Push for digital tech to power building sector

Benefits include faster construction, lower cost and higher quality

An artist's impression of the JTC Logistics Hub at Gul Circle. The project's main contractor, Kimly Construction, is an early user of Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) and has spent more than $4 million on such technologies since 2010. Kimly director
An artist's impression of the JTC Logistics Hub at Gul Circle. The project's main contractor, Kimly Construction, is an early user of Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) and has spent more than $4 million on such technologies since 2010. Kimly director Roy Khoo said IDD has allowed his firm to visualise, coordinate, communicate and build more efficiently and effectively with project partners.PHOTO: JTC

Software developers, data analysts and designers with virtual reality goggles working in the building sector.

Such high-value-added jobs never seen before in the construction industry could become meaningful careers in future if a plan to spur the sector to go digital takes off, said Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

Mr Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, spoke on the sidelines of a visit to the upcoming JTC Logistics Hub at Gul Circle. He was referring to a newly unveiled plan to encourage digitalisation of construction processes.

The aim is to have, by 2020, 40 to 60 construction sites implementing Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) technologies that cut out laborious paper-based processes and allow designers, builders and facility managers to communicate with one another digitally, said the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in a press statement.

  • Digital technologies at work

  • JTC Logistics Hub, an upcoming warehouse development at Gul Circle, is among 12 demonstration projects that will feature the use of Integrated Digital Delivery methods in its construction.

    Here is a look at how main contractor Kimly Construction has tapped technology for the project:

    1. DIGITAL LOGISTICS MANAGEMENT 

    The location and delivery schedules of components, such as large pre-fabricated pieces, can be tracked via radio frequency identification tags from the factory to the final installation site.

    This is due to special gantries that can detect when the component departs or arrives at the worksite, and a smart crane that can automatically determine where the component should be installed.

    2. DIGITAL ORDERING AND MANUFACTURING 

    Rather than sending spreadsheets of order forms by e-mail, Kimly orders reinforced bars from supplier NatSteel by way of a new digital software, cutting down on unnecessary paperwork. The better workflow has led to productivity improvements of up to 70 per cent, said Kimly.

    3. SITE PROGRESS MONITORING 

    Aerial drones are used to check the progress of the development, using a technique known as photogrammetry to create 3D-like images. There is also an omni-directional camera that captures the state of the worksite at various development milestones, allowing people to "walk through" the site virtually.

    4. CLOUD-BASED COLLABORATION 

    The site's project office allows different stakeholders to co-locate and work on digital information coming from the worksite. Those not physically present can still work with the site team through cloud-enabled collaboration, navigating 3D building plans as if they are on the construction site.

The first 12 demonstration projects using such technologies have been identified. They include the JTC Logistics Hub, Punggol Town Hub and Sloane Residences in Balmoral Road.

The plan also aims to raise competencies for at least 150 firms and around 300 to 400 key personnel, who will be able to develop skills such as virtual collaboration, artificial intelligence and data analytics.

These skills would enable the use of a wide range of construction technologies, from virtual reality and imaging technology for inspecting building plans to sensors that track whether supplies arrive on time at the construction site.

A key benefit is that buildings could be constructed faster, at a lower cost and of higher quality arising from improved defect detection and inspections.

Contractors who are early adopters of IDD said they have cut construction time by 35 to 39 per cent.

The BCA noted that IDD is heavily driven by information and communications technology and data, and there is a wide range of application software solutions for different project parties.

Thus, there is a need for common solutions and standards, it added.

To this end, the BCA and Infocomm Media Development Authority launched a $4 million tender for proposals to develop digital platforms for the construction industry.

The BCA will also help beef up digital skill sets across the building industry through courses and programmes, such as the Imperial College London-BCA Executive Development Programme, which supports the development of leadership in offsite pre-fabricated construction methods and IDD.

Kimly Construction, the main contractor for the JTC Logistics Hub, is an early user of IDD and has spent more than $4 million on such technologies since 2010.

Kimly director Roy Khoo said IDD has allowed his firm to visualise, coordinate, communicate and build more efficiently and effectively with project partners, including suppliers and sub-contractors.

The IDD plan is a key part of the Government's broader road map to transform the building industry, said Mr Lee.

Responding to whether smaller firms might be at the losing end of technological changes, he said the benefits of IDD will cascade to all involved in these projects, including smaller firms and sub-contractors.

 
 

"Through on-site participation, through training by the main contractors, we can get the larger ecosystem of firms in the built environment sector, especially sub-contractors, to take on IDD and derive value from the tools available."

When the entire sector becomes innovative, integrated and forward-looking, IDD can become a competitive edge for Singaporean firms to venture overseas by themselves, or help bring their partners along to "build the Singapore style" abroad, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2018, with the headline 'Push for digital tech to power building sector'. Subscribe