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  • Writer's pictureZhongyi Ho

Combatting the COVID-19 pandemic: Promising technologies construction industry players could employ

Updated: May 25, 2022

Edited by Kimberley Chee.


There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a disruption in all sectors around the world; whether it’s the primary, secondary, tertiary, or even the quaternary sector - all of them are greatly affected by this unforeseen hit. With a decrease in the GDP growth rate of 17.1% in the second quarter of 2020 (2Q20), Malaysia faced the worst decline in GDP growth rate in 22 years.¹ For the past 2 years, companies have been integrating hybrid working² into their business Learning Management System (LMS). Though technological advancement means there are more convenient ways to access the Internet, the new normal working style, however, isn’t suitable for all industries, with one of the most unfortunate ones being the construction industry.


The construction industry is part of the secondary sector, which focuses on the process of making buildings, building tunnels, bridges, and repairing structures.³ One major reason why the construction industry is one of the most vital sectors in the world’s economy is because it employs a huge amount of the world’s total labour force - for instance, statistics have shown that the construction industry makes up 9.36% of Malaysia’s total labour force.⁴


With all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and hybrid working taking place in Malaysia due to the pandemic, the different players in the construction industry are in an unfavourable position. The different professionals involved in the construction industry - architects, designers, engineers, contractors, and workers - are affected by one another, similar to that of a snowball effect. Although dissimilar professionals are responsible for their own part of the job, every work is tightly linked with each other - architects use designing software like BIM/AutoCAD and create a blueprint; civil engineers work with blueprints for construction, etc. Clearly, the SOPs and hybrid working makes it much more difficult for them to work together face-to-face.


Figure 1: Demonstrating the potential of 5G network technology. Image source: Forbes

Living in the 21st century, we are now tapping into the 5G network era.⁵ 5G network can reach up to 100 times faster than the 4G network, which shows significant advance to construction industry players as more advanced equipment and software can be built to minimise the lag between the time of input and that of output. The 5G network technology can also encourage the use of Building Informative Modelling (BIM) alongside Artificial Intelligence (AI), Additive Manufacturing (AM), and LiDAR Technology. Let’s go over how these technologies are used and could be used in the construction industry.


BIM technology is particularly useful for architects and engineers to create 3D digital models of their constructions to predict the potential construction hazards according to the design. They can then analyse the hazards and prevent them by simply adjusting the design in the software using advanced calculations. With BIM or the blueprint, contractors in the construction site can also lead their teams safely through every step in the construction workflow and document the process to meet the safety regulations. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can also come into play here in construction sites, where it can offer self-driving construction machinery to perform tedious and repetitive tasks. This allows human workers to focus on things that require a bit more brainpower, or just to focus on other tasks - promoting productivity and efficiency.


Figure 2: Demonstrating an example of a building designed using BIM. Image source: Concrete Construction

Moving on, we have Additive Manufacturing. Additive Manufacturing (AM) is similar to 3D printing, and it is widely used to create three-dimensional shapes in order to create prototypes for visualisation.⁶ To relate this back to the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction team could 3D print the designed buildings and really get down to the roots of the buildings to investigate their maximum stability, or if their calculations are efficient. They could even consider the material’s shear and tensile strength, Young's modulus, and so on. This will take up quite a bit of time to carry out the calculations to perfect the design of the building and perfecting its calculations (including structural calculations), but by the time the team starts to build the structures, they can confidently do so knowing that they have done their research well.


Figure 3: Demonstrating what AM or 3D printing could perform. Image source: Autodesk

Apart from software that construction industry players could use, they could also utilise drones and LiDAR technology. LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses pulsed lasers to measure the distance from the sensor to the Earth.⁷ With that being said, before the construction industry players start their work, certain people could be responsible for controlling autonomous drones and using LiDAR to capture the shape of the terrain - whether it’s uneven, smooth, or protruding ground - to allow architects and engineers to perfectly understand and analyse the shape of the terrain, and therefore evaluate the type of rocks and soils present in the specific location. This helps them to come up with better designs and aids the construction process after identifying and analysing the soil type and how to tackle it.


Figure 4: Demonstrating what LiDAR lasers can ‘see’. Image source: Wired.co.uk

To sum up, there are countless ways to use our current technology to our advantage in order to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as by carrying out the aforementioned examples. In lieu of simply using the current technology we already possess, Malaysian scientists, companies, and government could work together to create new technology. What matters isn’t how long a revolutionary invention will take, or how grand it will be— but instead the very fact that we dream and we desire to create something new and innovative.


Push out from the comfort zone at the macro level; this proactive step will benefit the construction industry and many other industries. Everything is possible if we are willing to invest our time and money to discover something amazing. After all, it is just a matter of time until we discover how far our true potential will take us.



Glossary

Snowball effect:

A process that starts from something small and builds upon itself, becoming something large which might be potentially dangerous or beneficial.

Young’s modulus:

Young’s modulus (measured in Pascals) is a property of a material that tells us how easily it can be stretched and be deformed.


 

References:

  1. Idris, A. N., & Salim, S. (2020, August 14). BNM: Malaysia GDP contracted 17.1% in 2Q20, worst decline since 4Q98. The Edge Malaysia. https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/bnm-2q-gdp-contracts-171-due-sudden-halt-economic-activities-april

  2. The Future of Work: Changing Places: How hybrid working is rewriting the rule book. (2017, March 5). PwC Australia. https://www.pwc.com.au/important-problems/future-of-work-design-for-the-future/changing-places-hybrid-working.html

  3. Holmes, T. (2022, February 11). What Is the Construction Industry? (with pictures). InfoBloom. https://www.infobloom.com/what-is-the-construction-industry.htm

  4. Hirschmann, R. (2022, January 11). • Malaysia: number of employed people. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/621259/employment-in-malaysia/

  5. 5G vs 4G: what's the difference? (2020, August 10). Thales. https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/worldwide-digital-identity-and-security/mobile/magazine/5g-vs-4g-whats-difference

  6. What is Additive Manufacturing | GE Additive. (2022). General Electric. https://www.ge.com/additive/additive-manufacturing

  7. Sharma, B. (2021, October 2). What is LiDAR technology and how does it work? Geospatial World. https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/what-is-lidar-technology-and-how-does-it-work/

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