Construction Productivity: Singapore’s Tech Boost
Singapore’s construction productivity has recently seen a boon as the result of new advancements in technology. Here’s what you need to know about its future.
New technology and machinery, coupled with exciting breakthroughs in building materials, have lead to a major construction productivity boost in Singapore.
Traditionally, the country’s construction industry has been labour intensive, with workers expected to do everything, from erecting frameworks, laying bricks and casting concrete to tiling, painting, plumbing and electrical services.
But, with the global construction market set to grow by 85% over the next 15 years – and Singapore playing a major role in that – things had to change.
New Building Materials
The introduction of new materials has been particularly important to Singapore’s construction industry, as it is becoming a major authority in green building in South-East Asia. Since 2008, every new building has had to incorporate green design and undergo Green Mark assessment.
Plans to certify 80% of Singapore’s buildings for green compliance by 2030 will likely boost the development of new construction materials even further and open up exciting export opportunities.
Singapore is currently ranked the most sustainable city in Asia, and second in the world – that’s quite an achievement when you consider that just a year ago, it was in 10th position globally.
Growing Demand for Smart Building
The region’s leading trade show, BuildTech Asia, highlighted the growing demand for smart building and construction technology last year, saying the market would reach USD 1,036 billion by 2020.
Construction productivity basically means using less manpower to achieve the same amount of work. The availability of more machinery is certainly one factor in achieving this, with cranes, concrete pumps, excavators and hoists used on most construction sites.
Clearly, the introduction of more construction machinery can save man-hours, but this must be balanced with worksite health and safety requirements. The knock-on effect of more machinery is a greater demand for training and protective measures.
Prefabricated Construction a Game Changer
By far the biggest game-changer in Singapore’s construction industry has been the introduction of new materials and building techniques, such as Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction – or PPVC.
PPVC technology uses a light-weight steel modular system with room-sized units – complete with internal finishes, fixtures and fittings – pre-fabricated in factories and transported to construction sites for installation and assembly.
Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority is actively encouraging the construction industry to make more use of modules built offsite, to speed up construction, reduce noise and dust pollution and improve site safety .
Major Construction Productivity Boost
BCA says this method can boost construction productivity by up to 50% in terms of manpower and time savings, depending on the complexity of the projects.
This concept is not new; as far back as 2014, the BCA was pushing for not only PPVC, but also PBUs (prefabricated bathroom units) and CLT (cross-laminated timber).
CLT is another product that can be manufactured off-site to precise specification. Labelled the engineered wood of the future, CLT offers many benefits. It is extremely strong, yet lightweight (20% of the weight of concrete); durable, and has excellent insulation qualities. Being manufactured in factory conditions, it is also more precise, and there is less wastage.
The BCA says using CLT can achieve a productivity improvement of up to 25% in terms of manpower and time savings.
Specially engineered beams made of timber and lightweight steel are currently being used to build three industrial blocks in the city. The benefits in terms of productivity, worksite safety and construction quality are huge.
Companies that do take steps to boost construction productivity are recognised and rewarded by the BCA. This year, nine organisations received Construction Productivity Awards in May, the main winner being chosen for its use of precast elements and a structural steel system.
CapitaGreen also introduced some brand new construction technologies to Singapore, including the use of 3.5m bored piles for an office tower foundation. BCA said this reduced the number of piles needed and increased the efficiency of installation work.
Big Push for More Automation
The push for new technology and increased automation has come from several quarters. It is, of course, natural progression. But the need has also arisen due to concerns over rising costs, lack of local workers and new restrictions on the use of foreign labour.
Economic growth in Singapore increased the demand for better infrastructure, and as more work eventuated, the demand for workers also grew. With technology slow to reach the country’s construction sites, due to their large scale operations, the industry grew more labour intensive.
However, as long ago as the 1960s, the Singapore government foresaw a labour shortage problem, as locals chose cleaner, easier, more lucrative careers. That resulted in the introduction of foreign labour, which represented 81.2% of the construction force by 1998.
Cheap labour lead to low productivity and often, an unprofessional image. This is being actively remedied.
Government Measures in Place
The government launched its support at Singapore Construction Productivity Week in October 2014, introducing a host of new measures and requirements, and putting millions of dollars into a productivity fund. This was backed up by also increasing training opportunities.
One very smart move by the Singapore government was putting conditions on the parcels of land it periodically sold for development. The condition was that the developer used modular or prefabricated techniques. With land at a premium, this was a major incentive to improve.
The turnaround in construction techniques and productivity is nothing short of impressive, and it’s clear that this is only the beginning. We are likely to see many more new concepts and materials being developed, and increasing collaboration between construction industry professionals.
Just the Beginning
For example, one suggestion has been to take the concept of modular buildings even further, by developing and selling complete flat pack homes, which could be delivered by courier. Already this has created some concerns over quality and safety.
In another bold move, a feasibility study is being undertaken to explore the concept of 3D-printed homes. If this concept becomes reality, house storeys will be printed and then assembled onsite, probably using PPVC.
This is one of the most innovative concepts in construction today, and clearly has some way to go, with new 3D printers yet to be developed. But the fact that ideas like this are emerging confirms that Singapore is well on its way to becoming a world leader in the building industry, with construction productivity set to soar.