By Linette Lim | POSTED: 11 Mar 2014 19:36 | CNA

SINGAPORE: The push to raise productivity in Singapore’s construction sector is taking on a new focus this year.

New rules will soon take effect, pushing for greater use of productive technologies such as prefabricated components.

From the second half of 2014, developers will be required to use prefabricated bathroom units (PBUs) for all residential projects on government land sales sites.

The Singapore Contractors Association said this is a significant step in getting upstream players like developers onboard productivity initiatives.

PBUs are like huge Lego blocks that are hoisted up by a crane and then stacked, one on top of another.

On average, prefab components already make up one third of each construction project by City Developments (CDL) which has been using prefab construction methods for over a decade.

That is the highest level of prefab adoption among private developers in Singapore, compared to about 50 per cent for public housing projects.

CDL said that with the new rules, more projects could have a prefab component in them in the near future.

Another developer, Frasers Centrepoint, said it has been using a mix of productive technologies in all their developments since 2007.

Cheang Kok Kheong, chief executive officer of Frasers Centrepoint Homes, said: “These include prefabricated railings, precast refuse chutes and dry construction options such as the use of drywall for some of the internal walls.”

Mr Cheang added that the improvement in site productivity more than offsets the incremental cost of using productive technologies.

Channel NewsAsia understands that currently, private developers in general have very few projects with prefab, and any prefab component is usually limited to the rubbish chutes and staircases.

The push towards greater adoption of prefab will also help mitigate the rising cost of foreign labour.

Allen Ang, head of green building at CDL, said: “In countries like Australia, their labour cost is almost four times that of Singapore. In Hong Kong, it’s about three times more than ours. In these countries, developers have no choice but to adopt extensive prefabrication to address the high worker salaries.

“In Singapore, with the recent stringent controls on foreign labour, and with prefab bathrooms being mandated, we foresee that our country is trending towards Hong Kong, Australia, and Japan.”

Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan said: “While the adoption of precast and prefabricated components in HDB projects is high, the same cannot be said of projects in the private residential sector.”

He added that in order to break the inertia and to adopt unfamiliar but productive construction methods proven overseas, the government will also require selected Government Land Sale (GLS) sites to adopt new productive technologies such as Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) and Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).

Mr Lee was speaking at his ministry’s Committee of Supply debates in Parliament on Monday.

Despite more prefab work coming along, contractors said it will be easy for them and their sub-contractors to adapt because productivity initiatives will be built-in right from the upstream, or design phase.

Ho Nyok Yong, president of Singapore Contractors Association, said: “The main contractor might just tender the project, and then he’ll sub-contract to the medium-sized, and then he might have sub-sub (contractors) also.

“The bigger guy will (be) teaching the smaller guy to learn their part. The smaller guy may not necessarily run out of jobs because there’s a need (for)… specialised things like installation. If you use precast, they (will be) doing (the) installation.”

The contractors association estimated that costs for construction projects could increase by 10 per cent in the short term due to the cost of transporting prefab blocks.

However, as the building industry adopts higher levels of prefab construction in the near future, CDL said, more precast supply could enter the market, thereby lowering costs.

Mr Lee also said in Parliament that the Building and Construction Authority will roll out more land tenders to have about 10 integrated construction and precast hubs by 2020.

He said that this, together with the Singapore construction firms’ precast yards in Malaysia, are sufficient to meet the rising demand of precast components of the industry in the years ahead.

– CNA/gn

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/singapore/developers-required-to/1028750.html