How Singapore is ramping up construction tech

By Shirley Tay

Interview with Kelvin Wong, CEO of Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority.

Image: Building Construction Authority. 

Singapore has typically relied on manual labour to build its skyscrapers and residential buildings. But when Covid-19 hit, everything screeched to a halt. Projects have been delayed, and the sector is set to take a $10 billion (US $7.48 billion) hit.

Construction is one of the least digitalised industries worldwide, says Kelvin Wong, CEO of Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA). Digitalisation will be a “game changer” to reduce manpower needs and expedite construction.

GovInsider spoke to Wong to find out the agency’s digitalisation efforts and how it will shape the future of Singapore’s construction industry.

Visualising the building process

BCA’s Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) plan aims to help construction firms digitalise every stage of the building life-cycle, says Wong.

Part of that plan is the use of digital twins to allow firms to implement the “build twice” concept - first virtual, then real, says Wong. The simulations improve the accuracy of construction plans - allowing conflicts to be resolved before the building is constructed, he adds.

For instance, firms can visualise the end product better with the help of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, he says. They can also make decisions earlier to “avoid last minute changes that will impact the project schedule”, saving time and reducing abortive work.

IDD also helps firms to optimise the operations and maintenance of a building at the design stage, says Wong. That would create “considerable” cost savings, as the “operations and maintenance of a building throughout its life cycle can cost up to 4 or 5 times more than the actual construction.”

The use of IoT and data analytics will enable a more “targeted response in resolving building maintenance issues”, he says. Machine learning will also allow for “predictive maintenance” to be carried out - preventing long periods of downtime due to equipment failure.

Adapting to Covid-19

Tech has also helped firms to restart construction work safely and quickly, Wong says.

Facial recognition thermal scanners have been installed at three of JTC Corporation’s worksites to validate that workers are fit for work. Firms have also distributed Bluetooth wearables to workers to ensure a safe distance of one metre is kept, while AI cameras allow contractors to identify high traffic zones and relocate manpower accordingly.

The tech can “seamlessly feed data” to BCA’s BuildSG COVID-Safe Platform, says Wong. Should there be a positive Covid-19 case, the platform will allow for contact tracing and quarantine measures to be taken quickly and accurately.

Setting common standards

The use of industry-wide specifications and data standards is essential. To that end, BCA has supported the Singapore Institute of Architects, the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore, and the Institution of Engineers Singapore to embark on a project that provides a cloud-based platform to engineers and architects, Wong says. It contains standard templates of project specifications for the industry to adapt and customise for their own projects.

The platform also ensures project partners can coordinate their different specifications while ensuring consistency with national standards, he adds.

BCA has also been promoting the use of common data requirements within the industry, Wong says. Using a common data environment would facilitate the sharing of information between stakeholders, allowing for the project to be coordinated easily, he adds.

Enhancing digital competency

BCA has made it a priority to equip firms and employees with the necessary digital knowledge, Wong says. The agency has teamed up with SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore, and other stakeholders to develop the Built Environment Skills Framework.

It provides information on skills and competencies, possible career pathways, and available training programmes for the construction industry, he says. “We aim to equip firms with the necessary digital delivery skill sets identified.”

Funding is available to help firms and individuals embark on digitalisation, Wong says. The BuildSG Transformation Fund offers a range of incentives to support the adoption of new technology and training. The Productivity Innovation Project fund, for instance, provides co-funding of up to 70 per cent for firms to build up their capabilities in IDD.

Research and innovation programmes also help to advance digital technologies and solutions for the entire sector, Wong says. Firms can test the use of emerging technologies at designated areas within Punggol Town and Jurong Lake Gardens.

Technology will help to reduce Singapore’s reliance on labour and make it more resilient in the face of crises. BCA’s plans to digitalise the construction industry will pave the way forward for smarter buildings.