News: Construction firms reap benefits of digitalisation despite challenges

Feb 11, 2020

Construction companies that embraced digitalisation benefitted from increased resource and time savings.

With the launch of the Construction Industry Transformation Map in 2017, Singapore’s built-environment industry has been experiencing a steady transformation towards digitalisation.

In fact, the industry was “making steady progress” in achieving BCA’s 2020 target, said Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) CEO Hugh Lim at last month’s BCA-REDAS Built Environment and Property Prospects Seminar.

The agency aims to have 40 to 60 Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) projects as well as 150 to 180 companies with IDD capabilities by 2020.

Singapore currently has 35 private and public sector projects piloting IDD. Among these projects are Rochester Commons mixed development by CapitaLand, PSA Corp’s Tuas Port Maintenance Base and the Kim Chuan Depot by the Land Transport Authority, reported CNA.

Leveraging on data and digital technologies to connect various parties involved in a project, IDD sees companies using digital technology to integrate the whole construction process. It utilises a collaborative 3D modelling technology known as Building Information Modelling (BIM), smart technologies and advanced infocomm.

Construction companies that embraced digitalisation benefitted from increased resource and time savings.

For instance, BHCC Construction, which has been utilising BIM technology for around seven years, reduced the time spent in the construction stage by 25% by providing all project partners with real-time updates.

Concrete and logistics firm Pan-United Corporation Ltd also registered 45% in cost and manpower savings following the roll-out of their own digital platform – (Artificial Intelligence for Ready-Mix Concrete) AiR – in 2014, said its CEO May Ng.

A centralised operation system for ready-mix concrete companies, AiR helps oversee trucking fleet management, manage ready-mix concrete batching plant production as well as oversee quality control and inventory management.

“It allows us to eliminate the manual work and to upskill our employees, enhancing their career development. The AiR System also promotes transparency and timeliness of information, resulting in more cohesive teamwork among employees and our service providers,” revealed Ng.

Nanyang Technological University’s School of Civil & Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Robert Tiong, however, noted that there remains a “considerable time lag” of digitalisation in actual practice.

Citing a 2019 study, Tiong said the results indicate that most construction projects had low IT usage.

“In other words, traditional approaches still dominate information transmission and collection,” he said.

Construction firms attribute this to the challenges faced in implementing digital technologies.

BHCC Construction discovered that there were various kinds of software in the market, making it hard for the company to merge software.

Pan-United, on the other hand, pointed to the difficulty in changing the mindset of industry workers, such as “drivers of concrete mixer trucks, and tipper truck drivers of raw materials”.

“Most of the drivers are more used to walkie-talkies, basic mobile phones and hard copy delivery order, rather than using apps in smartphones and ipads.”

Other challenges cited include the lack of collaboration within the industry, lack of expertise and affordability of technology.

The use of different IT systems also posed a challenge for the industry.

“Such standalone systems usually have their specific interfaces and data formats that inevitably leads to information inconsistency, which may bring about inefficient communication and hamper collaboration in any construction project,” said Tiong.

With this, National University of Singapore School of Design and Environment’s Associate Professor Goh Yang Miang called on the industry to “work together to accumulate useful data or basic IT infrastructure that can bring the industry forward in its digitalisation process”.

“There should be deliberate effort to develop open-source datasets and affordable IT infrastructure for the industry,” he added.

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Victor Kang, Digital Content Specialist at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories, email victorkang@propertyguru.com.sg

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