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Balancing growth and change

BBR is a well-established brand in its field of specialist engineering. But that has not stopped it from pursuing new areas of growth

"BBR’s technology can be used everywhere. Most countries - if they do a lot of heavy engineering in terms of bridges for example - will need something like what we have. BBR is a name people recognise so it’s very easy for us to open doors in new countries." - BBR executive director and CEO Tan Kheng Hwee Andrew

WHEN the concept of prefabricated pre-finished volumetric construction (PPVC) was first introduced in Singapore, there were concerned murmurs in some quarters that we were giving up aesthetics in the name of functionality. Yes, these naysayers said, PPVC does reduce our reliance on manpower, and yes they might be more accurate and use less resources, but by virtue of the fact that you are using a mould means that projects will all start looking the same. There will be no more individuality across projects was their concern.

But ask BBR Holdings (S) Ltd (BBR) executive director and chief executive officer Tan Kheng Hwee Andrew and he will tell you without batting an eye lid, that standardisation is precisely PPVC's strength. BBR is a big proponent of PPVC and has in fact invested in Moderna Homes in 2014 precisely to leverage their expertise in this area. Moderna Homes is today a fully owned subsidiary of the company. "If you talk to developers and architects, they like the standardisation because it brings the costs down. It is, if you think about it, the outer skin that makes developments different," he says.

Mr Tan would know. BBR is one of the early adopters of this technology. They are involved in the PPVC contract for the fabrication, supply, and installation of 1,582 hostel rooms at the Nanyang Technological University's Hall of Residence (Nanyang Avenue), and 712 hostel rooms at Nanyang Technological University's Hall of Residence (Nanyang Crescent).

BBR has recently secured 1,900 modular units of PPVC housing modules for the construction of six blocks of staff housing, four blocks of institution building and ancillary building at Upper Aljunied Road for the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Not that the company is only capable of delivering utility. BBR is in fact developing a mixed development project, The Wisteria and Wisteria Mall, a mixed residential and commercial development at Yishun Avenue 4, comprising three residential towers and two levels of retail space. This was the first plot to be rolled out under the Government Land Sales Programme which had a PPVC component to it. Under the terms of the tender, PPVC and prefabricated bathroom units are required to be adopted for at least 65 per cent of the constructed floor area and bathroom units.

Part of what makes BBR so unique is that it is part of a wider BBR Network. BBR is itself one of Singapore's leading construction and specialised engineering groups with more than 20 years of industry experience. It is in turn part of a wider BBR network spanning some 50 countries around the world.

"In Zurich, our network has a company that does glass reinforced fibre and so they can do wavy facades for buildings. We immediately saw a match between what they are doing and what we are doing with PPVC. We can do the internal structure and they can come in to do the skin to make every building unique. This is an example of how we can collaborate," says Mr Tan.

Another area the company is excited to pursue is green technology. BBR incorporated BBR Greentech in 2013 and is currently focused on solar technology.

BBR is currently involved in a HDB solar leasing project with Ang Mo Kio Town Council to design, install, operate and maintain a 6-megawatt peak grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) system and a floating solar photovoltaic testbed project at Tengah reservoir jointly led by the Economic Development Board and the Public Utilities Board. This testbed project allows companies to develop, test, and evaluate the economic and technical feasibility of installing floating solar PV systems on water as an alternative to deploying solar systems on rooftops.

Mr Tan candidly admits that the solar energy financial model has hit a number of road bumps recently as oil prices have fallen. But this is the right thing to do, he maintains. "We are still looking at how to build this market, maybe not just in Singapore but also regional countries like Indonesia and the Philippines," says Mr Tan.

"To make this work we will also have to work with funds because these are long-term projects which range from 25 to 30 years. We have to package our systems integration plans together with investors . . . so it will take some time and effort for us to get everything together."

Its green technology arm is still in its nascent phase, contributing only S$118,000 to FY2015's revenue figures but the firm is still excited about this trajectory. "Green technology could be a new way of cooling - air conditioners are our main energy guzzlers - or we could look at whether we can develop a system to help an owner reduce their overall energy bill and go into facility management down the road. "Solar energy is a first step."

In the last financial year, BBR Group netted revenue of S$425.5 million and net profit of S$2.3 million. General construction was the main revenue contributor followed closely by specialised engineering. Looking ahead, the 23-year-old company is not just looking to these sunrise industries for growth. Its specialisation remains in the area of specialist engineering and the company intends to leverage the BBR branding to enter new markets.

Part of his confidence in their ability to enter these markets as and when business opportunities arise stems from the BBR branding. "BBR's technology can be used everywhere. Most countries - if they do a lot of heavy engineering in terms of bridges for example - will need something like what we have. BBR is a name people recognise so it's very easy for us to open doors in new countries." Some of the markets Mr Tan is very keen on are Myanmar, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It is a matter of the right timing, finding the right partner, and getting the right funding, he says.

Indeed, for all of the woes faced by the construction industry, Mr Tan is excited for the future, especially the one afforded by the game-changing technologies of PPVC, building information modelling (BIM), virtual design construction (VDC) and cross laminated timber (CLT).

He says: "There's always this comment, that we are a very brick and mortar business, doing the same thing over a very long period of time and nothing has changed. With PPVC and CLT, we see that things have changed. We are going to do things in a more factory style, with less reliance on foreign workers and high safety standards. And there is BIM. Previously, you build on site, you rely on drawings, and if you make a mistake you have to redo it on site. There was a lot of wastage of money and resources. Now, you can build virtually and you can build offsite. It's really a new kind of built environment that we see."