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Software Takes a Lead at the Hong Kong Building and Hardware Fair

The Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair had a particular focus on Building and Information Modeling, with many of the developments in the digital sector having distinct repercussions for this most traditional of industries.

Photo: Drill Parade: The Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair.
Drill Parade: The Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair.
Photo: Drill Parade: The Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair.
Drill Parade: The Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair.

Traditionally, building has been all about the hardware, but it's the software that counts these days. This fact was underlined at the most recent Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair, which put an emphasis on Building Information Modelling (BIM), RFID and technology.

With the AsiaWorld-Expo performing hosting duties, the fair was a showcase for 160 exhibitors from 10 countries and regions, across 10 major product zones. Spotlighting the fact that China is overseeing the greatest construction boom of all time, a pavilion from the city of Huzhou in Zhejiang Province led a strong mainland presence. Overall, 11,899 buyers from 98 countries and regions attended the event.

The Building Fair also benefitted from sharing space with two other events – Eco Expo Asia and the World of Outdoor Lighting and Lighting Accessories. This provided a one-stop shop for buyers looking for a range of wares, as well as providing an opportunity for synergy and cross-fertilisation of ideas. A lively networking event on the opening day underlined this, with drinks and food, plus a singer crooning jazz as buyers and exhibitors swapped name cards and information.

The building industry has increasingly adopted BIM worldwide over the past decade. While in the past, architects, planners and builders relied on two-dimensional drawings, BIM means working on computer-generated 3D models, with the dimensions of time and cost factored in.

For the construction industry this amounts to a revolution, hence the Building Fair opened with a dedicated BIM Day and the HKIBIM-CIC Conference 2015. The latter featured expert speakers demonstrating the advantages of BIM, using real case studies to help new entrants in the field improve their BIM efficiency. In addition, the new Building Performance and BIM Zone presented a full spectrum of BIM-related services and technologies, including cloud-based collaboration platforms, mobile construction management systems and essential BIM training options.

Meanwhile, assistants at the Hong Kong Institute of Building Information Modelling (HKIBIM) booth were insistent that BIM is much more than just a 3D drawing tool, but rather a new method of working that uses the most up-to-date building techniques to facilitate project management. They pointed out that BIM is global and already mandated on some large-scale public sector construction projects.

Another significant presence was that of the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which had a colourful booth filled with half-sized, plastic model workers and plenty of information for those in need of industry updates. The CIC tagline, "It Works Because I Work", was formed in 2007 to improve skills, as well as occupational health and safety, in Hong Kong's construction industry.

Mike Fung, Product Manager of Hong Kong RFID, which also had a booth in the Building Performance and BIM Zone, outlined how radio-frequency identification (RFID) was making waves in the building industry, particularly with the adoption of BIM. RFID uses wireless and electromagnetic field technology to identify and track tags attached to objects, in order to transfer data and thereby automatically identify and track building materials.

Fung said RFID tags made life easier for both management and construction workers, and improved productivity. By embedding RFID tags into building components, the whole life cycle – from design through to manufacture, transport, warehousing, building, waste, inspection, maintenance and recycling – can be monitored, in real-time. By essentially digitising the information from RFID tags, human error is largely avoided and maintenance records are always available, he said.

One of the highlights of the fair was the booth of business image solution group Canon Hongkong, partly because it seemed so out of place. After all, what was a printer company doing at a building and hardware show? It turns out the company has morphed into a serious industry player. According to Philip Chan, Director of Canon Hongkong, up to 21% of the budget for commercial and residential buildings is spent on decorative elements, and this is a rising trend. Membrane panels, interior decorations, outdoor graphics and re-board furniture can all be printed on to create building solutions, particularly in the interior design arena. Canon is feeding this need with its digital flatbed printers that offer huge versatility and picture quality. They can print on rigid and flexible media, and create backlit, opaque and day/night displays.

At the same time, this mode of production is relatively friendly to the environment. "We are in a new era, the environmental era, which means that building materials must be environmentally friendly," Chan said. "Digital printers reduce costs, provide print on demand, and ensure that both small and large batch production are economical."

He said Info Trends Report valued the interior décor applications market at about US$676 billion worldwide in 2014. Canon is taking a share of this pie, for example, by printing tiles. "China is the biggest tile producer and the earliest adopter of this type of technology. Also, glass is a very interesting production material. It was traditionally very limited but now it has become very interesting, high margin and is a growing market."

Chan outlined the value of the worldwide market for digitally printed décor applications. The ceramic tile market is worth $145 billion and growing rapidly, with a potential digital print value of $60 billion. The textiles market is worth $165 billion, with a digital print value of $5.9 billion. Signs and displays are worth $156 billion, with an estimated digital print value of $57 billion.

Woodwork and wall coverings are other areas with potential. Chan said: "Many designers have come to our booth and were very impressed. Marble is a very expensive product but we can produce tiles with exactly the right colour and texture to resemble the look of marble. As for photographs on wood, it doesn't even look like wood any more. So, we took it to designers and they said, 'Well, we prefer the vintage effect, not just a vivid picture that doesn't look like wood any more.' That's why we worked with them on this and the results are amazing."

Photo: Touchless sensors: Technology on tap.
Touchless sensors: Technology on tap.
Photo: Touchless sensors: Technology on tap.
Touchless sensors: Technology on tap.

Noting that the rapidly emerging digital print market could be worth about $122 billion overall in the near future, Chan added: "This is new tech, using innovative materials, new production processes and new business models to provide new applications and fresh business opportunities in the digital era."

Canon is not the only player in the large format digital printing game. Epson Hong Kong also had a significant presence at the fair, giving demonstrations of its textile printers that can work non-stop for 17 hours at a stretch.

Technological advances are driving the industry, so says Timothy Cheng, Founder and Managing Director of Tiron Interior Architecture. He said interior design was looking to new products for fresh looks, adding that events such as the Building Fair and the Indoor Decorative Materials zone were rich sources of inspiration. Cheng said: "If you don't move forward, then you stay still and get overtaken."

The crossover effect of holding the Building Fair concurrently with Eco Expo Asia and the World of Outdoor Lighting and Lighting Accessories had positive outcomes for both buyers and exhibitors. Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of Highlight Magazine, Markus Helle, said now that LEDs were being adopted on a mass scale, the most important factor in lighting was "control". Adaptive light technology and producing sophisticated lighting effects in the home and in commercial establishments is a trend that is only going to become more pronounced. For example, retailers can beguile customers in their shops and spotlight the products the consumer should be looking at.

Helle said: "Today is the era of human-centric lighting, with luminaires that can adjust to the body clock, even in a building without any natural light. There is human-centric lighting for the office, with warm daylight lighting and blue light after lunch, say, that can energise the worker – because it suppresses the hormone for sleep."

One buyer interested in such innovative products, Hichem Smadhi of Synergie from Tunisia, said he was on the lookout for lamps in particular, as well as hardware for buildings and houses, fire alarms, and audio and TV surveillance equipment. He said the Building Fair was "very good for new products, looking at suppliers and learning more about organisations. We plan to develop our presence and are very optimistic about the situation. We must come here to compete."

His Tunisian colleague, Riahi Kais, Sales and Purchase Manager for ERM, which sells electrical, cleaning and painting products, said he was looking around and learning about the various building products on the market for future reference. Even though the prices were higher than at similar trade shows in Dubai, which he often attends, he said the products were of better quality.

Meanwhile, Smartech HVAC & Engineering Limited opted to exhibit in the Eco Expo Asia section of the exhibition hall, rather than in the building and hardware zone. This was in order to emphasise the green credentials of its polypropylene Aquatherm pipes for potable water supplies, industrial applications and reclaimed water, according to Marketing Manager Stephen Yiu.

The company's colour-coded pipes are made from a composite technology. Yiu said this made the pipes lighter and more stable, reduced expansion and increased water flow. He added that the raw piping material, fusiolen, was environmentally friendly, as were the colour pigments and stabilisers.

The Building Fair emphasised its green credentials with forums, hosted by industry experts, on sustainable and smart living. There was also a dedicated Green Building Materials zone for suppliers with strong eco-credentials, serving buyers concerned about the environment and committed to corporate social responsibility.

Local exhibitors included the body Hong Kong Green Product Accreditation and Standards, which encourages the building industry to use environmentally friendly and innovative products, as well as providing five certification ratings for green building products. LVFAR Green Reusable Industry certainly scores well in this regard: its bricks, which come in vibrant colours, with anti-slip coatings, are made from recycled cement and aggregate.

Other product zones included Indoor Decorative Materials, Ceramics, Stone & Marble, Coating and Chemicals, Kitchen and Bath, Facility Management, Testing and Trade Service. The impression gained from most buyers was that this was a well-rounded exhibition, while the final Public Day allowed the general public to get in on the act. In addition to learning more about a sustainable approach to living at the forums, visitors could also shop at the Ideal Home Mart, for various home improvement and renovation products.

Photo: Net sales: Buyers browsing at the busy building expo.
Net sales: Buyers browsing at the busy building expo.
Photo: Net sales: Buyers browsing at the busy building expo.
Net sales: Buyers browsing at the busy building expo.

The 10th edition of the HKTDC Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair was held from 28-31 October at AsiaWorld-Expo. It ran concurrently with Eco Expo Asia and the HKTDC Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Autumn Edition).

Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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