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The Big 5: Robots, 3D printing aren’t feasible yet due to cheap labour costs – construction experts

Traditional forms of construction are still the norm in the Middle East as the low labour costs means there is no major incentive to adopt new innovative methods

From Burj Khalifa to twisted towers, the Middle East is famous for its outlandish skyscrapers and buildings, constantly pushing the boundaries of architecture and engineering.

Despite this, the construction process to bring them to reality is still very traditional, with the low cost of labour meaning there is no major incentive to adapt more innovative and less manual methods of construction, experts said this week in Dubai.

Speaking during a panel discussion held at the Big 5 construction exhibition, which was organised by Thomson Reuters Projects, Marwan Abu Ebeid, a senior Building Information Modelling (BIM) manager at Turner International Middle East, the project management company which helped to build and deliver Burj Khalifa and Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, was asked about how new methods such as robotics and 3D printing were being adopted by the industry.

“Is it feasible? Actually not yet,” he told delegates. “Maybe in the future it might be easier and more feasible,” he added.

His views were echoed by Gurminder Sagoo, business development director at consultancy firm WSP, which has worked on the expansion to The Dubai Mall and the construction of the Doha Metro.

“The other challenge to automation and robotics, particularly in the Middle East, is the access to cheap labour ultimately means there is no incentive to go down the route of robotics,” he said.

While markets in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, have seen “a paradigm shift from manual labour to machines” this is because techniques like robots can gain a lot of long-term savings over the lifecycle of the project, he said.

“That incentive doesn’t necessarily exist here in the Middle East, particularly in Dubai. We are in a geography that is massively aspirational and builds the biggest and tallest buildings and pushes the boundaries of engineering, but the execution is quite traditional,” he added.

Despite some industry experts’ conservative views, Chris Kelsey, the CEO of 3D printing firm Cazza, said the technology advances will help to revamp the industry. Speaking ahead of the Big 5 event he said: “3D printing means a total disruption on how we build with concrete. We are no longer bound to straight shapes or to moulds, nor labour-intensive methods that represent safety risks for workers… We are able to design any shape that you can think of, increasing creativity and pushing the limits of architecture.” (Read more here)

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in May last year unveiled the Office of the Future, the world’s first 3D-printed office. However, construction of a large-scale skyscraper using the technology is unlikely in the near future, a design expert who helped to work on the project told delegates at last year’s Big 5 construction summit. (Read more here)

While a skyscraper may not be on the horizon anytime soon, many government departments in Dubai are already looking to invest in these modern forms of construction. Earlier this month, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced it will use 3D printing technology to implement projects such as pedestrian bridges, bus stops, and marine transport stations. (Read the full report here)

The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) also announced at the Big 5 that it is reviewing the regulations in relation to new construction technologies, including 3D printing. (Read the full release here)

The future development of the industry has also been put under the spotlight by a series of workshops launched last month by the American University of Sharjah Enterprises (AUSE), in associated with Finland’s Oulu University of Applied Sciences.

Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO, AUSE and Sharjah’s Research, Technology, and Innovation (STRIP), was quoted as saying in a press release: “The construction industry is poised for unprecedented growth… Such partnerships will pave the way for more high-quality and technology-focused initiatives in support of the comprehensive and sustainable development plans in the emirate and the rest of the state.”

About Marc Mcilhone

Marc Mcilhone is ArabBrains’ Editor – sourcing news and features content and overseeing the work of the site’s contributors. Marc’s work is informed by his technical background in architecture having worked for some of the UK’s leading practices on projects within the education, healthcare and housing sectors. Marc has a particular interest in how innovators are creating sustainable solutions that have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives.
Please email press releases and news to: editor@arabbrains.com

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