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Transforming the Way We Build Singapore

SBD2021_ED01_pix01Singapore has weathered a few tough years in the built environment between 2015 and 2017. Since then, it has progressively begun to make a turnaround. In 2018, the demand in construction picked up to S$30.5 billion – a 23 percent increase from the year before. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in their press release on 8 January 2020 reported that in 2019, total construction demand expanded by 9.5 percent to reach S$33.4 billion, about S$1.4 billion higher than the upper end of BCA’s 2019 forecast of S$27 billion to S$32 billion. This was largely attributed to a higher than expected construction demand. In the private sector, demand increased for new petrochemical facilities by Linde and ExxonMobil and en bloc residential projects. In the public sector, construction demand grew with the award of industrial and institutional building projects in the Punggol Digital District, on top demand for major civil engineering projects. The total preliminary construction demand last year for the public and private sector was S$19 billion and S$14.4 billion respectively.

Despite the economic headwinds and global uncertainties, Singapore remains optimistic about the construction demand in 2020 and beyond. BCA projects the total construction demand in 2020 to range between S$28 billion and S$33 billion this year, with the public sector expected to take up about 60 percent of the projected demand, reaching S$17.5 billion and S$20.5 billion, spurred by major infrastructure projects such as the Integrated Waste Management Facility, infrastructure works for Changi Airport Terminal 5, Jurong Region MRT Line and Cross Island MRT Line. For the private sector, construction demand is projected to be between S$10.5 billion and S$12.5 billion this year, supported by projects such as redevelopment of en bloc sale sites, recreational developments at Mandai Park, Changi Airport new taxiway and berth facilities at Jurong Port and Tanjong Pagar Terminal.

Beyond 2020, construction demand is expected to hold steady, with the projected construction demand to be between S$27 and S$34 billion per year from 2021 to 2022, and between S$28 and S$35 billion per year from 2023 to 2024. The public sector will continue to lead demand and is expected to contribute S$16 billion to S$20 billion per year from 2021 to 2024 with building projects and civil engineering works each taking up about half of the demand. Besides public residential developments, public sector construction demand over the medium term will continue to be supported by various mega infrastructure projects. BCA expects private sector construction demand to stay at a moderate level in view of the likely continued global economic uncertainties and the current overhang in the supply of private residential housing units. The planned expansion of the two Integrated Resorts at Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa could provide further upside to private sector demand, depending on their eventual construction timelines and phasing.

Industry transformation efforts
Since the launch of the Construction Industry Transformation Map in 2017, the built environment sector has been engaged in three key transformation areas: Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) and Green Building, underpinned by research and innovation and manpower development. This will improve construction processes and methods and ultimately create new and better jobs for those working in the sector.

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA)
A key strategic thrust in the industry’s ongoing drive to raise construction productivity is Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA). Through the DfMA approach, building parts are manufactured in factories before being transported onsite for assembly, enabling projects to be completed faster, cleaner, quieter and with better quality.

Over the course of more than 140 DfMA projects, this approach has achieved higher quality, productivity and sustainability in a traditionally manpower-intensive construction industry. Three Singapore firms have also been investing in capability building to undertake DfMA projects. To date, more than 80 (architectural, C&S, engineering and M&E) consultancy firms and about 60 builders have undertaken over 140 DfMA projects in Singapore. Several leading firms have started investing in highly automated plants to produce higher quality prefabricated components and modules for DfMA in Singapore.

In all, the built environment industry has, since 2010, achieved a cumulative site productivity improvement of about 15 percent. The DfMA adoption rate by the industry was at 22 percent in 2018. As of 2019, the built environment industry has achieved a 31 percent DfMA adoption rate and is on track to reach the target of 40 percent this year. Looking further ahead, BCA aims to raise the adoption rate to 70 percent by 2025.

In the public sector, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) continues to take the lead in adopting DfMA in their building projects where 75 percent of all its units launched in 2020 will adopt DfMA methods such as Prefabricated Pre-finished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) or Advanced Precast Concrete System (APCS). HDB has adopted PPVC since 2016, and will be adopting PPVC for 30 percent of units launched this year. PPVC involves the fabrication of modules off-site in a controlled manufacturing environment, which are later brought to site for assembly.

As the public sector continues to take the lead in the adoption of DfMA, the BuildSG Transformation Fund (BTF) has set aside S$120 million under the Public Sector Construction Productivity Fund (PSCPF) for public sector agencies to adopt DfMA in projects launched by 2021. Private sector projects may continue to seek funding support for projects which adopt DfMA technologies voluntarily through the Productivity Innovation Project (PIP) scheme. City Developments Limited (CDL) is another forerunner in the DfMA journey. The success of their first and voluntary PPVC project, the Brownstone Executive Condominium, paved the way for subsequent PPVC projects such as the Tapestry (TOP Oct 2021) and Whistler Grand (TOP Oct 2022). The Brownstone EC featured some 5,000 PPVC modules casted from 66 different mould designs, and is likely the world’s largest and first-of-its-kind application of concrete PPVC for a large-scale private residential development. By using the PPVC method, the Brownstone EC increased productivity by over 40 percent, compared to conventional construction methods.

To accelerate DfMA adoption, BCA enhanced its Buildability Framework at the end of 2019. Large (25,000 square metres and above) residential (non-landed) developments now need to meet a higher buildable design score through adopting more advanced DfMA technologies. This was to encourage more innovative solutions from the industry, as long as they meet the stipulated productivity outcomes, and in recognition of the fact that developments of this size are able to capitalise on the benefits of DfMA and enjoy economies of scale from off-site (factory) production.

To meet this strong upcoming demand for DfMA, BCA has also catered more sites in Singapore for Integrated Construction and Prefabrication Hubs (ICPHs) to build up the supply capacity. The 4th and 5th ICPHs by Soilbuild and Teambuild have been operational since last year and the 6th ICPH by Hong Leong-Sunway is slated to be in operation by 2022. At the end of 2019, BCA released two more ICPH-sites at Jalan Gali Batu, for tender.

Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD)
Digitalisation continues to be a key transformation focus area and Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), has proven to be a game changer for the sector since its launch in November 2018. 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: namely, from design, to off-site fabrication, to on-site assembly and construction, and finally to operations and maintenance.

In the area of IDD, there are now 35 public and private sector projects piloting IDD, compared to 12 projects in 2018, making steady progress towards BCA’s 2020 target of piloting 40 to 60 IDD projects and building up IDD capabilities in 150 to 180 firms. The use of IDD in the built environment has reaped benefits such as productivity gains, with closer collaborations among stakeholders throughout the building life cycle; reduction of waste by minimising rework; and improving quality and site safety. Firms can tap on the Productivity Innovation Project (PIP) scheme under the BuildSG Transformation Fund (BTF) to support their IDD implementation.

Firms which have embarked on the IDD journey, have reported an increase in productivity, and a reduction in costs. For example, BHCC Construction shared that it aims to achieve 30 percent time savings during the design stage of a project by using a Virtual Reality (VR) collaboration system which allows members of a project team to collaborate and coordinate designs by merging Building Information Modelling (BIM) data into a single model. During the construction stage, BHCC Construction achieved 25 percent time savings by using a project management platform that enables all project parties to be updated on the progress of the project, including status tracking of precast components. BHCC Construction also targets to achieve 25 percent time savings by digitalising its management of site safety records.

The benefits of IDD also extend to Facilities Management (FM). At the PSA Tuas Port Maintenance Base, which is currently under construction, the project team will be integrating the building’s BIM data into an asset management system. This will allow the future FM team to plan and execute building maintenance work with 20 percent efficiency improvement.

In further efforts to develop an IDD ecosystem with enabling solutions and standards, BCA and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) awarded Delphi the first technology grant call to develop a Construction Digital Platform in 2019. This platform, which is built on open standards, would enhance interoperability across various IDD and BIM softwares, enable seamless exchange of data, and promote deeper and wider collaboration across the industry. Third-party service providers, such as quantity surveyors, M&E consultants and DfM consultants, can offer their own digital products and services on the platform. The ability to more accurately estimate demand for materials and manpower, realise just-in-time efficiencies, ensure error-free transactions, and eventual reduction of re-work through the use of new digital and data services, are some of the benefits of such a digital platform.

To help firms build up their digital capabilities, BCA and IMDA, in partnership with SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), developed the Construction and Facilities Management Industry Digital Plan (IDP). The IDP aims to guide small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in their digital transformation efforts through a three-stage roadmap and will provide them with a step-by-step guide on the solutions to adopt at each stage of their IDD journey. Under the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG), S$19 million has been set aside until January 2023 to defray the costs for adoption of pre-approved digital solutions that improve productivity. SMEs can apply for this grant through the Business Grant Portal.

Green Buildings
The commitment to making green buildings continues to be a priority for Singapore. As of December 2019, Singapore has greened more than 40 percent of its buildings, which is halfway toward the 2030 national target of 80 percent. To move to the next phase, BCA and the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) will co-create the next Singapore Green Building Masterplan (SGBMP 2020) with stakeholders from the public, private and people sectors, including Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs).

Research and Innovation
In the built environment sector, research and innovation has transformed. The Built Environment Accelerate to Market Programme (BEAMP) has opened up new opportunities for start-ups and innovators in the built environment sector. Since its launch, it has garnered interest from 53 innovators within the built environment and adjacent sectors. From this pool of innovators, 14 were shortlisted to work with companies in the built environment to solve real life challenges. One such firm is Tagvance who worked with Straits Construction to develop an Internet of Things (IoT) network, to relay positioning data of people and assets so as to enhance safety on the worksite. The novelty of this development is in its ability to address the challenge of penetrating through dense concrete structures to track vertical positioning in both semi-confined and large spaces which are both quite common on construction sites.

Good Jobs and a Better Working Environment for Locals
As the built environment sector continues to progress with industry transformation, there is a need for a strong core of local PMETs to sustain our efforts. Transformation has brought about new and higher-skilled jobs, which makes the sector more attractive to locals. For example, the wider adoption of DfMA technologies and Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the sector has created job roles such as BIM modellers, production managers, and logistics and supply chain planners, which would appeal to mid-career entrants and tech-savvy youngsters. On this front, BCA is working with the Workforce Singapore (WSG) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to enhance the Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) for the built environment sector. Those currently employed in the sector and those seeking a mid-career switch can apply for these PCPs.

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