Game-changing technology in construction

11/06/2020 - 10:36

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Three innovative companies in WA - ABS Facade, FBR and TENSA Equipment - are making waves in the building and construction space and in some cases breaking global records.

Optus Stadium has quickly become an iconic Perth Landmark. Photo Gabriel Oliveira

WA is home to some creative companies in the building and construction space that are making waves and breaking global records.

Tough economic times can often be periods of great creativity, as businesses seek innovative ways to manufacture their product and/or service and get it to market.

Among the sectors in Western Australia hardest hit by the economic downturn, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, was building and construction. But several players Business News spoke to see opportunity amid the crisis.

ABS Facade

Christopher Fullarton is operations manager, WA & SA, at ABS Facade, the company behind the façades at Perth architectural icons including Optus Stadium, Crown Towers, and Hibernian Place.

Mr Fullarton said one driving force for innovation and technology in WA construction was the slow economic growth of the past five years, which would continue this year with a forecast 10 per cent contraction in GDP. 

In this environment, he said, construction costs and competition would push sub-contractors, asset owners, and builders to explore more innovative and technological solutions.

In the past, architecture and engineering was all hand-drafted and calculated, he said. However, buildings were now designed through multi-disciplinary software, which allowed for more geometrically challenging projects to be engineered in ways not previously possible. 

Engineering software such as Strand7 had helped reduce material costs and solved many issues. 

Building Information Modelling (BIM) or 3D modelling such as Revit had fuelled complex geometrical projects, such as those at Optus Stadium and Perth Arena, Mr Fullarton told Business News.

Among future developments, Mr Fullarton expects: the use of technology for document control; apps that assist with faster procurement processes; automated machinery; software that enables more complex engineering designs; and vastly improved energy efficiencies. 

He said sustainable developments would utilise advancements in thermal light, for example, paving the way for Green Star buildings.

FBR (Fastbrick Robotics)

In the residential construction space, ASX-listed FBR (Fastbrick Robotics) has just broken a new robot-build record. Using Dynamic Stabilisation Technology, the one-armed robot bricklayer, Hadrian X, laid 200 blocks an hour.

In 2019, the company completed a world-first, building a three-by-two home in just 33 hours.

CEO and managing director Mike Pivac said the system had further improved and the same structure could now be built in 24 hours of actual laying time, with a target of one standard working day next.

Due to COVID-19, the company had to scale back its team in late March due to the uncertainties in the market. 

However, Mr Pivac said FBR was continuing to work with local and international parties interested in integrating automated bricklaying and other innovative construction processes into their building systems, with work under way in Europe, the Gulf States, and North America.

“Automation will not be a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ due to the change in the accessibility of skilled labour,” Mr Pivac said.

“Most large and established construction companies will be under siege from smaller and emerging companies that are early adopters of the technologies that can give them a competitive position in the market, particularly the millennials and their views on sustainability and the environment, which is at the heart of what FBR is doing.”

Roborigger

Roborigger, a spin-off from TENSA Equipment, which was founded by Derick Markwell in 2009, is known for its wireless load-control system that accurately rotates and orients crane loads. Roborigger works with tier one construction companies and the resources industry, in improving safety and efficiency on site.

Mr Markwell said Roborigger had taken on some staff let go by the FBR downsizing, while funding from Blackbird Ventures had enabled it to maintain work during COVID-19. 

While a number of projects had been cancelled, Mr Markwell said, other opportunities had arisen. For example, the Swedish Nuclear Research Institute, a cruise ship builder in Germany, and a pipe-coating company in Batam, Indonesia, had all approached Roborigger with work inquiries.

In addition, Roborigger was in discussions with two wind turbine original equipment manufacturers, was running demonstrations in Singapore, and was in final stages of negotiation with a top Japanese construction business.

Mr Markwell said 18 Roborigger units were currently built, with a further 22 on the way. 

He said any innovation needed to be grounded with a strong view towards commercial application.

“While all our customers genuinely want to achieve the safety benefits, we still feel we need to demonstrate that there are quantifiable cost benefits to make it easy to adopt in their organisation,” Mr Markwell said.

He said Roborigger was also focused on developing its data collection capabilities to help address the problems associated with tracking material to remote sites.

In considering how innovative construction companies in WA could really benefit, Mr Markwell suggests we should be: “Watering the green shoots, rather than planting seeds”. 

He would like to see a greater adoption of technology on government projects, as this directly circulated back into the WA economy, and provided credibility for the company involved. 

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