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HKU Team Develops Blockchain-Enabled E-Inspection 2.0

Image Credits: HKU, Press Release

A team from the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has developed a novel e-inspection 2.0 system with an in-house developed mobile application (APP) “e-inStar”, which is used to monitor the manufacturing and cross-border delivery of student residence modules constructed in the Mainland during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new system has adopted cutting-edge digital technologies including blockchain, building information modelling (BIM), Internet Of Things (IoT), and geographical information system (GIS), and is demonstrated to be an effective and reliable tool for real-time offshore monitoring and inspection of building works.

The study was led by Professor Wilson Lu of the Department of Real Estate and Construction alongside Dr Frank Xue from the same Department, Professor Anthony Yeh from the Department of Urban Planning and Design, and Ir Mr KL Tam, Director of Estates.

The research findings have been published in the Journal of Management in Engineering, an academic journal of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) was first mentioned in the HKSAR Chief Executive’s 2017 Policy Address to expedite the building process to increase supplies.

The HKU Wong Chuk Hang Student Residence is a pilot project built with the MiC technology. The two 17-floor tower buildings on top of a three-story podium structure will provide 1,224 student hall places. The project is scheduled to be completed by the second quarter of 2023. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, qualified inspectors were dispatched across the border for inspection, involving a lot of manpower and onerous paperwork.

The current e-inspection 1.0 system used by the industry adopts some digital means, which allow the easing of some paperwork, such as uploading of inspection photos and documents for filing and records, but inspectors’ physical presence onsite remains necessary.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious control measures such as social distancing and border control measures have made sending authorised persons from Hong Kong to Mainland factories for onsite inspections extremely difficult.

The new e-inspection 2.0 system consists of a mobile application called e-inStar which encodes the standardised inspection processes of MiC and enables inspection works in an offshore factory.  The detailed operations are as follows:

  1. The contractor generates a list of inspection tasks for a specific project.
  2. Different stakeholders (e.g., registered structure engineer, authorised person) register on the platform and state their role types.
  3. A two-factor authentication (2FA) (i.e., password and fingerprint) will confirm the identity of the inspectors.
  4. When a construction task is completed, the contractor checks the target objects regarding the check items and records the corresponding data (i.e., inspection results and photos)
  5. At hold points, the client representative and/or registered structural engineer, authorised person and building service inspector ask the contractor’s inspectors to recheck target objects under their real-time video supervision.
  6. The recheck results are compared with the record, and if they are the same and in compliance, the client representative and/or registered structural engineer, authorised person, and building service inspector can digitally sign the record in the distributed blockchain network.
  7. If any inconsistency or noncompliance is spotted, a request for re-inspection will be sent to the contractor. All records on procedures, being dispersed and stored in the blockchain network, are traceable.
  8. The signed record is converted into a legally effective document and stored in a distributed blockchain network. All records are thus immutable and safeguarded in the blockchain network.

Also, IoTs are utilised to collect temperature, humidity, vibration, and location information; GIS supports real-time proof of location, while BIM is used for better information management and presentation.

The core of the e-inspection 2.0 system is the blockchain technology which can ensure the accountability, immutability, and traceability of all the inspection information collected from the APP, IoTs, and GIS.

The team is developing and researching BIM and blockchain, effectively integrating and managing all kinds of information such as design, construction, and operation for high-end technology applications.

Professor Anthony Yeh, a GIS expert, stated that GPS technology can provide a certificate of origin and real-time proof of location (PoL). Managers can view the real-time location of the module at any time, with accurate spatiotemporal data for real-time management of materials in construction projects, thereby improving work efficiency.

His team has carried out pioneer research and development of indoor and outdoor navigation systems and has generated many patents. The application programme and smart address system developed by Professor Yeh’s team have been applied in this project for logistics monitoring. The project was supported by the Logistics and Supply Chain MultiTech R&D Centre established under the Innovation and Technology Fund.

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