Technology Knows No Bounds

January 17, 2013

We are pushing our construction industry to up its productivity and to reduce our reliance on unskilled foreign construction workers.  We need quantum leap, not just incremental improvements.  Technology is key to this.

Sophisticated IT and its greater use is one approach. Locally, architects, engineers and builders are using Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology more frequently.  BCA is pushing this with a view to make BIM an essential tool in every designer’s office.

But it is not just BIM.

There are a number of other advanced construction technologies and systems that are being tested and implemented around the world. We are encouraged that some of our more enlightened local developers and construction firms have already begun searching for such new technologies to improve the way they build and push for higher productivity.

In this post, I would like to introduce three specific technologies: contour crafting, Cross Laminated Timber and Unitised Building System.  They can significantly boost construction productivity if successfully applied in Singapore.

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Contour crafting is still in development.  It is similar to 3D printing but applied to buildings. Instead of transforming digital models into 3D objects using ink, an entire building can be ‘printed’ rapidly and efficiently using layers of concrete. In other words, a 2500 sq ft house can be built, complete with electrical and plumbing fittings, in less than 24 hours!  A simple house in 24 hours, can you imagine that?

While contour crafting may still seem far-fetched as of now, a simpler variant of this concept applied to manufacturing the specific building components is already here, in the form of robotic fabrication.

In Singapore, we are exploring the design of robotic fabricated high-rise buildings, where robots can assemble building components such as bricks in pre-programmed patterns. The Futures Cities Laboratory, under the Singapore-ETH Centre, is working on such an idea. At this stage, their goal is not (yet) to automate the entire building process but rather to identify the points at which robotic intervention can replace the labour-intensive and inefficient work like tiling.

min blog_pic2Another notable technology is the use of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).  This is already being used in Australia, the UK and many parts of Europe. Essentially, CLT is manufactured by binding layers of timber to produce a solid timber panel which can support heavy loads like the structural and non-structural components in buildings. They are prefabricated in factories and assembled on-site, leading to productivity gain and time savings.

Through the use of CLT, The Forte, a 10-storey residential development in Melbourne, was completed in 11 months instead of 14 months with only 4 workers, 2 crane crews and 1 supervisor on-site. CLT cut its construction time by about 30%.

Finally, Unitised Building (UB) System is a modular system where room-sized units complete with internal finishes, fixtures and fittings are manufactured in factories, and are then transported to site for installation in a Lego-like manner. This is a great solution as prefabricating the UB modules in factories away from residential areas means reduced construction noise and dust pollution, besides cutting out labour intensive wet trades on-site. The typical UB system cuts down construction time by 50%, and has been applied to a wide variety of buildings including hotels, residential developments and student hostels.

BCA will continue to assist firms in introducing new construction technologies into Singapore, by facilitating approval processes among the various building regulatory agencies here. The future is already here, in several other parts of the world.  Let’s make sure Singapore is not left out.


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