After three challenging years, Singapore’s construction industry has bounced back on stronger demand. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) estimates that S$30.5 billion worth of contracts were awarded in 2018, an increase of 23% over the previous year. While government contracts accounted for the bigger slice of the total, private sector demand also picked up on increased residential and industrial projects.
Said the BCA, “Last year’s total construction demand was within forecast due to strong demand from institutional building and civil engineering projects, continued positive growth in the manufacturing sector and more private residential redevelopment projects from en-bloc sales in 2017 and the first half of 2018. Total preliminary construction demand last year for the public and private sectors was S$18.4 billion and S$12.1 billion respectively.”
The BCA expects construction demand to remain high over the next three to five years on a stable stream of major infrastructure projects and a pipeline of major industrial building projects. Among the big-ticket items slated for development are the Punggol Digital District, Jurong Lake District, Changi Airport Terminal 5 and new MRT lines. Between S$27 and S$32 billion worth of projects will be awarded in 2019, strengthening to S$27-S$34 billion from 2020 to 2021, and S$28-S$35 billion from 2022 to 2023.
More companies can expect to enjoy a slice of Singapore’s infrastructural development as government agencies have been encouraged to parcel out large infrastructure projects to create more opportunities for local firms, just as the Land Transport Authority has done for some of its MRT tunnelling projects.
Harnessing Technology for Improved Results
In this improved environment, industry members have been asked to harness technology and innovation to build new capabilities to create new value, stay relevant, and compete. Speaking at the BCA-REDAS Built Environment and Property Prospects Seminar 2019, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said, “With stable and sustainable construction demand fundamentals, firms in the sector will have more opportunities to invest in innovation. This is important given that the way we build is increasingly being transformed by the use of technology.”
As digitisation is transforming the way we live and work, the Construction Industry Transformation Map launched in October 2017 has identified Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) as one of its key thrusts. IDD refers to the use of digital technologies to integrate work processes and connect stakeholders working on the same project throughout the construction and building life-cycle – from the design of the building to its construction, and facilities management once it is completed. By putting everyone on the same page, IDD improves collaboration, enhances construction efficiency, minimises costly rework, improves safety through site monitoring, and maintains quality through timely inspections and rectifications of defects.
The BCA’s target is to have 40 to 60 construction sites implement IDD technologies by 2020. It also aims to raise competencies for at least 150 firms and around 300 to 400 key personnel, who will be able to develop skills such as virtual collaboration, artificial intelligence and data analytics.
To help companies adopt the plan, the BCA and the Infocomm Media Development Authority launched a S$4-million joint call to develop digital platforms for the building sector. “This will enable firms across the construction project-cycle to communicate and exchange information with various partners and innovate by pioneering new ways to work,” the BCA said.
Early IDD adopters are already reaping the benefits of implementation. Kimly Construction director Roy Khoo said that IDD has allowed his firm to visualise, co-ordinate, communicate and build more efficiently and effectively with project partners, including suppliers and sub-contractors.
For JTC Logistics Hub, an IDD demonstration project in which Kimly is the main contractor, the company has:
• Installed special gantry cranes to track location and delivery schedules of components such as large pre-fabricated units from the factory to the final installation sites via radio frequency identification tags;
• Introduced new digital software to place orders such as steel bars, thereby cutting down on unnecessary paperwork and improving productivity; and
• Used aerial drones to check the progress of the development using a technique known as photogrammetry to create 3D-like images. It also has an omni-directional camera that captures the state of the worksite at various development milestones, allowing people to ‘walk through’ the site virtually.
Infusion of Fresh Funds for Technology Upgrade
To spur adoption of new technology, the government is injecting S$295 million to the BuildSG Transformation fund, bringing financial assistance to the construction industry to about S$770 million. The bulk – S$200 million – will be channelled to the Productivity Innovation Project scheme to help companies with solutions which offer at least a 30% improvement in site productivity, such as the use of self-compacting concrete, which is more efficient than normal concrete, and prefabricated bathrooms.
The remaining S$95 million will go into the Public Sector Construction Productivity Fund to encourage government agencies to adopt Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) technology for their construction projects. The BCA has identified DfMA as a key strategic thrust in its ongoing drive to raise construction productivity. Under DfMA, building parts are manufactured in factories before being transported onsite for assembly, enabling projects to be completed faster, cleaner, quieter and with better quality. The public sector is specially targeted as it is expected to account for about 60% of projected DfMA demand from 2019 to 2023.
Supporting Innovation in Built Environment
To support innovation in the built environment, the BCA is broadening the scope of the Building Innovation Panel (BIP) – an inter-agency platform set up in 2011 to accelerate the regulatory clearance of technologies that improve construction productivity. Apart from productivity improvements, the panel now entertains any type of innovation that can improve Singapore’s built environment such as advanced and sustainable building materials, technologies for green buildings and automation for construction.
The BIP is also taking a more proactive role to facilitate identification, monitoring and adoption of new technologies or innovations. At the upstream research level, the BIP will match inventors of promising innovations with relevant adopters.
From the regulatory perspective, the BIP will review policies, regulations and requirements that may inhibit innovations. Where possible, the BIP will also facilitate the early involvement of relevant regulatory agencies – not just the BCA but any agency that is required to be involved – as soon as promising solutions have been identified.
To boost the capability of industry workforce and development talents, the BCA is putting in place talent development strategies under its new iBuildSG Leadership Engagement and Development (LEAD) framework.
Jointly developed with industry, the framework is building a core group of committed and enlightened leaders through three key approaches:
i. At industry level, the framework builds collective stewardship and develops leadership networks to foster strong collaboration across the construction value chain.
ii. At firm level, the framework supports firms in developing talent and mapping their leadership renewal in order to be more globally competitive.
iii. At individual level, the framework grooms individuals to advance the sector and recognises those with outstanding contributions.
Under the framework, the Singapore Management University and the Singapore University of Technology and Design will develop and execute the LEAD Horizon and LEAD Milestone Programmes to help industry leaders strengthen their leadership and innovation abilities, and learn from global best practices.
The BCA is also working with Workforce Singapore and the private sector to help companies build their capabilities to transform. Under the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme for instance, Workforce Singapore recently launched the WSG Lean Process and Job Redesign Programme for the Construction sector in collaboration with McKinsey & Company to support firms in their lean transformation journey. The programme helps firms to re-engineer their processes through integrated planning and scheduling and the use of the latest digital technologies. This will make the operations of participating firms more efficient.
Through deliberate effort, the construction industry has made slow but steady progress. Speaking at the BCA Awards Night on 29 May 2019, Mr Zaqy noted that since the productivity journey began nine years ago, the industry has enjoyed cumulative site productivity improvement of 15%.
By using Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction, or PPVC, companies have shaved off time and manpower. Said Mr Zaqy, “We now have about 10 completed PPVC projects, with about 70 others on-going. In total, more than 40 firms have gained experience in implementing PPVC projects. This is a very good start.”
Prefabricated Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing, or MEP, systems, which the BCA is promoting, is expected to generate equally good results. Nine facilities have started to produce prefabricated MEP systems locally, and 20 local projects have already adopted MEP systems.