Pen in hand, a young Yeung Hei thought hard about her future. As her secondary school classmates scribbled down their dream job as part of an assignment, she opted for a less conventional choice – especially for a teenage girl in the 90s. She aspired to be a civil and structural engineer.
“I wrote that my ambition was to make Singapore look more beautiful, with more special designs of HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats,” she said with determination, recalling how public housing design lacked variety in the past.
Decades later, she has found a way to contribute to the HDB landscape with her role in the move to the HL-Sunway Prefab Hub. The new facility will enable more precast building components to be made locally and support Build-To-Order (BTO) housing projects.
Launched on July 21, 2023, the joint venture by Hong Leong Asia and Malaysia-based Sunway Construction Group is Singapore’s largest and newest Integrated Construction and Prefabrication Hub (ICPH).
With its new automation and technology-based construction methods, the ICPH pushes the Built Environment (BE) sector towards a more efficient workflow, increasing production by 80 per cent, noted Ms Yeung, a design manager and technical controller at Sunway Concrete Products(S) Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of Sunway Construction Group.
New site, new responsibilities
At HL-Sunway Prefab Hub, her responsibilities have expanded beyond designing and managing projects. She is also in charge of the engineering and production interface of the new Enterprise Resource Planning System – a vital part of the prefab hub.
The digital and automated software program integrates business processes such as sales, manufacturing, engineering, delivery and accounting services. She describes it as the “master data of the company”, and it is her job to ensure everything – from the engineering to product delivery – runs smoothly.
Ensuring panel Infor are being send to the station accurately for production.
This required her to work closely with different departments. Together, they had to adapt and rewrite several standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the new system and automation – from European suppliers and vendors – to fit Singapore’s standards and operations. It meant going to the factory floor and seeing firsthand what changes were needed at every stage in the entire process.
Even though it was tedious work, Ms Yeung saw the value in it. “This is only Singapore’s sixth ICPH, so it is not a very common project to be a part of. I definitely feel very proud to be part of it,” she said. The new ICPH will help build a more resilient BE sector, producing enough precast components to complete about 17 blocks of flats annually.
Growing with the sector
In a way, her career has culminated in this mega project, with each of her experiences a crucial building block. As a fresh civil engineering polytechnic graduate, she first joined Sunway as a drafter in 2002. After 1 year, she left to pursue for her degree in civil Engineering in NUS. With the company’s technology drive vision, she was inspired to return to Sunway Concrete Products(S) Pte Ltd to continue the journey as a Design Engineer in 2006.
“Sunway Construction Group always looks far ahead to ensure we are one step ahead of others in terms of productivity and efficiency,” she noted.
In 2010, she spearheaded the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) solutions, which allow different building professionals to collaborate on the planning, designing, and construction of buildings using three-dimensional (3D) models.
It was not easy at first. They did not have any in-house expertise and since it was so new at the time, they had to receive training directly from the BIM software supplier.
The costs of buying the software, upgrading existing systems and providing training were very high. However, “Sunway believed that BIM was the future, which was why they were willing to invest”, recalled Ms Yeung.
With the heavy investment, she simply had to find a way to make BIM work for her company, doing whatever it took to become a BIM expert.
It has paid off. With many projects requiring BIM in recent years – such as those involving 3D components like Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) – Sunway is poised for the future.
Discussion on the production process at the carousel plant
Being a woman in BE
Despite her current status, Ms Yeung’s entry into the industry was not all smooth sailing. She felt immense nerves during her first site meeting. Worried that she might do or say something to risk her company’s reputation, she wished that a senior could guide her during her first foray into the field.
Having had that experience, she now acts as a mentor to fresh engineers in Sunway by sharing her knowledge and experience with them.
In addition, the BE industry is also recently stripping its male-dominated image with more female engineers finding a place in it – from 8,000 in 1990 to 27,500 in 2018, according to data from SingStat. Ms Yeung also feels that women are more respected and admired by their male counterparts, especially for their diligence and multitasking abilities.
She observed that women in BE industry tend to be very hard-working and proactive. This fuelled her determination and drive to do well. “As someone who started with a passion for the industry, I worked extra hard to learn as much as I could. I am proof that women can play an important role in BE sector,” she explained.
To draw more women to the industry, she believes more should be done to debunk common misconceptions about what the work entails. For example, there are many more office-based roles now, with the influx of technology like BIM. “(It is not just) wearing ugly boots and helmets and working at muddy sites” she quipped with a smile.
Facilities like the ICPHs provide a more conducive working environment. Employees are now able to enjoy the comfort of working under shelter. No matter rain or shine, production and the quality of precast products will not be affected.