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Forging new paths to productivity
A SLEW of initiatives have been launched to help Singapore's construction firms ramp up their productivity as they battle the twin challenges of tight labour supply and rising costs.
Among other measures, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said at last week's Singapore Construction Productivity Week (SCPW) that builders who are more productive would have an advantage when tendering for public projects.
To achieve this goal, BCA will revise the tender evaluation framework for government construction projects, raising the productivity weightage to 10 per cent of the overall score. This revision will be fully rolled out from January next year. This will benefit builders with good productivity records in their past projects, as well as their investment in technology and workforce development.
BCA also launched, during SCPW 2015, the first grant call for construction productivity under a research fund by the Ministry of National Development. Under this grant call, S$2.6 million will be used to fund research institutes and industry players to further develop game-changing construction technologies and increase their adoption in the built environment sector.
Research projects will focus on solutions to drive Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) and improve integration across the construction value chain. According to BCA, these are areas that the authority has been championing through its second Construction Productivity Roadmap launched earlier this year. DFMA is an approach that involves designing for labour-efficient construction, with as much work as possible done off-site.
"The built environment sector can achieve more significant productivity gains by adopting DFMA. This means designing for labour-efficient construction at the planning stage, and moving as much construction off-site as possible to a controlled and mechanised factory environment to facilitate ease of manufacturing and assembly," said John Keung, CEO of BCA.
"Besides changing the way we design and build, the industry must also work together and initiate more collaboration and integration to minimise inefficiencies. Through such research, it will help open up more pathways for productivity improvement."
BCA is also pushing industry players to adopt a technology known as Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), a process that effectively allows construction to occur twice - first in the virtual environment like a full-dress rehearsal, before the actual on-site construction. The authority said that it would be providing funding for projects that use VDC under the Construction Productivity and Capability Fund.
VDC leverages on three-dimensional Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology that can model everything from graphics, drawings and reports to design analysis, schedules and facilities management. This helps to surface problems before actual work begins and allows building teams to make better-informed decisions as well as foster greater collaboration among team members.
To encourage the use of BIM in the industry, BCA chairman Quek See Tiat gave out at SCPW 15 awards to recognise 13 outstanding project teams that have implemented the modelling technology in their projects from the design to construction stages. One BIM award winner, the project team behind Mapletree Business City II, had used the technology to simulate construction and reflect the sequence of works to be carried out.
"Effective analysis and forward planning was conducted by tracking the actual progress on site against the construction cycle in BIM. To promote the adoption of VDC, BCA will be providing funding for projects that adopt VDC," said Mr Quek.
Meanwhile, a panel of industry experts has recommended that more stakeholders get involved early on during the planning stage of construction when adopting VDC. For instance, the early involvement of the contractor in a project enables the consultant and contractor to work together to design labour-efficient construction and resolve any issues on the building's design as early as possible.
The involvement of facilities management professionals at the onset of the design process can also help assess the cost implications of various design options and ensure ease of maintenance throughout the lifecycle of the building.
This was one of several recommendations made by the International Panel of Experts (IPE) session on BIM that was convened in the week leading up to SCPW to discuss how Singapore's built environment sector can further leverage on the technology to drive higher productivity.
"BIM provides the built environment sector with a quantum leap in designing, constructing and operating buildings because of its ability to virtually prototype, refine and improve the building before committing to the actual construction of new buildings or modification of existing buildings. This can be done at a substantially lower cost and shorter time frame," said Lee Chuan Seng, co-chair of the BIM IPE.
"Since the first IPE on BIM in 2011, we have made significant progress from promoting BIM adoption, to reinforcing greater adoption of BIM in a collaborative manner. The new emphasis on virtual construction, facility management and supporting the drive towards a smart nation through BIM is a significant strategic move for Singapore."
In his opening speech, Mr Quek noted that other advanced technologies such as Pre-finished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) is already gaining traction here. PPVC is an off-site construction method that saves up to 25-40 per cent in manpower and 15-20 per cent in construction time. It also reduces noise and dust pollution onsite as more activities are done off-site.
He noted that three private residential sites under the Government Land Sales programme at Yishun, Jurong West and West Coast Vale would require PPVC to be adopted. Public sector agencies such as JTC and MOH Holdings will also be using PPVC for their upcoming projects.
"With the pipeline of projects adopting PPVC, we are optimistic that PPVC will take off in Singapore," said Mr Quek.
In his speech, he also acknowledged the opening of Singapore's first Integrated Construction and Prefabrication Hub (ICPH). Built by the SEF Group, the ICPH is a highly automated factory that will reduce the amount of manpower needed to build precast components. The SEF SpaceHub at Kaki Bukit features possibly the world's tallest precast storage racking system. The second ICPH developed by Straits Construction will be operational next year and another two more are already in the works.
More firms are also tapping BCA's Construction Productivity and Capability Fund to develop their capabilities, Mr Quek revealed. Since the second tranche of S$450 million of the fund was launched in June this year, already more than S$22 million of the fund has been committed, benefiting more than 2,600 firms.
To groom productivity champions and leaders for the built environment sector, the BCA Academy announced at SCPW a partnership with the University of Florida to launch a new Masters programme for International Construction Management with a major in Construction Productivity. The first intake will start around March next year.
Said Mr Quek: "This programme will equip construction managers with the latest construction management and productivity concepts such as VDC, BIM and DFMA, as well as the necessary skills to efficiently manage construction resources."
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