Science and tech key to sector’s survival

21st August 2020 By: Halima Frost - Reporter

Science and tech key to sector’s survival

STEVE BARTELS Communication and data-sharing technologies will be increasingly important tools in the country’s ‘new normal’ working practices since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic

The impact of Covid-19 on infrastructure projects demands that the construction sector use its scientific and engineering expertise better, says engineering consultant SRK Consulting partner and principal engineering technologist Steve Bartels.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us that communication and data-sharing technologies will be increasingly important tools in the country’s ‘new normal’ working practices since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

While most of these technologies were available before the pandemic – such as virtual private networks to facilitate the sharing of documents and information – not everyone was using them effectively. Now, these technologies will become vital for continued efficiency, he points out.

New data-sharing technologies will include new ways of gathering detailed visual and other data, which consultants would have normally gathered by physically visiting and investigating a site.

High-definition photography and photogrammetry, as well as technologies such as drones and remote sensing to deploy these tools will become increasingly valuable.

Additionally, geographic information system and global positioning system technology will continue to advance. This will help to accurately geo-locate data points for various scientific and engineering applications.

Meanwhile, Bartels adds that consulting engineers and scientists are important to the infrastructure sector, owing to their expertise being pivotal in reigniting the economy.

He adds that, according to an article published by local law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr – titled ‘The Covid-19 effect: Its impact on industries and how to reduce insolvency risks’ –  the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors forecasts that the construction sector will decline by 8.7% this year, compared with the initially forecast 1.5%.

Bartels also points out that it was clear that the South African construction industry was in trouble even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A year ago, the sector had already lost more than 140 000 construction jobs in just one quarter, according to ‘The Construction Industry in South Africa 2019’ report,” he points out.

He adds that the industry was under significant pressure as government spending on infrastructure declined last year. A number of its large contractors have closed or entered business rescue, adding to the country’s already high unemployment rate.

To reignite the sector, Bartels advises that resources must be invested in infrastructure, but on a clear cost-benefit basis. These resources include building the capacity of emerging businesses using the right training and mentoring to foster better access to the mainstream economy.

“Consulting engineering firms can help government to quantify needs and risks so that scarce funding can be applied in the most effective ways,” he suggests.

SRK remains actively committed to sharing its experience and innovations with industry sectors ranging from infrastructure, mining and energy to water and the environment.

Bartels concludes that SRK intends emerging from the Covid-19 crisis stronger and more effective, ensuring that the company’s professional experience is made available to clients – particularly those using digital technologies that enhance remote working practices – through various channels.