By Candace Sofianos King SA Roofing kicks off the new year by looking at the latest trends projected to reshape the roofing and construction industries. Amidst a rocky global economic and political landscape – which has affected the overall construction industry – the roofing sector has turned towards trend and innovation for answers and a positive outlook for 2019 and beyond.
Virtual reality allows one to ‘walk through’ scenes of an actual project. Credit: AECOM
While we advocate for change, built industry professionals must keep an eye on remaining relevant and offering valuable services in an evolving world, says Larry Feinberg, executive director of the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS). Feinberg points out that the built industry has witnessed product, process and role changes in recent months. “Self-healing concrete, air-cleaning materials, transparent wood and graphene are just some of the innovative products that are rapidly moving from being labelled alternative building materials to more mainstream. While South Africa has not yet adopted many of these materials, construction professionals should not wait for someone else to be the first to learn how to work with these materials,” Feinberg urges. “Similarly, new techniques in the construction process like additive manufacturing – for example the 3D printing of buildings – also need to be factored into the sustainability and growth strategies of firms and professionals in the South African built environment.
The use of wood as a structural material adds various benefits to roof design and is on the rise. Credit: Biligom International
“All traditional methodologies must be reviewed with a focus on to the relevancy to the future of designing, constructing and maintaining infrastructure and buildings. Those that can adapt without being forced to do so will have a distinct advantage over those that wait until proof of concept,” warns Feinberg. Changes to existing methodologies don’t need to be at the extreme edge of technological innovation, believes Feinberg. Even experimenting in small ways with readily available processes – like Building Information modelling (BIM) – can give construction professionals an edge, he says. “By rethinking and redefining their traditional roles, professionals in the built environment can help create a secure future for themselves. This security will be built less on the work they’ve already done, and more on how relevant they can remain to their clients’ needs.” Integrated infrastructure delivery firm AECOM is pioneering digital project delivery by adding various immersive technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to its portfolio of existing 3D models produced by a BIM process. This allows both the design teams and clients to ‘walk through’ VR scenes of an actual project, whether an industrial process plant such as a brewery or an automotive assembly plant, as well as commercial projects, says Craig Howie, AECOM BIM manager: buildings and places. “At the moment there is a lot of uncertainty in the industry when people talk about technology, and even within companies themselves. Our aim is to show people it is not really all that complicated. We are all very excited about what technology is allowing us to achieve on our projects,” Howie adds. The VR system adopted by AECOM uses industry-standard software. “We have been purposeful in the selection of our technology base, as we need to be able to work with different consultants seamlessly,” Howie stresses. The key benefit for clients is a far more intuitive understanding of their projects than is possible by looking at a traditional 2D drawing. “Until now, we have used a 3D model displayed on a computer screen to boost our clients’ understanding of a project. VR takes this a natural step further, as it places you literally within the ‘as built’ project,” Howie explains.

Let’s get digital

AECOM now offers 3D models as standard across all of its projects, even though this is not, as yet, a contractual obligation in the local construction industry. “While the digital revolution is being driven largely by the engineering, design and consulting fraternity, with contractors perceived as ‘old school’ and being dragged along in their wake, AECOM is working closely with a number of contracting companies that have expressed interest in latest innovations. “The successful uptake of such cutting-edge technology by AECOM locally has even resulted in the South African team making a substantial contribution to the BIM modelling for large international projects. Not only do we have world-class engineers in South Africa, but our level of BIM knowledge and expertise is equally exceptional at the top level, to the point where we are receiving major international recognition,” says Howie. However, the uptick of adopting new technologies and methodologies is somewhat slow locally. “The roofing and construction industry have come from a very conservative background,” says JD Botha of Biligom International – the innovative business behind the patented process of using moist eucalyptus to produce structural timber. Botha says it was very difficult for Biligom to include a new structural timber technology into the market. After a lot of sweat and educating architects, engineers, quantity surveyors and governmental institutions, it must be said that we are now picking the fruits, he notes..

Timber takes centre stage

Regarded by the timber industry as a sound and well performing resource in construction, the use of wood as a structural material adds various benefits to roof design and it is on the increase. Its availability, sustainable traits and workable nature turns timber into an efficient and attractive raw material of choice. Unlike steel and concrete, timber is a renewable resource in abundance in South Africa. He highlights that far more timber and roofing technologies have been adopted in the market compared to 10 years ago – a positive reality that will help to reshape the roofing sector. “The South African construction industry is still set on its old brick and mortar ways, but more timber frame housing is being built thanks to better workmanship, costs, timber preservatives and design technologies. – So yes, timber is revolutionising the roofing and construction sector as a whole,” says Botha. He notes that the timber roofing industry is quite competitive which lends itself to being sufficient where one can expect very competitive prices. “Roof truss designers must think out of the box when designing roofs to ensure their roofing quotes are more competitive. They should also make use of alternative technologies for this reason,” believes Botha. Botha notes that while hurdles remain, the timber roof industry is seeing several enlightening trends take shape. He notes that larger 900mm c/c truss spacings on concrete tile roofs is a major trend in certain locations in the country by making use of 38 x 38 battens. This is a huge cost saver on any roof, which is increasingly being used on low- and medium-cost housing projects, he highlights. “With the first Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) structures already built in the Western Cape, we foresee that CLT projects will be a standardised trend in architectural designs for large building projects in the future as it has already proved itself as a steel and concrete replacement in high-rise buildings in the EU, US and Canada. Testing of a stronger Biligom CLT is in the process,” notes Botha. Botha believes that due to South Africa’s crumbling economy, we will start to see smarter, greener and more cost-effective roof designs. “More eco-friendly projects – both private and governmental – are planned for the future, therefore sustainable roofing products will need to be used as architects receive green credits if specified. It’s tough out there for truss plants if buildings are not being constructed and therefore the smarter, educated and open-minded truss plant owners will reap the rewards.”

Top trends to look out for:

  • Self-healing concrete
  • Air-cleaning materials
  • Transparent wood
  • Graphene
  • Additive manufacturing
  • 3D printing
  • Building Information modelling (BIM)
  • Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)