The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has opened the eyes of not only the construction industry but all the world's industries, including education and manufacturing, to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR.4.0).
The obvious move towards IR.4.0 is a virtual meeting. It has been the main option in the construction industry since the COVID-19 outbreak. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were unaware of the existence of online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco WebEx and many more. Today, all of the platforms are very useful for meetings or discussions between all parties involved in the construction industry and seem to save travel cost and time.
Engineering design led the way towards IR4.0 with 3D simulation tools and models software such as 3D AutoCADand Building Information Modelling (BIM) which presentedan ideal stage for the development of powerful and innovative applications for the engineering and construction industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
BIM provides additional layers of data that are able to interact in real time and collaborate throughout the design stage. The innovation of BIM provides a new means of predicting, managing and monitoring the quality and quantity of material to achieve better material handling. Currently, with BIM, it is possible for existing construction management tools to integrate and extend their capabilities in the construction ecosystem during the design stage.
The Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) Malaysia, through its wholly-owned subsidiary CIDB e-Construct Services Sdn Bhd (CIDBEC), initiated the road map for the construction industry by Jan 2020 related to IR4.0, in particular BIM. BIM can save 15 to 20 per cent of the time devoted to the planning and design stage. All parties involved in the construction industry are able to evaluate the proposed design and modification and make quicker decisions on design and construction works.
IR4.0 components boost for BIM
The critical components of IR4.0, such as cyber-physical systems (CPS), Internet of Things (IoT), Internet of Services (IoS), Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data and smart production applications, can optimise the use of BIM during the construction stage. These extend the capabilities of BIM by monitoring the material handling on site, segregating the waste on site, monitoring the operation of the project and supervising the workers using the BIM model. This will enhance the operation and data management by the local authorities and government agencies.
The use of drones to monitor construction work on site needs to be expanded and strengthened to ensure the smooth construction, even without engineers at the site. Currently, drones equipped with loudspeaker systems are commonly used to monitor communities for compliance with COVID-19 public safety orders. Drones are equipped with different state of the art technology such as infrared cameras, video, Wi-Fi, GPS and laser. Drones are controlled by a remote ground control system, also referred to as a ground cockpit.
Sustainable development for construction industry
In addition, prefabrication works such as the use of the Industrialised Building System (IBS) should be considered by all in the construction industry. IBS components are manufactured in a controlled setting and environment, fabricated in the factory and mobilised to construction sites. IBS components are classified as eco-friendly and green building materials in Malaysia.
Better planning of resources also reduces the overall cost, optimises the supplies and diminishes wastage of materials. IBS tolerates high flexibility that includes a wide range of architectural designs. Most types of IBS provide excellent quality and finishing compared to labour-intensive work where quality might be inconsistent or differ with measurements in design. Furthermore, it is a wise option to reduce labour on site due to social distancing during this COVID-19 pandemic.
As a whole, IR4.0 gives a very positive impact to theconstruction industry as it saves time and costs, improves work quality and improves the sustainability of construction work.
Diana Che Lat, who has over five years of working experience as a civil engineer in the construction industry, is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Civil Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Pasir Gudang Campus in Johor.