Saturday, 19 January 2013

Khaw pushes for three constructive ideas

These may boost productivity and ease reliance on foreign labour, he says
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2013

LEGO-STYLE building techniques, robot technology and new materials could help to revolutionise Singapore's construction industry.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan urged developers and construction firms to consider the ideas in his blog post yesterday, saying they could boost productivity and reduce reliance on foreign construction workers.

The unitised building system sees room-sized units complete with internal finishes and fittings made in factories, then transported to a site to be fitted together like Lego bricks.

Mr Khaw noted that besides being able to cut construction time by up to half, it would also ensure works are done away from residential areas, meaning less construction noise and dust pollution.

Robotic fabrication is still in development. Think-tank Singapore- ETH Centre is looking at how labour-intensive work such as tiling can be done by robots.

The last idea is cross-laminated timber, which is created by binding layers of timber at right angles with structural adhesives.

Compared with run-of-the-mill timber, the laminated kind can support heavier loads and be used for floors and beams. It is still being evaluated for use in Singapore.

A company in Melbourne used such wood to create a 10-storey residential building in 11 months - 30 per cent quicker than it would normally take.

Of the three ideas, only the unitised building system is currently available to developers in Singapore, said the Building and Construction Authority.

Local contractor Swee Hong has an exclusive arrangement to use it.

Its spokesman Kenneth Loh said it has many advantages, "although the main obstacle would be the mindset change for designers to learn a new way of doing things".

The carrot for them to do so is a shorter waiting time for approvals from the authorities, he added.

Contractors will face tighter labour cuts, even as the industry is poised to enjoy yet another year of robust growth.

Projected construction demand is between $26 billion and $32 billion this year, and is expected to be up to $28 billion annually in the next two years.

"The future is already here, in several other parts of the world. Let's make sure Singapore is not left out," said Mr Khaw.

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