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SMS Lee Yi Shyan: Quantum leap in construction productivity possible with advanced technologies and having productivity culture

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

- Designing our buildings for manufacturing and assembly could change the way we build in Singapore, as the industry faces a smaller foreign workforce going forward.

Singapore, 23 July 2013 - Buildings in Singapore can be constructed using various advanced building systems such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), more pre-assembled structural steel and pre-fabricated, pre-finished volumetric construction in the near future.

While precast concrete is prefabricated and used in some projects here, these advanced systems take designing buildings even further to maximise off site production and assembly as much as possible, leaving minimum assembly work on site. This concept of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly is beginning to change design and construction mindsets in the UK, and push some firms to reach new levels of productivity.

Representatives from 24 public and private organisations visited various companies and government organisations in London three weeks ago to learn how these technologies which have been tested and implemented there can improve productivity. They also explored the feasibility of applying such technologies in Singapore.

This is the first overseas learning trip for the industry led by the inter-ministry Construction Productivity Steering Committee (CPSC), which is chaired by Senior Minister of State (SMS) for National Development and Trade and Industry, Mr Lee Yi Shyan.

The CPSC which was formed this year will review, simplify and streamline government policies that may adversely impact productivity in the built environment sector, and propose new measures to help the industry improve productivity.

"Government ministries and departments hold the collective key to influence the market by way of demand, as they are a big client in the industry. As such, the public sector, as the biggest developer in Singapore, will continue to take the lead in championing productivity best practices and supporting new construction technologies in our market. If we change the way we look at design and construction, I believe that the built environment sector can make a quantum leap in improving our productivity," said SMS Lee Yi Shyan.

CLT has been in use in Europe for more than 15 years, with the demand for CLT in the United Kingdom (UK) rising over the last seven years. CLT is manufactured by bonding layers of timber at right angles to produce solid timber panels that can be used as structural components in buildings.

The use of CLT has led to significant reductions in construction time as well as manpower on site. For example, the 8-storey Stadthaus at Murray Grove in London required 9 weeks to construct using CLT, approximately 35% faster compared to conventional concrete construction. Also, it only required 4 skilled workers and 1 supervisor on site, compared to about 22 workers if the structure was constructed using reinforced concrete.

Similarly, the use of structural steel leads to faster construction as steelwork are pre-fabricated off site and assembled on site.

For pre-fabricated pre-finished volumetric construction, complete flats or modules made of multiple units complete with internal finishes, fixtures and fittings are manufactured in factories, and are then transported to site for installation. This helped reduce the construction time of the 10-storey YMCA building at South London by 21 weeks. Also, the British Petroleum's international headquarters in Sunbury on Thames was built at one-third the price and three times faster compared to a building constructed traditionally. All 99 modules were installed and the building made watertight in just 10 days during the 14 week construction period on site.

Besides improving productivity, these technologies result in minimal disruptions to residents and the surroundings. For example, dust and noise pollution on site are cut down as most construction work are done off site in the factory, and deliveries of construction materials to the site are reduced. Since steel and CLT are lighter than concrete, heavy foundations can be reduced. Site safety is also improved as fewer workers are required and the amount of work done from height is reduced.

As labour and productivity continue to be key issues underlying the built environment sector, firms are looking to new technologies to help revolutionise construction and minimise the dependence of workers on site. The UK learning trip has underlined the need to create a productivity culture in Singapore, which includes a mindset to pursue higher productivity, understanding how technologies work, adopting ideas from other industries and tackling the issues faced in adoption and implementation.

Cost and market acceptance are some of the key hurdles in spearheading their adoption in Singapore. For instance, unlike the UK, the cost of structural steel and CLT in Singapore is higher than concrete. This makes these technologies currently less attractive despite being more productive for use in construction. However, the cost gap could reduce with higher labour costs going forward. Also, the public's perception and acceptance of such construction materials have to evolve with the introduction of such new technologies in pilot projects.

Mr Pek Lian Guan, Managing Director of Tiong Seng Contractors Pte Ltd and one of the delegates of the trip said, "Technologies like CLT, structural steel construction and modular construction all have their merits and strengths in different applications. For these technologies to co-exist in the UK, all of them must have a viable business case such that the industry is willing to adopt them. In Singapore, we will have to go into more detail, understand and address the challenges if we are to use them locally."

Another delegate Mr Allen Ang, Deputy General Manager, Projects & Head of Green Building, City Developments Limited, added, "The way forward is to continue to leverage on new technologies to move our industry forward. We should adopt both a top-down and bottom-up approach. The government can take the lead by ensuring that development processes are integrated and to build up capabilities in terms of skills and facilities for such technologies to emerge and mature here. Developers being the pay master also have an influence at the top of the value chain. At the same time, consumers or end-users can help by being aware of productivity issues and asking about the products, processes and the materials used for projects."

Local construction company Swee Hong Limited is optimistic in these newer forms of construction. They are in the midst of setting up their factory to prepare themselves in volumetric manufacturing and are exploring to provide these services in Singapore. They are focusing on sectors such as hostels and hotels.

To help the built environment sector make the quantum leap to improve productivity and encourage companies to look for innovative systems that are both productive and sustainable, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is spearheading the adoption of these new technologies in Singapore. It will continue to assist firms by providing the necessary incentive and R&D funding support, raising the buildability and constructability scores and facilitating approval processes among the various building regulatory agencies.

Previously, the BCA had also organised visits to other countries such as Australia and Japan, to help the industry learn from international best practices.

Footnotes

The London Trip (2.1MB .pdf)

Portable document format version of the media release is also available (2.2MB .pdf)

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