The Hong Kong construction industry is setting sail in its journey to popularising smart construction sites and digitalization. Yet, both public organizations and private companies are eager to introduce new technologies to explore more feasible solutions in recent years. Smart sites take advantage of technologies such as 5G network, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things to better integrate site management and site operation. Such integration not only reduces management costs, but also addresses management pain points, improves efficiency and streamlines workflow. Moreover, it turns construction sites safer places to work.
In mid-June, I visited the West Rail Kam Sheung Road Station Package One Property Development Residential Construction Site. The “Smart Site Command Centre” there was an eye-opener and I witnessed the enormous power of applying multiple new technologies all at the same time. Transcendence Company, a subsidiary of China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong) Limited, is the technology supplier of the smart construction site’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) platform. Representatives from Transcendence showcased a number of systems and equipment at the occasion, including: electronic permit system for specific tasks, eagle eyes, two-way audio broadcasting system, smart lock and RFID collision avoidance system etc.
The Internet of Things supports the smart site system, sensors first collect data on site and then transmit the information to the system's platform. After that, a large amount of scattered data is transformed into clear and easy-to-read charts, presenting the latest condition real-time. Managers can retrieve information they want anytime no matter where they are, be it the command center, the front line of construction sites, or remote offices thousands of miles away. The managers can stay fully-informed about the current situation and make the best decisions accordingly. The cloud platform can also visualise 3D models of each area of the site, indicating the number of workers with permits down to each area. Foremen and safety officers can use their mobile devices to check the copies of the permits stored in the system instantly.
To refine the system for better protection against hidden safety loopholes, technicians from Transcendence consulted their safety department colleagues on the design of the safety system dashboard.
The technical team of Transcendence collaborated with smart hardware companies to develop a new type of electronic smart lock. The invention serves to restrict entry of high-risk work zones, thus, reducing the possibility of unauthorized workers entering restricted areas by mistake. The electronic smart lock is equipped with remote locking and unlocking functions. If a worker needs to enter a restricted area, he or she must obtain prior approval from the safety department. He or she will then be given an electronic entry card, allowing one to enter the restricted area during the specified period of time. If someone trespasses in the restricted area, the alarm system will be triggered. The backend of the smart site system will also keep the check-in and check-out data for record.
Posters with messages of safety alerts and caring for workers were put up around the construction site, with slogans like ‘Ensure construction safety Pursue accountability and quality’ conveying the importance of safety. The use of promotional materials that repeatedly remind and nudge workers can weave safety awareness into the working environment. This low-cost and simple way of communication still works today even in high-tech smart construction sites.
On the same day, a representative from China State Construction Science and Technology Limited gave a presentation about using a BIM software, TEKLA, that assist rebar cutting in other projects. TEKLA has an automatic distribution module for rebar allocation. It also provides a number of complex rebar models. Its model optimization function reduces the difficulty of modeling. TEKLA's built-in collision check function forecasts where rebar will collide and hence avoid unexpected outcomes. It can also cut the time spent on re-measurement by quantity surveyors, and reduce workloads and time on cost estimation. In terms of site operation, BIM directly generates detailed and accurate plans in electronic format. It transmits plans to factories for production directly, streamlines production and connects the BIM team, structural engineers, bar benders and fixers and workshops.
The representative of Po Hing(Hing Yip) Eng Co Ltd, a bar bending subcontractor, talked about the advantages of using AutoCAD for drawing bar bending schedules electronically. He explained that it was difficult to put together a drawing with proper scaling by hand. By using AutoCAD, the bending angle of iron can be depicted with precision. 3D models of curved surfaces are available from AutoCAD's modeling library. Output of colour charts in different sizes and scales becomes much easier, which facilitates communication with professionals from different units and speeds up project execution.
The platform of smart construction sites integrates functions and information to facilitate decision-making, risk control, safety enhancement, cost saving and carbon emissions reduction. Digitalization breeds novel products and new work modes, requiring all industry practitioners, from management to frontline workers, to respond with a new mindset and new knowledge.
Dozens of technologies are deployed in smart sites. To drive an extensive application of various information technologies in construction projects, the industry should learn from successful cases. The concept of smart sites is still relatively new for many peers. I sincerely hope that more construction projects will choose to adopt smart sites in the future, so that industry practitioners in different positions can accumulate more practical experience on site, and advance digital upgrading and transformation of Hong Kong’s construction industry.
Last Updated: 2022-09-26 14:31:31