Small contractors told to upgrade

Small contractors told to upgrade

Contractors were told to embrace technology to compete after the pandemic. (Post Today photo)
Contractors were told to embrace technology to compete after the pandemic. (Post Today photo)

Small and medium-sized contractors should adopt technology to improve their efficiency and create new opportunities amid the slowdown in the construction industry.

Asst Prof Sant Chansomsak, secretary-general of the Thai Building Information Modeling Association, said the Covid-19 crisis is disrupting the construction industry.

"Many existing construction projects have been delayed as construction materials produced in China cannot be imported," he said. "New construction jobs in the future are likely to decrease because of the economic slump from the virus affects many sectors."

Mr Sant suggested small and medium-sized contractors take this opportunity to improve efficiency and competence by learning and adopting construction technologies that most large contractors use.

"Knowledge of construction technologies will allow small contractors to plug in with large firms looking for small firms to subcontract," he said. "The opportunities [to get subcontracting jobs] are huge."

One recommended technology is building information modelling (BIM) as it can facilitate communication with all stakeholders including project owners, contractors, designers and engineers.

BIM can also reduce costs, eliminating some problems as well as inefficiency and waste that emerge during the construction process.

When any part of a project is revised by the owner, the contractor can adjust fees to actual cost.

Mr Sant said small contractors should prepare for new practices in the construction sector shaped by Covid-19.

One of the new practices during the virus pandemic is physical distancing.

"If the pandemic is prolonged and workers cannot access construction sites, artificial intelligence and robotic construction crews may help reduce physical distance," he said.

The Thai BIM Association expected to organise Thailand BIM Expo 2020 at Impact Muang Thong Thani during Sept 9-11, showcasing new construction technologies and trends.

However, the association will consider holding a webinar if the coronavirus lingers until that time.

Panit Potisomporn, an engineering student at Oxford University currently working with SET-listed mechanical construction firm Sriracha Construction, said the Thai construction industry may have stumbled across a game-changing strategy.

"Data analytics is becoming more prevalent in major industries across the country, from telecommunication giants to restaurant businesses," he said.

"The Thai construction industry, however, has been infamously slow at adopting new technology."

The major challenge for the construction industry is waste costs and remedial work. This is why the sector saw the need to collect and analyse data from construction sites to enhance efficiency and reduce these avoidable errors, said Mr Panit.

At one of its chemical plant projects in Rayong, the firm employed a wireless sensor network, mobile phones and a cloud-based storage system to collect and store quantitative, on-site data.

"Going a step further, we also integrated external data such as meteorological forecasts and traffic data into our platform," he said.

"This not only provided stakeholders and project managers with access to real-time updates, but also allowed us to detect, analyse and remotely plan for any slowly ramping trends on-site."

Since the firm merged this novel platform with its existing construction management system, it has cut material and labour costs by almost 5% from initial estimates.

Mr Panit said the big data experiment is still in the early stages.

Still, this success will prompt the firm to establish a data-driven management scheme for all future projects, he said.

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