robotic Total Stations were used for the automated on-site layout. Moreover, Trimble Connect allowed the team to transfer the layout points from the SysQue MEP model directly to the Robotic Total Stations on the site. As the teams handling the complex project can attest, the use of modern Trimble solutions helped them reduce the rework by up to 65%. They also recorded a 50% productivity boost and a 25% total energy consumption reduction.

Looking ahead: Modular construction and prefabrication

In terms of on-site and actual construction efficiency, industry leaders are betting heavily on modular construction and prefabrication. In fact, many believe that the future of the industry will revolve around this concept due to its highly satisfactory results.

Since teams can start constructing the building in modules within a controlled environment, installation teams can ensure better coordination and significantly reduce production waste and the influence of ambient conditions.

Contractors can also enhance the safety of their crews since the number of workers required to work at risky heights and at tight spaces is greatly reduced.

Idle time is furthermore minimised, since teams will not have to wait for others to finish their task and clear the zone before they enter the area. Moreover, harsh weather conditions will not affect the building process any longer since site exposure will be minimal.

With the increasing availability of digital solutions, modular construction will become even more of an established given in the future. The success of seemingly impossible projects has showcased how these recent and emerging innovations can help the engineering and construction sector in the Middle East reach even greater heights.


(Article was originally posted on MEP Middle East: