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China drives transition of construction industry with technological innovation

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Photo shows a zero energy and zero emission community service center of a rental housing project for talents in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu province. The building adopts a wooded structure and comes with a rooftop photovoltaic power generation system. (Photo by Wu Jun/People's Daily Online)
Photo shows a zero energy and zero emission community service center of a rental housing project for talents in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu province. The building adopts a wooded structure and comes with a rooftop photovoltaic power generation system. (Photo by Wu Jun/People's Daily Online)

By Ding Yiting

Assisted by a group of new technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and internet of things (IoT), China’s construction industry is becoming more intelligent.

For instance, within 70 seconds, a smart robot can complete binding at nine points on a reinforcement cage of a bay window; prefabrication makes building houses as easy as building toy blocks; and with building automation systems that can sense body movement, indoor temperature and lighting are automatically controlled.

At present, China is working to promote advanced construction equipment and smart construction, so as to improve the quality and safety of buildings.

At a construction site in a middle school in southwest China’s Chongqing municipality, some 50-meter-tall tower cranes were busy lifting materials. “Every crane comes with a ‘black box’ that connects the crane to a smart platform. The device monitors in real time the working conditions of the crane to ensure safety,” said Lu Lijun, who’s in charge of the construction site.

At the construction site, there were also five data-collecting robots with caterpillars. “They are “Scan-to-BIM” robots that we independently developed,” Lu told People’s Daily. These robots can plan their routes and avoid obstacles. They measure buildings within 60 meters at 360,000 points per second to two-millimeter accuracy.

For a long time, the Chinese construction industry has been relying on resource factors and massive investment. It was bothered by extensive production models, low efficiency and high energy and resource consumption.

Smart construction can help promote the high-quality development of the industry.

Developing smart construction is conducive to stabilizing growth and expanding domestic growth. In Changsha, central China’s Hunan province, the prefabricated building industry has seen its annual output exceed 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion), and more than 400 major enterprises are engaged in the sector.

An official with the city’s municipal department of housing and urban-rural development said that the technology-driven smart construction industry correlates with many other industries and thus helps promote synergetic development. It not only draws investment, but also creates a consumption market for new-gen information technology, the official added.

Developing smart construction is also an important measure that advances the green and low-carbon transition.

In a smart office building in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan province, the sky ceiling is automatically controlled in accordance with the weathers. Besides, the building also has rooftop photovoltaic panels and an underground power storage facility that regulates charging and discharging in real-time. These devices save around 1.86 million kWh of power and cut 1,027 tons of carbon emissions for the building each year.

Last year, China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development designated 24 cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, and Chongqing, to carry out a three-year pilot program for smart construction, in the exploration of new paths for the transformation and development of the construction industry.

Focusing on typical application scenarios in digital designing, smart production and smart construction and three other aspects, the pilot project aims to accelerate technological innovation and improve the development quality and benefits of the construction industry. It also strengthens digital management of the quality, safety, schedule, and cost of engineering projects, so as to increase the benefits and quality of construction and reduce the consumption and emissions of it.

On a screen of an exhibition hall in a resettlement program under the phase-III expansion project of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in south China’s Guangdong province, a BIM (building information model) animation was being played, which showed how prefabricated walls, beams, and columns should be put together.

Full preparations must be made before prefabricated buildings are constructed, said Yi Chao, chief engineer of the resettlement program with China Construction Fourth Engineering Division Corp. Ltd.

He took a nursing home of the program as an example, saying it was through modeling in BIM software that constructors avoided possible collisions of gigantic prefabricated parts.

In addition, the resettlement program also tailored a city information modeling and smart construction platform that displays the progress, quality, and other information of the program on a mobile app. Thanks to the application of advanced technologies, the construction period for every storey was reduced by six days on average, Yi said.

An official with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development told People’s Daily that the country would strengthen enterprise-led integration among industries, universities, and research institutions, implement a batch of strategic, comprehensive, and forward-looking projects to tackle major technological challenges, and fasten the cultivation of world-class construction enterprises.

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