3rd Industry Roundtable OSCM (Off-Site Construction and Manufacturing) and Digitalisation: Implications to the Construction Industry of Australia

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Roundtable Theme

The 3rd Industry roundtable was held on 17th September 2019, themed on “OSCM (Off-Site Construction and Manufacturing) and Digitalisation: Implications to the Construction Industry of Australia”. The future of construction industry is heavily influenced by industrialisation, digitalisation and globalisation. The onset of industry 4.0 has enabled convergence of technology and business creating disruptions in many industries and construction industry in no exception to this. The dynamics of disruption are enabling the construction industry to be driven towards adoption of different technologies such as Off-Site Construction and Manufacturing (OSCM), Automation, Building Information Modelling (BIM), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain and the like. These are forcing construction to re-think its mode of production by way of less dependency in onsite construction and moving towards factory-based manufacturing where there is greater possibilities of automation. Even though there has been over three decades of prefabrication in construction the overall levels of OSCM still remain marginal with greater scope for automation of building that are designed for mass customisation. Therefore, this round table was themed on OSCM and digitalisation to align well with the moving trends in the current construction industry.

Proceedings of the event

The event commenced with the welcome by the MC duo, Centre researchers, Navodana Rodrigo and Thilini Weerasuriya paying respects to the traditional owners of the land. Professor Kerry London, Interim Dean of School of Built Environment made the Welcome Address. Prof. London initially acknowledged the traditional custodians of the land on which the event took place. She then cordially welcoming the keynote speakers, guests and delegates discussed the proceedings of the day highlighting the key sessions. Subsequently, Professor Srinath Perera, Director of the Centre for Smart Modern Construction discussed the c4SMC journey so far, emphasising on the recent activities carried out by the Centre with the tremendous help of the centre doctoral researchers. He presented a short video capturing the highlights of activities of the Centre from its inception in August 2017. He then highlighted the first digital c4SMC newsletter created by the Centre and was distributed among the 17 industry collaborators, academics and broader industry contacts. Professor Perera introduced Professor Marton Marosszeky (opens in a new window), an adjunct professor of the school as the new Industry Engagement Lead of the Centre. Prof. Marosszeky has over 50 years’ experience in both industry as well as academia. He is currently the managing director of Marosszeky Associates and was a professor at UNSW until he retired in 2007.

Keynote Speech

The 1st Keynote speech was delivered by Meriton International Fellow, Helena Lidelöw​ (opens in a new window) Head of Engineering, Lindbacks and Associate Professor in Timber Structures, Luleå University of Technology. She brings more than 20 years of experience from the modular manufacturing industry. She delivered her keynote on how digital information powers off-site manufacturing. Associate Professor Lidelöw discussed the processes of OSCM from design to onsite-installation under 3 key themes; flow creation, skills and digitalisation. She completed her interesting session, carrying out an activity with few voluntary doctoral researchers. In the activity, the researchers were asked to pass an object among each other, and time taken to complete the entire circle was checked. The researchers were asked to improve their time by using a different strategy and they came up with an idea to keep the hands closer together and pass quickly to improve their timing. The activity emphasised on importance of agreement, communication and negotiation in a flow of activities.

Sujeet Rana (opens in a new window) Chief Digital Officer of Built delivered the 2nd keynote speech highlighting the importance of collaboration to improve the industry while adopting digitalisation. Sujeet opined that though construction workers use different applications in their day to day life, when it comes to using technology in the workplaces, they are reluctant to adopt it. Hence the key is to change the mindset of the construction actors to adopt digitalisation. Sujeet further cited that if you take the 2 wheels in a watch, they are of 2 different sizes, one small while the other is large. The larger wheel rotates slowly, symbolising academics who work in longer spans while the smaller wheel rotates quite faster, symbolising the industry who need to make decisions within very short work spans. However, for a watch to work, both the wheels need to be intact highlighting the importance of corporation between industry and academia.

David Chandler OAM (opens in a new window) NSW Building Commissioner’s keynote speech emphasised on why construction customers should not be the modern construction’s guinea pigs. As the newly appointed NSW Building Commissioner, David highlighted the importance of sovereign capability, standards and governance. David added that universities are obliged to produce graduates with the required competencies to meet the expectations of the industry in order to maintain uninterrupted accreditations. David ended his great talk by highlighting the importance of a complete eco-system sitting together to join-up the construction conversation similar to c4SMC’s roundtable events.

Engagement Activities

Centre doctoral researcher Shiyamini Ratnasabapathy carried out the first engagement activity to identify the key barriers and drivers for waste trading. Shiyamini is working on developing a methodology to manage construction and demolition waste by exploiting the concept of waste trading through blockchain technology (Project 6). The purpose of this discussion was to rate the importance of each barrier and driver from industry experts in implementing effective waste trading practices in construction and demolition sector. The response from the audience was great and it was a great opportunity to continue the construction conversation. Samudaya Nanayakkara, a doctoral researcher at the Centre, conducted another engagement activity on payment issues and how blockchain could be the ideal solution to resolve these issues. Samu is researching on developing a blockchain based e-procurement framework for construction supply chains (Project 1) and his engagement activity comprised of ranking the payment issues and various reasons while looking at possibilities to resolve these issues using blockchain. The outcomes of these activities will be published in due course.

Panel Discussion

Throughout the day’s proceedings, two panel discussions were held; one with the keynote speakers and centre academics, and the other with the centre researchers. The panel moderator for both panel discussions were Professor Srinath Perera.

The first panel discussion comprised of the keynote speakers, Associate Professor Helena Lidelow, Sujeet Rana, Professor Marton Marosszeky, and the centre academics, Associate Professor Mary Hardie and Professor Vivian Tam. This panel discussion was mainly focusing on off-site construction, digitalisation, performance, sustainability, innovation and collaboration. Associate Professor Lidelow was requested to comment on the next stage of OSCM for Sweden as a leader in this sector. Helena mentioned that at present in Sweden only some parts of OSCM processes are digitalised and in future they may now seek greater levels of digital integration. However, she added that as it is a great investment and may impact many parts of production, all aspects need to be considered prior to making decisions.

The panel chair, Professor Perera focusing on aspects digitalisation requested Sujeet to comment on his views on the state of digitalisation of the construction industry as the second least digitalised sector. Sujeet highlighted the fact that agriculture became least digitalised because of inclusion of hunting with it, meaning construction could even be the lowest digitalised sector. Therefore, it is quite important to work on things to improve the industry. He further added that there are positive developments in the construction sector where collaboration for the greater good is becoming realised by the sector. He sighted Constructathon 2019 (opens in a new window) as an example of that where collaboration between thirteen leading construction and related institutions and academia successfully demonstrated.

Professor Marton Marosszeky highlighted the importance of pre-competitive collaboration to improve the success of construction projects and the performance of the industry. Associate Professor Mary Hardie added that innovation plays an important role in academia and through collaborative steps with the industry, it can be improved to achieve greater and successful outcomes. Furthermore, Professor Vivian Tam a leading researcher in sustainability, highlighted the importance of establishing standards and legislations to improve sustainability aspects in Australia.

The second panel discussion consisted of Navodana Rodrigo (Project 0), Kasun Gunasekara (Project 2), Priyadarshini Das (Project 3), Buddhini Ginigaddara (Project 4) and Amer Hijazi (Project 5). All of these doctoral researchers are currently in their second year of study. Buddhini Ginigaddara, researching on OSCM compared the status of the Australian off-site construction sector against other countries. She indicated that the Australian off-site manufacturing accounts for only 3% while in Japan it is 40%, Germany 33% and other European countries accounts for similar percentages. She further stated that since these countries are more industrialised compared to Australia, it had helped them to achieve these higher percentages.

Kasun Gunasekara, being a researcher studying on how contractors’ performance could be predicted using price and non-price measures expressed that the success of a project and the contractor's performance could be analysed based on 2 key aspects; project management and product success. He further elaborated the importance of non-price measures to predict a contractor's performance, compared to price measures. Navodana Rodrigo is developing a value chain methodology for embodied carbon estimating using blockchain technology. Professor Perera probed her on her views on whether blockchain is mere hype or real? or is it real? Navo mentioned that as any other emerging technologies, people are curious but reluctant to accept that blockchain will transform the transaction processes of the current industry. She elaborated that within the last decade many blockchain applications have been introduced, such as ArcadeCity, a ride sharing platform that disrupts Uber; ASX, blockchain-enabled stock exchange system in Australia that will be launched in 2020 etc. ARUP and ICE in their respective reports identified different potential blockchain applications in construction mainly related to energy trading, procurement, asset management and the like. Thus, it is not mere hype and it will be real very soon in the construction industry as well.

Priyadarshini Das is researching on developing a Smart Modern Construction enterprise maturity model for business scenarios leading to Industry 4.0. Priya is defining Smart Modern Construction in her research. Professor Perera queried her on the readiness of the organisations to become Smart and Modern. Priya stated the forces of globalisation, industrialisation and digitalisation will constantly pull a construction business in different directions and in order to withstand these forces, the internal dynamics within the company should become economically, environmentally and socially sustainable and resilient from within. Amer Hijazi researches on the integration of BIM and blockchain.  Professor Perera requested him to elaborate on his views on whether BIM and blockchain together will be able to improve asset management in construction. Amer responded that though BIM was expected to provide a procurement solution, it could not live up to expectations. However, blockchain being able to provide a single source of truth would be able to provide a trustworthy and transparent platform to improve asset management and resolve the procurement issues that exist.

Networking session sponsored by NettletonTribe

Bernard Waller (opens in a new window) the Director Architect of NettletonTribe presented their latest project on Western Sydney Airport (Nancy Bird Walton International Airport) covering the design and procurement of a timber structured building. Further, Bernard emphasised on how technology and collaboration will influence procurement in the near future. The event concluded with a networking session along with drinks sponsored by NettletonTribe.

The Masters of Ceremonies for the entire day’s proceedings were Navodana Rodrigo and Thilini Weerasuriya.