The winners

Harnessing prefab tech to save time, manpower

Two local construction firms saw technological advancement as an opportunity and not a threat.

Teambuild and Tiong Seng - among Singapore's largest construction firms - have become the first adopters of prefab technology here and are well-placed for the industry's high-tech transformation.

Said Teambuild executive director Johnny Lim: "Conventional construction is facing many challenges. We knew that the (foreign worker) levy was going up and that the Government's direction was towards work productivity. So, we saw an opportunity to move forward."

In 2013, simulations run by Teambuild on some residential projects pointed to significant savings in manpower and time, although the technology cost around 20 per cent more than conventional methods.

Using prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC), a Housing Board project could be completed in 27 months instead of the typical three years, which means homebuyers could collect their keys earlier, said Mr Lim.

Today, the cost premium is less than 10 per cent, having shrunk as the technology matured.

Teambuild had set up a fully owned subsidiary, Integrated Precast Solutions, in 2013 that was already building smaller prefabricated components, so it had an advantage over other firms. Likewise, Tiong Seng started building its own PPVC capabilities in 2014.



    Percentage of contract sum taken by main building contractors


    Percentage of contract sum taken by mechanical, engineering, plumbing (MEP) and other sub-contractors and suppliers



    Percentage of contract sum taken by main building contractors


    Percentage of contract sum taken by prefabricators and MEP sub-contractors; most of the work is done off-site


    Additional amount that main contractors have to fork out in cost premium for the new technology - heavier lifting equipment needed, and the reliance on logistics firms to ship the building modules from the factory

    * Figures are estimates from GA Construction

They are among four firms that are developing their own PPVC factories, or integrated construction and prefabrication hubs (ICPHs), in Singapore. Both firms declined to say how much they spent on the technology. The land and research and development costs involved in building ICPHs all add up, putting pressure on the budgets of small and medium-sized enterprises.

But Tiong Seng project director Chiang Kian Hong said challenges posed by these cutting-edge technologies could be overcome with careful technical design and planning. The long-term gains in terms of productivity and competitiveness are worth the investment, he said.

The firm is using PPVC to build the workers' dormitories at JTC Space @ Tuas, which is expected to be completed later this year.

Mr Chiang estimated that PPVC would allow projects to be completed 30 per cent faster using 40 per cent less manpower, but they would cost 20-30 per cent more.

The use of PPVC was required in the tender, said a JTC spokesman, adding that developers also play a critical role in raising construction productivity standards.

Said Mr Chiang: "We are convinced PPVC is a ground-breaking solution for Singapore's construction landscape that will enhance productivity, while improving construction quality and safety."

Ng Jun Sen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'Harnessing prefab tech to save time, manpower'. Print Edition | Subscribe