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HK construction firms use tech and innovation to build better

According to a recent report, in a simulated scenario to obtain data on how to design the perfect high-speed train, users can experience find themselves, through virtual reality, aboard a high-speed train travelling at 300km/h.

These virtual passengers bump along through the green suburbs of London as they hear the wind whistling by.

This experience is enabled by a set of virtual reality (VR) goggles inside the Greater China headquarters of global engineering and consulting firm in Kowloon Tong.

The VR train services are modelled on a design the firm created for the British government, which will be used for a consultation with the public and stakeholders on the country’s first domestic high-speed rail link, between Birmingham and London.

Companies in traditional industries such as engineering and construction are striving to innovate and add technological elements to work processes to save costs and boost efficiency.

The VR element in its consulting projects is only part of the technological push the firm is pursuing, according to the firm’s Greater China managing director.

The company played an active role in designing and planning parts of big Hong Kong projects such as Two IFC, International Commerce Centre, Stonecutters Bridge, the midfield concourse development at Hong Kong International Airport, Kowloon East smart city, the local section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

According to the managing director, engineering is a traditional industry that has come under the disruption of technology; engineers also need to transform themselves by combining their traditional skills with digital elements.

Recently, dozens of younger staff without engineering training joined the firm’s almost 1,000-strong workforce at its Hong Kong office, a move the MD stated was crucial for bringing in new skills.

He noted that the purpose is to have the newcomers, who are mostly computer programmers, bouncing off their ideas with the firm’s engineers, adding that it is possible for every idea, concept and even dream to come true.

However, he added, it was not easy to find the right talent in the city as the IT ecosystem was still developing.

The MD noted that jobs professions in medicine, law, finance and architecture are still more popular among academic achievers than setting up start-ups, noting that most of the programmers the firm recently hired came from across the border in mainland China.

For a labour-intensive industry such as construction, a Hong Kong industry leader developed and deployed technologies to shorten work time, minimise casualties and boost productivity.

The company’s head of innovation said the company set up a unit last year which distributed innovations from international start-ups and academia and commercialised technologies developed and tested internally.

He noted that it is stretching the limits of human capability by making use of the latest advances in robotics and automation. The construction technologies the firm has embraced are making its projects more efficient and the lives of its workers less strenuous and safer.

A case in point is a device for jackhammers developed in partnership with Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which does not require electricity and cost much less than similar ones in the market. The device, which is put on the jackhammer, reduces vibrations by 90 per cent and increases the power to break concrete by 30 per cent.

Another example is the use of temperature sensors to test the strength of concrete.

The sensors work in real-time. That is, workers can proceed to the next stage of a job without having to wait for laboratory results on the strength of recently poured concrete. Nevertheless, to ensure quality, the concrete will be tested in a lab.

It was noted that, earlier, it took an average of five days per floor to complete concrete work. This meant 150 days for a 30-storey building. The smart device has reduced this time by 20 per cent – 30 work days.

A professor from the department of industrial and systems engineering of Polytechnic University said industries should aim for automation. He notes that Hong Kong has space expand in automation, adding that automation will significantly reduce spending on manpower and in some routine or straightforward tasks.

However, whether the manpower released could be redeployed would depend on factors such as whether the workers in question could be retrained and companies had sufficient opportunities, he said.

It was noted that in order for automation to have a make a significant effect on the industry, Hong Kong players need have a paradigm shift in mentality.

He added that a Hong Kong industry leader has designed its own AI-powered software to process and analyse a large amount of data, which helped automate weekly safety reports and intelligent risk assessments.

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