Construction productivity in Singapore – changing the way they build

Posted on 06 June 2017

Source: SEAISI
At the 2017 SEAISI Conference & Exhibition held in Singapore, Dr. John Keung, CEO of Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority, shared the concept of how to improve construction productivity in the country.
Singapore is a small country with a limited land area of 720 km2 and a population of 5.6 million people. The country’s economic growth has been stagnating at around 1-2% each year. 
Pre-2010, Singapore was facing the problem of inexperienced foreign workers growth in tandem with growing construction output in the country as the sector was labour intensive. Out of the total of more than 360,000 workers in the construction sector, approximately 70% were foreigners and 49% of the total were inexperienced workforce (with experience of less than 4 years). This was one of the main reasons for the high production cost and low productivity for the construction sector in Singapore before 2010. 
In view of the above, the Singapore government started to embark on an aggressive plan to address the productivity problem. They have implemented several measures with the aim of improving productivity in the construction sector. They are:
1. Raise manpower cost to drive technology substitution
The government set quotas for foreign workers and raised the foreign worker levy. With that, the construction sector is forced to go for technology substitution in order to reduce cost. 
2. Set minimum standard through the buildability framework
Set minimum buildable design score for architects and 
engineer work and a minimum constructability score for builders. 
3. Incentivize private sector to be 1st movers
Provided funds to, i) build capability through training courses, giving scholarship, sponsorship to enhanced built environment, ii) integrate value chain in construction sector by introducing Building Information Modelling (BIM) Fund, and iii) adopt technology for construction sector. The government introduced Mechanisation Credit (MechC) Scheme and Productivity Improvement Projects (PIP) for the industry. 
Mechanisation Credit (MechC) Scheme is to encourage buidlers to mechanise manual workers and reduce labour reliance. The government provides support by co-funding equipment purchase and lease
Productivity Improvement Projects (PIP) is to encourage technology adoption and process re-engineering through project co-funding
4. Drive BIM adoption through regulation to level up industry
Starting from 2010, the government launched BIM to the industry and BIM submission was voluntary. In 2015, the country successfully made BIM submission mandatory for new building projects of more than 5,000m2 
5. Drive productivity through public sector procurement
The government aims to achieve 25-30% productivity improvement from 2010 levels for all new projects launched in the country. 
6. Nurture a pipeline of building professionals
Many training programmes and seminars have been provided as well as scholarships and sponsorships for all levels, from diplomas to degree courses in universities. 
The government has set productivity target with an annual average of 2-3% productivity improvement by 2020. According to Dr. Keung, within 6 years from 2010, there was a total 10% cumulative improvement in site productivity (defined as floor area completed per manday). The composition of workforce in the construction sector also improved from 2% higher skilled R1 workers in 2011 to 40% in 2010. 
The government also takes it seriously in terms of increasing adoption of BIM across the construction value chain. In 2016, 86% of larger consultants in Singapore have adopted BIM in their businesses, while 65% of the larger contractors have also done the same. Meanwhile, 42% of smaller consultants and 47% of small contractors have adopted BIM. 

Singapore’s construction firms have also adopted the idea of DfMA or Design for Manufacturing and Assembly in their construction works. With this, there will be more control on offsite environment by using more automation and offshoring works. As a result, the Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction or PPVC method was also introduced. In the case of the construction of the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Hotel, which used PPVC methods, 40% fewer workers were needed on-site and the construction of one storey of the building took only 3-4 days, compared to 14-21 days for conventional methods. There was an overall productivity boost of about 45%.The government aims to achieve the target of 40% adoption rate for DfMA technologies by 2020. 

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