Construction firms to get help adopting robotics, automation amid manpower crunch

Robotics and automation solutions will help SMEs, as well as larger firms, in the built environment sector reduce reliance on low-skilled manpower and increase productivity. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Construction companies, affected by a prolonged manpower shortage, can soon get up to 80 per cent of funding support to adopt robotics and automation solutions.

This comes under an initiative jointly launched by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority on Thursday (Sept 9).

Such robotics and automation tools will help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as larger ones, in the built environment sector reduce reliance on low-skilled manpower and increase productivity. They can also help improve worksite safety.

For example, labour-intensive tasks such as painting and drilling could be automated and sped up through the adoption of these solutions.

Robotics and automation could also help to reduce the risk of falls from height and injuries associated with lifting and transporting heavy equipment within worksites.

The Integrated Robotics and Automation Solutions initiative for the built environment sector was unveiled by Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How in his speech at the International Built Environment Week on Thursday. The four-day virtual event ends on Friday.

He urged vendors with ready robotics and automation solutions to submit their proposals to help enterprises in the sector and called on firms to tap these solutions when they are made available.

SMEs and larger firms can get up to 80 per cent funding support for qualifying costs of adopting these solutions.

Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Communications and Information, also noted how the BCA has put in place an ecosystem to support robotics and automation providers, from the early research and innovation stages to deployment.

The Building Innovation Panel, which was set up in 2011 to facilitate regulatory clearance of innovative solutions and expanded to include more areas such as robotics and automation in 2019, has also helped to promote test-bedding opportunities.

So far, 100 in-principle acceptances have been issued by the panel, including for two robotics and automation solutions.

One project that has received in-principle approval is an autonomous robo-carrier, which will be deployed in the expansion of Mount Alvernia Hospital later this year.

The robot will be able to help carry heavy construction materials on-site and is expected to increase site productivity by 30 per cent as well as improve worksite safety.

Mr Tan added: "Oftentimes, it is not just about innovation at one worksite. But innovation allows us to benefit... a wider group of stakeholders at the precinct level, and sometimes (it is) only at the precinct level that we can get economies of scale at critical mass to try out new solutions."

More than 10 companies have put forth a total of over 30 proposals to trial new emerging technologies under the Built Environment Living Laboratory Framework launched last year, he said. These proposals are under evaluation.

Mr Tan also noted how the nature of jobs will be transformed as more technology tools are adopted in the built environment sector, and how this shift must be supported by a strong pipeline of talent.

This is partly developed through collaboration with institutes of higher learning and professionals in the sector to attract talent to the industry, he said.

"But it's not just about growing a talent pipeline for tomorrow, it is (also) about upskilling our existing workforce," Mr Tan added, noting how schemes have been launched to promote the recognition of skills to support career progression in the sector.

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