Singapore has emerged as the top Asian city in recent rankings and remains one of the most liveable cities in the world.
But Singapore, like Rome, was not built in a day. Building this vibrant city, from its parks and community spaces to its world-class underground railway system, was made possible through the joint efforts and cooperation of countless stakeholders along the entire Built Environment (BE) value chain.
A lot of the work that goes into building the city takes place behind the scenes – or more specifically, underground.
In land-scarce Singapore, optimising land use is essential. As land on the surface is reserved for people-centric purposes like housing, parks and other community spaces, supporting infrastructure and utilities have to be taken underground.
For instance, Marina Bay’s Common Services Tunnel eliminates noise, dust and traffic disruptions caused when digging up roads, while Jurong Rock Caverns is Southeast Asia’s first commercial underground rock caverns facility for the storage of liquid hydrocarbons.
Going underground is one of the many challenges the Construction Technology Innovation Laboratory (CTIL) is taking on. Set up in January 2021, it serves as a platform for construction companies to conduct applied research and develop construction technologies, with the eventual aim of adopting these innovations in their operations.
Research and innovation (R&I) projects undertaken by CTIL are supported and funded by the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) Built Environment Technology Alliance programme (BETA).
Collaborating for change
One of CTIL’s latest projects, “Innovative Construction Technologies for Deep Foundation and Excavation”, is literally ground-breaking and could be a game-changer in the industry.
The project aims to develop a suite of underground construction technologies to improve productivity and cost. This includes a stronger and more innovative earth retaining and stabilising structure solution, that reduces the number of support beams required to brace the perimeter of an excavation area.
This will save material costs and results in enhanced safety for workers, who previously had to navigate complex, maze-like structures as a result of extensive support beams.
With 50% lighter king posts and more efficient installation tools, the fabrication and installation of these components will shift from being labour- and time-intensive to digitalised and semi-automated.
Approved in November 2021 the joint endeavour is headed by Woh Hup Pte Ltd, one of Singapore’s largest privately-owned construction and civil engineering companies, and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).
It is no surprise that Woh Hup, one of the forerunners of the BE industry, is a leading partner in CTIL. “Innovation is embedded in our company’s DNA and we will continue to explore ways to improve how and what we build,” said its Executive Director, Mr Yong De-Rhong.
The project consists of three sub-projects, undertaken by Woh Hup in collaboration with its three value-chain partners: NatSteel Holdings Pte Ltd, TTJ Design & Engineering Pte Ltd and SEN SG Pte Ltd.
Overall, all three sub-projects are estimated to yield 25 per cent savings in excavation works, 10 per cent cost savings on the fabrication and installation of king posts, and a 15 per cent improvement in productivity.
More importantly, they will give Woh Hup and its partners a competitive edge in the market as they continue to upscale their capabilities and take on more complex projects.
SIT’s expertise in applied learning and research is crucial to the partnership. Well-positioned to transform businesses in the construction industry, SIT researchers will help companies address key challenges and translate innovations into practical solutions for on-site adoption.
CTIL also adopts SIT’s applied learning pedagogy and provides opportunities to train SIT students to be career-ready upon graduation, developing a steady pool of BE talent.
Building an ecosystem
The Singapore government recognises that empowering such collaborations is critical.
“The delivery of every construction project is dependent on a long and complex value-chain of partners,” said Mr Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State for National Development, at the CTIL Research Project Agreement Signing Ceremony at SIT on July 13, 2022.
“Collaboration across the value chain is essential, and every player along the value chain needs to be uplifted for the industry to transform.”
BCA’s Built Environment Technology Alliance Catalyst Funding, has supported CTIL under Phase 1 of its programme and will continue to support similar partnerships between institutes of higher learning and BE companies to help them build long-term capabilities and competitive advantage.
In Phase 2, the government will commit an additional $20 million of BETA catalyst funding to spur more of such collaborations, co-funding key transformation areas such as Integrated Planning & Design, Advanced Manufacturing & Assembly and Sustainable Urban Systems.
These areas are related to key transformation areas in the Construction Industry Transformation Map, which was launched in 2017 to revamp the sector. Building alliances between firms and Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) partners, as part of CTIL, is also key to transforming the industry.
Mr Tan has high hopes for the industry. “Aside from levelling the capabilities of our firms, we envision that the BETA projects may also lead to the establishment of new industry benchmarks, which will raise productivity standards of the BE sector and help build a stronger ecosystem,” he said.