Record Breaking

Recently, CNN featured a record-breaking construction feat in Changsha, China where a new hotel of 30 storeys was built in 15 days:

Our Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is visiting Changsha to glean some learning points for us.

Different cities have different building challenges. As a result, they deliver different construction speeds. One measurement of construction speed is the cycle time – the average time taken to complete one storey in a typical high-rise building.

If we do a simple comparison of Singapore’s cycle time against Hong Kong and China:

Hong Kong is a star performer. Why?

HK does not allow any foreign construction workers. It has its own pool of local skilled construction workers who command very high wages. Typically their construction labour cost is about 5 times that in Singapore.

With such high labour cost, developers must find ways to standardise the construction work as much as possible to save on labour cost. As a result, their productivity is high and construction pace is fast.

(For the same reason, in Hong Kong, once the design is finalised, developers often do not entertain changes so construction can proceed with minimal disruption.)

China’s construction productivity is actually not that high. (The Changsha project is unusual.) However, China has the advantage of ample resources that can be quickly mobilised to achieve fast construction, often 24 hours round the clock.

That said, we should try to up our construction productivity. BCA is pushing for more buildable designs and construction. Through the new Constructability Scoring system, BCA hopes to get contractors to move away from traditional labour-intensive construction to more off-site and more advanced methods. Its $250 million Construction Productivity and Capability Fund offer incentives for contractors to adopt productive systems and machinery.

We must also raise the skill level of construction workers. We must reduce the influx of less skilled foreign workers and steer the industry towards labour-saving construction methods. BCA is facilitating the upgrading and retention of experienced workers, and grooming a group of productivity managers to lead productivity improvements at construction sites.

BCA is also promoting Building Information Modelling to help the design and construction team to anticipate potential problems and resolve them before construction starts. This will help speed up construction, minimise rework and wastages, without compromising quality. The early involvement of contractors can further smoothen the construction process later on.

Developers leading the productivity drive is a key success factor, as they finance the project and drive the entire construction value chain from consultants to contractors and suppliers. This is evident in the case of HDB where prefabrication and other efficient methods of construction are specified into the building contracts.

As a rule, the more we can make off-site, the less time we need to be on the construction site itself. And the earlier we finalise the design process and involve the contractor, the faster the construction can proceed.

Faster can indeed be better, all round.

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