By Wee Eng Yau
THE Government’s revival of mega projects alongside efforts to enhance transportation and residential infrastructure brought about renewed optimism for Malaysia’s construction sector after a steep climb.
Naturally with growth, the construction sector faces higher demands along with shorter time-frames to complete a project. Suffice to say, the industry can no longer solve today’s issues with yesterday’s methods.
So, what can Malaysian construction firms do from hereon to maximise its project efficacy, without compromising standard procedures?
Among the Government’s proposition to this question was to adopt an Industrialised Building System (IBS) approach, a construction technique proposed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government back in the 1960s.
Here, construction components are calculated and manufactured in a controlled environment before being assembled, ultimately lessening not only the amount of raw materials used but manpower and cost too.
This method has been slow in gaining the traction that the ministry was hoping for upon introduction and the adoption rate has remained low since.
Over in the private sector, some construction firms are innovating upon existing practices by leveraging today’s technology.
For example, solution providers are championing the concept of Building Information Modelling (BIM) with software that’s not only capable of generating the digital representation of physical structures — which was what traditional BIM already did — but goes beyond to incorporate different kinds of raw materials that will be used in the project, along with how those materials will affect the overall structure.
In simple terms: what the industry needs is a ‘constructible’ vision, where construction players are encouraged to adopt technology solutions aimed at uncovering new and more efficient building methods as a whole.
This link falls in line with a 2017 McKinsey Report on construction productivity which revealed ‘connectivity’ to be the driving force behind ‘overall productivity’ due to the interdependent nature of construction projects. Meaning, a delay at any point of a project can cause all project stakeholders to risk snowballing into a substantial setback.
Subsequently, an article from the Journal of Management in Engineering 2019 identified several key problems in a survey on the Malaysian construction industry, revealing late completion from inefficient productivity to be among the top five most critical problems in our industry.
In Malaysia, BIM technology is still in its adolescent phase due to its high-level comprehension and cost. However, the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) is proactively pushing towards the mass adoption of this method, where, if successful, would be an investment that drastically impacts the life cycle of all projects.
By visualising with the aforementioned services as an example, some glaring changes affecting a project can be gathered throughout three stages:
Before construction: The project would be insured from the beginning, with BIM technology working to amend any undetected design and/or number errors. Following this, a machine-calculated budget accurate to the required mass of raw materials would drastically lower the risk of overshooting project funds.
During construction: Environmental damage could be mitigated, as lesser raw materials are needed on the build-site. Engineers would possess the ability to cross-check the result at each ongoing portion of the overall structure, down to its piping layout and support beams. Teams are also able to stay well-informed with project documents stored inside a shared cloud for hassle-free access.
After construction: The BIM model can be reused as a map for maintenance and operations. Thus, the practice of using BIM ultimately minimises the total sum of all used resources, setting us on the correct path towards sustainable construction, efficient building maintenance, and strategic team management.
Critics of this practice would argue that a national investment of such cost and skill would not be of value without an absolute guarantee in having the ability to produce desired results. In addressing this concern, one could factually state that global changes are taking place every day.
With leading Asian countries such as Singapore already making BIM the new standard for their construction sector, the traditionalist’s reluctance to adapt will fundamentally hinder the nation’s progress at keeping up with the rest of the world.
As spoken through the comparisons of past-initiatives in strive to discover better building efficacy, a strand indicated the aspect of ‘connectivity’ as the catalyst to enhancing ‘team productivity’.
This connection serves to reassure us that embracing innovative building technologies, such as BIM, is the ideal choice for the long-term expansion of Malaysia’s construction sector. Furthermore, new methods cultivate new skills, discoveries, and ideas, to act as fuel components in shaping not only the local economy, but also the future of construction in Malaysia. – Nov 21, 2020
Wee Eng Yau is the country manager of Trimble Solutions Malaysia and has been in the civil & structural field for 24 years, specialising in technology solutions to improve project delivery. He began his career as an engineer in the civil and structural & multidisciplinary consultancy, and also had experience in construction and steel fabrication industry working on oil and gas projects.