The construction industry is one of the largest sectors worldwide as it is projected to reach US$10.3 trillion by 2020. Leading the sector, China is currently the world’s largest construction market at US$ 782.71 billion followed by the United States.
Over the last several years, the construction market in China has developed more modestly as the country looks to shift toward a services-led economy and more sustainable construction strategies. Keeping its commitment to improve the infrastructure and modernise the building services while giving consideration to the pollution crisis, China is facing a huge challenge in constructing buildings in a fast, efficient and revolutionary way, which lead to developing new technologies and techniques in constructing buildings and improve mechanisms which used in the early stages of a project.
Scope of research
The paper will look onto innovative technologies used in the construction industry in China that will consist of three different areas of research;
1. The use of pre-fabricated structures process and efficiency drawn from recent cases.
2. The rise of 3D-Printing in China and observing recent projects accomplished by this technology.
3. The use of the world’s biggest software companies at the early stages of a project.
Aiming to cover the main domain of expertise and techniques used in the construction industry within China.
The use of pre-fabricated structures:
Zhang Yue, founder and chairman of Broad Sustainable Building has become a star in the construction industry all around the world following an interesting projects and ambitious plans for the future. His company took what is already common in China and other parts of the world and elevate it to an outstanding new level, in 2010 they made their first public prototype – a six-storey building built in a single day for the Shanghai Expo. Since then they have concluded further 30 Pre-fab erections.
Prefab building came to a new concept when in 2011 Broad built the T30, a 30-story hotel in the Hunan province which was constructed in only 15 days with the help of 200 Chinese workers, at nearly a 100m, the T30 has taken 360 hours to build which approximately is two weeks.
Broad Sustainable Buildings has broken their previous record of constructing a 15-storey building in one week with their previous project in Hunan Province, in addition, the company claimed that their 17,000 square meter tower is more energy efficient than the competition and generates a fraction of the waste. It is also said to have the capacity to withstand an earthquake that measures up to 9 on the Richter Magnitude Scale.
The company had a huge publicity as the world watches a time-lapse video of the building process which left the world in shock over the speed and quality of the structure.
Yet in 2015, Zhang Yue went to challenge his abilities once again by building a 57-story tower on the outskirts of Changsha in southern China in just an incredible 19 days, Mini Sky City standing at 204m, was constructed in the same way as T30 was built but in a faster manner.
The blocky-glass tower has 19 atriums, office space for 4,000 people and 800 apartments, the structure is safe and can withstand earthquakes, according to Xiaothe. Broad Sustainable Building spent four and a half months fabricating the building’s 2,736 modules before construction began. It was constructed in two stages; firstly 20 floors were completed late in 2014, secondly, the remaining 37 were built from 31 January to 17 February 2015 completed in 12 working days.
The process of building and assembling is always similar: Steel is delivered to one of Broad Group’s six huge hangar-like factories, where it is machine-cut and welded into one of a few basic modules – a column, crossbeam or floor section, these are then loaded on to lorries and transported to the site, where they are slotted into place, and finally bolted and welded together.
Figure 1.2 Fabrication and welding
All modules bear serial numbers. The more advanced ones, like the 12m x 2m rectangular floor sections, come pre-installed with plumbing, electric wiring and air ducts, making it an easy job of assembling the parts. The company had enhanced its technology to speed up its construction from two floors to three floors a day and is currently awaiting approval for its 220-floor building to be the tallest building in the world which will be built in a total of 7 months, 4 months for foundations and 3 months for the actual building erection, called Sky City, which will also be in Changsha.
The rise of 3D-Printing in China
3-D printers have existed for a number of years and are usually used to make models, prototypes, plane parts and even such small items as jewellery. The printing involves a preservative process, where successive layers of material are piled on top of one another to create a finished product. But Chinese companies have been known to build key real-estate projects rapidly. Now, one company is taking it to a new extreme. Suzhou-based construction Materials Company Winsun New Materials states that it has built 10 200-square-meter homes in a swift 24 hours, using a gigantic 3-D printer that it paid 20 million yuan ($3.2 million) and 12 years developing, using a special ink made of a combination of cement, sand and fibre glass, together with an exclusive additive, these materials have endured a series of tests in both China and the United Kingdom to ensure their dependability, the printer adds layer upon layer to print walls and other components in its factory in Suzhou, China. The walls are then assembled on site.
Winsun believed that in the future it plans to use scrap material left over after construction and mining sites to make its 3-D constructions. Compared with traditional on-site construction, the Winsun method saved about 80% on construction costs and 60% on both labour and waste. Using up to 50% demolition leftovers or mine tailings for its ink and producing zero waste, the technology is very ecologically friendly.
“If you do not believe it is possible, we will print a prototype.”
-Ma Yihe, President and Chief Executive Officer
More remarkable is the impact on the delivery period: construction of a two-story 1,100 sqm mansion took one day of printing, two days of assembly, and internal bar structures established in advance, requiring three workmen only. Taking full advantage of the technology’s freedom of design, Winsun has progressed further than prototyping and sold more than 100 houses.
SWOT Analysis of 3D-Printers
Fast – Printing structures in a matter of just days
§ Effective – Saving huge amounts on construction & labour costs.
§ Eco-Friendly – Use of demolition leftovers or mine tailings for its ink.
§ Cost- Saves 60-80% on construction costs.
Complexity- Operated only by experienced Engineers, regular maintenances.
§ Technology Expense- A printer of this size could cost several $ millions.
§ Exclusiveness- Not many contractors are offering this technology worldwide.
§ Quality- Can sometimes be weaker than traditional methods.
Interior Printing- Printing internal furniture and kitchen area.
§ Scaling up- Introducing a bigger printers will deliver greater projects.
Replication Finishing- Formalising new improved quality materials which appear closer to the existing non-printing finishes.
§ Deflections- Faults appearing over time from weathering, ecological conditions.
§ Employments- 3D-Printers projects uses up to 60% less workers, increasing the unemployment levels.
Being a forerunner of 3D printing technology in construction, Winsun faces several obstructions to scaling up its technique – scepticism from designers, project developers and owners, and lack of regulation. They added that even though the technology appears efficient, it’s unlikely to be widely used to build homes anytime soon because of regulatory hurdles, said Mr Chan Jiajia, a Winsun engineer. Nonetheless the use of 3D printing in architecture is still small, but a new proof of concept has been unveiled.
The world’s first 3D-printed office building is what Dubai’s Museum of the Future project is calling it, it is 250-square-metre (2,700 square foot).
First announced in June 2015, the new building’s purpose is to showcase the UAE’s pledge to innovation and looking to the future, and promote the UAE as a world leader in 3D printing, the 3D printed offices were opened in the presence of Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
”We have a long-term strategy for 3D printing and by 2030 will print 25% of Dubai’s buildings using this technology” – HH Sheikh Mohammed
The 20 feet high, 120 feet long and 40 feet wide 3D printer was used to print the building in a special cement mixture, layer by layer featuring an automated robotic arm to implement the printing process. In all, it took a complete 17 days to print the building at a cost of about $140,000, after which the interior and exterior design specifics were added.
One worker was employed to observe the 3D printer, another seven people took care of the installation of building components on-site, and another 10 electricians and other specialists looked after the engineering. They represented a savings of 50% on ordinary labour expenses.
The open plan office will initially house the Dubai Future Foundation temporarily. In addition to providing a workspace, it could also, in the future, be used to host exhibitions, workshops and other events
Use of different software at early stages of construction
With the huge expanding construction industrial, residential and civilian projects in China, a debate was ignited on whether the construction firms in China ought to switch from using the ageing 2D Autodesk AutoCAD to the highly more advanced 3D Autodesk Revit, both are the most common as BIM (Building Information Modelling). The company behind AutoCAD, Autodesk was founded in 1982 by John Walker. Originally, AutoCAD made a success in China after it out-advanced the Chinese competitor’s software companies (Golden and Lu Ban). AutoCAD-based 2D drafting solutions have been the technology standard, but architects have turned to BIM in huge numbers to give them the competitive advantage they need to survive in China’s agitated building market.
The major challenges for Chinese architects converting to BIM involve the concern of implementation costs (software, hardware, and training). AutoCAD has been updated since to also provide 3D modelling, which had a huge impact on the construction industry worldwide until Autodesk Revit was introduced as the slightly more advanced, more flexible and easier to use BIM modeller but a very similar in specifications. Revit is complete, discipline-specific building design and documentation systems supporting all phases of design and construction documentation. From conceptual studies through the most detailed construction drawings and schedules, applications built on Revit help provide an immediate competitive advantage, better coordination and quality, and can contribute to higher profitability for architects and the rest of the building team. Revit is clearly the most highly developed internationally but does not easily fit the normal Chinese construction market and industry practices.
A comparison between the two modellers will outline the conditions of each:
BIM software for architects, engineers, contractors and designers
Create a unified model that contains real-life information.
Great for modelling, clash detection and change management
Widely used commercial software for 2D & 3D CAD
Create basic geometry that represents real life.
Great for drawing precise line work
AutoCAD is more flexible in terms of all the surface, mesh and solid commands.
Revit is stricter; having to do things correctly
Considered best for 2D drawing i.e. elevation detail drawings.
Considered best for modelling, generating cost schedules, collaboration and change management.
In 3D Modelling both platforms generate 3D models, allowing for predefined objects and components. This includes walls, floors, roofs, and opening components such as doors, windows, and curtain walls. The models are then used to create “2D” plan, section, and elevation views. The work process is marginally dissimilar, but the result is fundamentally similar:
Figure 3.1 Revit 3D modelling
Figure 3.2 AutoCAD 3D modelling
China is one of the main drivers of constructions globally, followed by the US and India, “China has passed the peak in terms of construction activity, I would say the peak was more like 2013. Last year we saw decline in terms of new starts, and also sales volume,” said Joe Zhou, head of research in China at JLL real estate consultancy.
Nevertheless, China remains the world’s largest construction market. By 2030, China, US and India will account for 57% of all global growth in construction and engineering, adding over US$4.5 trillion to construction growth. China will contribute US$2.1 trillion to output and represent almost a quarter of all construction activity worldwide. To boost construction even more, it is set to encourage infrastructure investment through its ‘one-belt, one-road’ policy – a project linking China with Europe through central and western Asia – as well as introducing new public-private partnership regulations to allow investment into domestic infrastructure. All that will account for further technological achievements to secure the title of the world’s leading construction and complicated structures specialist.