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On Course for a Better, Brighter Future

After a lacklustre performance in 2017, the construction sector is poised for a rebound on higher demand from both the public and private sectors. According to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) contracts totalling between S$26 billion and S$31 billion could be awarded in the course of 2018, a significant improvement over the S$24.5 billion awarded in the previous year.

Public projects will account for the giant chunk, which the BCA estimates to be between S$16 billion and S$19 billion, but private sector demand is also expected to strengthen to between S$10 billion and S$12 billion.

Speaking at the annual BCA-Redas Built Environment and Property Prospects Seminar in January 2018, Desmond Lee, Second Minister for National Development, said, “BCA projects that construction demand for private residential projects could be up to S$3.6 billion this year. Some of this will be generated by the spate of en-bloc sales which will also lead to increased supply of new private housing units over the next few years.”

Demand in the private commercial property sector is also expected to pick up, backed by upcoming office development projects at Central Boulevard and Harbour Drive.

In the medium term, the BCA estimates that construction demand will reach from S$26 billion to S$33 billion per year for 2019 and 2020, and S$28 billion to S$35 billion per year for 2021 and 2022.

As in previous years, the public sector is likely to lead demand and contribute from S$16 billion to S$20 billion per year from 2019 to 2022, with an almost equal split between building projects and civil engineering works.

An Industry in Transformation
A new roadmap, the Construction Integrated Transformation Map (ITM), has been developed to chart the way forward. A collaborative effort from the industry, unions, academia and the government, it calls for the transformation of the whole construction sector – the entire process and value chain from end-to-end.

Speaking at the launch in October 2017, Mr Lee said, “What we want to do is set the conditions for the entire industry to upgrade, to upskill, and to offer cutting edge products and services. This is particularly salient given the difficult market conditions that many of us face today.”

The core of the construction transformation journey involves:
• utilising more effective and productive construction methods,
• embracing more digitalisation, and
• strengthening the local workforce so that more Singaporeans can benefit from these new opportunities.

Using Effective and Productive Construction Methods
The BCA has identified Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (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. Singapore aims to increase DfMA adoption to 40% by 2020.

To facilitate this, more automated Integrated Construction and Prefabrication Hubs (ICPHs) are being built. Two more ICPHs are under construction, and there are plans for another five, bringing the industry total to 10.

Embracing Digitalisation
A digital wave is sweeping across the world, transforming everything in its wake. As data-led tools and processes with the capacity to boost productivity in design and construction have become available, the industry can leverage on this to enable new levels of efficiency and collaboration across the supply chain.

Under the ITM, the BCA is encouraging industry players to adopt the Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), which uses cloud and digital technology to integrate stakeholders in the building life cycle to connect the entire project delivery process from design, fabrication to assembly onsite, as well as operations and maintenance of buildings when construction is completed.

The IDD builds on the Building Information Modelling (BIM), a 3D digital visualisation tool which the BCA has actively promoted for the management of data from design to construction during the construction life cycle.

“This means the accuracy of construction plans can be improved, conflicts are resolved at the design stage – not at the construction phase, and there is better co-ordination of the production, delivery and installation of building modules onsite. This saves time and reduces abortive and wasteful work downstream,” said Mr Lee.

“But it is not just about more efficient construction. IDD can also help us achieve savings by taking a life cycle perspective at the design stage. As facilities managers will tell you, the operations and maintenance (O&M) of a building throughout its life cycle can cost up to four to five times more than the cost of actual construction. If we can optimise O&M through designing and building using IDD, the potential life cycle savings will be considerable,” he added.

Firms such as WOHA, Greyform, Kimly, Eastern Pretech, Lendlease and Lum Chang have started using tools like radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging and data analytics to track and automate their project processes.

To drive the adoption of the IDD, the BCA is developing a masterplan, bringing the various parties and stakeholders together. For starters, there are plans to develop shared platforms and standards to ensure IDD interoperability across the entire construction value chain.

Strengthening Manpower
The transformation of the sector will throw up fresh opportunities for Singaporeans. New roles will be created for production engineers as well as supervisors overseeing manufacturing of prefabricated concrete walls. As the traditional worksite will become more streamlined, it would require fewer but more skilled workers able to operate smarter machines and tools.

To meet the requirements, the ITM anticipates that 80,000 professionals specialising in Green Buildings, DfMA and IDD will have to be trained by 2025, up from 32,600 currently.

Mr Lee remarked, “The construction ITM is a big step, but it is really a first step in our transformation journey for the entire Built Environment sector. We are also developing plans to transform the real estate, security, environmental services and landscape sectors. Together, they make up the whole built environment. For instance, we are looking into how the facilities management industry can be further strengthened, and whether they can better leverage on IDD to use BIM models to better manage buildings and infrastructure throughout their life cycle.”

The BCA has set up BuildSG, a one-stop office to provide companies the support they need to make the transition. A couple of programmes have been rolled out. In partnership with the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL), BuildSG is enhancing the BCA-SCAL Productivity Clinic to enable more firms to build capability in DfMA and IDD. It is also working with the Singapore Institute of Architects to develop a knowledge platform and design guides for architects, covering best practices in areas such as DfMA and IDD.

“What we are doing is ambitious. But this is necessary ambition. We all want the same thing – which is a vibrant and successful built environment sector. We want strong and profitable firms that thrive locally and abroad. We want good jobs for Singaporeans. We want cutting edge capabilities anchored in Singapore. This will be no small feat, and the journey will be tough, but collectively we can do it together. Just like the ITM, when everyone collaborates, big things can happen!” said Mr Lee.