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Digital tech alliance to improve productivity, safety, project costs


Advances in technology mean there are significant opportunities to drastically change the sector, enabling more work to be done for less while tackling the global skills labour shortage.

Environmental and engineering consultancy Tonkin + Taylor (T+T) has teamed up with Komatsu’s Smart Construction division to support this industry need.

Komatsu Smart Construction’s general manager James Muir said that now, more than ever, the infrastructure and construction industry is ready for technology adoption and new methodologies to increase productivity, improve safety and remove time and material waste from construction.

“We’ve got an incredible amount of talent throughout the planning, design and construction stages of a project,” Muir said. “The challenge is to better integrate this skillset with new technologies and data to improve productivity and decision-making.”

Despite New Zealand’s construction industry contributing over $20 billion of GDP in 2019, the productivity of the sector continues to lag, with average annual productivity growth between 1994 and 2019 at 0.9 per cent. This is particularly discouraging in comparison to the likes of the information communication technology and agriculture sectors, which enjoyed average annual productivity growth of 3.1 per cent and 2.2 per cent respectively.²

To achieve better outcomes for productivity, Muir said, certain aspects across the construction project require attention.

“These include upskilling and enabling machine operators within the digital site, streamlining the design-to-construct process to remove inconsistencies between off-site design and on-site construction plans, providing greater accessibility to data to make sound decisions on-site without bias or opinion, and building trust within the digital ‘as-built’ environment to improve work validation and cashflow,” Muir explained.

“These are commonly known issues in our industry, voiced by contractors and clients alike.”

T+T’s executive leader for digital Rekha Kharbanda says that digital technology is well equipped to help solve these significant productivity issues in infrastructure.

“We’re imagining a highly connected, transparent industry where machines can help keep their operators safe by working seamlessly with the site’s designs to automatically manage risks,” Kharbanda said.

“Where engineers are designing in software that communicates directly to the operator and machine carrying out the work. Where on- and off-site engineers can collaborate in real time to work through inconsistencies without having to significantly delay a project. And where there is one source of truth for all contractors, engineering consultants and clients to easily understand the site, the design and its risks at any stage of the project.

“Combining T+T’s digital design engineering strengths and access to complex client projects with Komatsu Smart Construction’s technologies and collaboration with industry experts will enable us to improve construction productivity using digitisation,” Kharbanda said.

“We’re looking to determine just how much of a difference can be made in this area so that the construction sector can improve the value chain.” 

McKinsey Research has identified seven key areas that could boost the NZ construction sector’s productivity by 50 to 60 per cent, with T+T and Komatsu’s collaborative efforts looking to address five of them:

  1. Rethinking design.
  2. Improving onsite execution.
  3. Infusing technology and innovation.
  4. Reskilling workers.
  5. Improving procurement and supply chain.
  6. Reshaping regulation.
  7. Rewriting contracts.

Muir said that industry and infrastructure owners are increasingly demanding that assets are planned, designed, constructed and maintained using a digital replica of the environment – or a “digital twin”.

“Komatsu and T+T intend to be at the forefront of this advancement, and understand it’s critical to collaborate with our customers, communities, industry peers and colleagues to find better ways to deliver infrastructure projects quickly, safely and to a high standard,” Muir said.

“By looking at the bigger picture and utilising smart technology, we’re better able to serve the whole project at hand.

“We’re looking forward to working with other construction industry leaders to pave this way forward.” •


This article appears in the August issue of Quarry Magazine.

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