BCA unveils R&D roadmap to raise productivity in construction industry

BCA unveils R&D roadmap to raise productivity in construction industry
Three-D printing has been identified as one of the technologies that can help the construction industry improve productivity. Photo: Lee Yen Nee/TODAY
Published: 1:03 PM, October 18, 2016
Updated: 9:38 PM, October 18, 2016

SINGAPORE — The use of technologies and innovation can result in better quality structures and shorter building times, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said as it unveiled a research and development (R&D) roadmap to lift productivity in the construction industry.

Dr John Keung, chief executive of BCA, said techniques such as prefabrication allow certain parts of the building works to be carried out offsite at factories. Doing this allows for better quality control and shortens the time taken to complete projects.

“The conventional way of construction is build the foundation, do up the superstructure. After that’s done, do the architectural finishings and so on. But under DfMA (design for manufacturing and assembly), while you are doing foundation and piling, you can at the same time build up the superstructure at the factory — you overlap these two activities so speed is faster. And the fact that you’re doing it in the factory, you can … do quality control just like the manufacturing industry,” Dr Keung said on Tuesday (Oct 18) on the sidelines of the Singapore Construction Productivity Week. 

Under the R&D roadmap, 35 technologies under seven clusters have been identified to help contractors change the way they build and sustain productivity improvements in the long term. The clusters include DfMA, robotics and 3D printing. As a start, BCA has awarded S$2 million to four research projects that will focus on DfMA solutions.

Mr Kenneth Loo, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, said even though the construction sector is a conservative one, the adoption of new technologies is gaining traction among industry players, especially with the tightening of foreign manpower hiring policies. 

Site productivity in Singapore, measured by site area per man-day, has increased by an average of 1.3 per cent per year since 2009, with the figure hitting 2 per cent per year in the last two years, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the Singapore Construction Productivity Week. He added that the aim is to improve productivity by up to 3 per cent annually until 2020.

“We have made headway in our productivity journey… We are entering a new phase of disruption, which makes industry transformation more urgent than before. We can either change ourselves or be changed by external circumstances,” he said.

Besides the R&D roadmap, the Government will also look into stipulating productivity outcomes as a requirement in future tenders of Government Land Sale (GLS) sites, without mandating specific technologies that developers have to use. Currently, the Government mandates the use of prefabricated, pre-finished volumetric construction for selected GLS sites. 

Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said this may discourage smaller developers from bidding in GLS tenders as they may lack the know-how and financial muscle needed to achieve the stipulated outcomes. 

Dr Keung said the Government is working towards creating more demand for these technologies through public sector projects. This will also help the industry gain experience in using these technologies.
“Once our industry is more familiar, once we have the economies of scale, then costs definitely will come down,” he said.