Friday, May 6, 2016

The ‘toothpaste’ highway of the (near) future

I drive to work daily, on the Dubai – Abu Dhabi highway.
On this, ‘one-plus a bit of an hour’ drive, I pass numerous highway constructions, where complex spaghettis of roads, bridges and overpasses grow seemingly in front of my eyes.
One cannot be anything but impressed as the skeletons of delicate supporting structures give way to massive piers with snaking road-structures above them, almost daily.
The disruptions to us commuters are minimal, almost non-existent as various scenarios of keeping the ‘flow-through uninterrupted’ are enacted by those in charge of building these infrastructures.

As impressive as these processes have been to watch, on my long drives to and from work, I have often fantasised about the creation of a ‘toothpaste-type’ machinery, suspended on adjustable legs and fed with feather light material that moulded into the correct shape, self-supported in the air needing minimal scaffolding, to then within minutes harden into a material not-unlike reinforced concrete, ready to take on the traffic.

Optimistic, fanciful? Surely, but also why not?
In the country of the ’Tallest building of the World’ and numerous other engineering feats, I often wish I could myself contribute to something revolutionary like the toothpaste highway technology or even something less ambitions but still cool, like a decent way of using digital technologies in day-to-day, ‘normal’ construction.

A week or so ago, there was an announcement that I caught on my drive to work:

“A quarter of buildings in Dubai will be based on 3D printing technology by 2030 under a new strategy launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.”

Hearing the above statement made me feel good about the career prospect for within the region for the next decade or so.  
As ‘a girl’ with moderate skills in a number of aspects of the industry, including reasonable modelling competency, combined with 2+ decades of project/contract and design management, I am very positive about what HH’s goals and plans will do to the industry.
Add to this, that I work on a VIP Project, with Consultants that boast about their global rankings being in double digits and my craving for the ability to innovate within my daily work is sure to get a bit of a boost.

One would think so.
One would expect international engineering consultancies active within the region to jump onto the opportunity of making this vision happen eagerly, and urgently explore ways to partner up with relevant manufacturing entities to secure a good chunk of this future and likely very lucrative market. After all, they are already, by and large making a decent living on pretty average offerings charged at astronomical international rates, greased with juicy per diems .
So, stretching those expensive engineering brains that are busy making hay while the sun is shining a bit further into creative thinking, i.e. to move beyond the millennia old technologies of ‘sticks and stones’ of creating buildings, should not be too difficult and equally serving self-interest to these elite consultancies.

After all, we know that the rest of the global AEC industry is pretty sluggish, might as well put the cream of the expertise where big ideas have the right backing and likelihood of happening, not just ensure that the visiting engineers have the latest model of cars to drive.
I add my support to the 3D printed construction vision!