Opening Address by MOS Tan Kiat How at the International Built Environment Week 2021: CEOs in Conversation

Sep 9, 2021

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for having me at today’s CEOs in Conversation: Reimagining the Future of Singapore’s Built Environment. Hope everyone’s keeping well during these difficult times.

The construction sector is one of the sectors that has been most severely impacted during this COVID-19 pandemic. It has exposed vulnerabilities of the sector, such as over reliance in manpower and supply chain disruptions. But through these different times, all of you stood together – developers, consultants, builders, facility managers, companies, workers.

Thank you for your support. Thank you for keeping our worksites and accommodations COVID-safe. Thank you for keeping up with safe management measures and regular testing and contributing to Singapore being a COVID-resilient nation, learning to live with COVID-19 while ensuring that everyone stays safe.

Throughout the last one and a half years, we have used science and technology pervasively to help us manage the COVID-19 situation, making sure worksites, transportation of workers and dorms are COVID-safe. For example, using Bluetooth and AI for contact tracing, and making sure safe management and safe distancing are effectively practiced at the worksites. BCA launched its BuildSG-COVIDSafe Platform (CSP) to manage the movement of personnel, and many of you participated. This use of technology has allowed us to ringfence potential cases early and to only allow approved workers to enter the worksites and dorms. This has helped the entire sector to make sure that work continues.

These investments in science and technology build on the foundation of past investments. Past generations of firms, leaders, as part of our Construction ITM, have made good investments, Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), and sustainability. And I'm very glad to share with all of you that notwithstanding COVID, the entire sector is on track to achieve these important targets. And importantly, those investments put us in good stead especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. This is a hallmark of Singapore and our Built Environment sector. All of us, even though we grapple with existing challenges, we always keep an eye out for the future, preparing ourselves for tomorrow.

We have refreshed the previous Future Economy Council (FEC) Built Environment cluster, and I am co-chairing the subcommittee with Mr Liam Wee Sin from UOL Group Limited, involving many of you – industry associations, firms, government agencies, technology providers – coming together to reimagine the built environment sector of tomorrow. And we had many rounds of engagement and small group discussions. We will share more details when ready.

Today, I want to talk about one particular issue that is important to all of us moving forward. And that is about innovation, doing things differently, overcoming our constraints, creating new opportunities for firms, for ourselves, and for the next generation of our built environment professionals. One important area is about how we can leverage R&D and leverage innovation in all our workplaces, at our worksites and at our precincts.

I would like to share that BCA and IMDA have made a joint Call-for-Proposals (CFP) for Integrated Robotics and Automation solutions for the Built Environment. Robotics and Automation, or R&A in short, is an important set of technologies that the subcommittee has identified and we are going to support more firms in adopting these solutions; and we are inviting solution providers – if you have a good proposal, a good solution out there that meets the needs of the built environment sector, please apply for this Call-for-Proposals grant call.

The government, through the BCA and IMDA scheme, will be supporting our built environment firms to adopt these solutions. These are commercially available solutions, for example, material transporter robots, precast automation systems, drones for facade inspections, and so on. We will be supporting up to 80% of qualifying costs to adopt these solutions. So, all the firms out there, please tap on these solutions once available. And for solution providers who have got a good product, please submit your proposal to us.

Second, it is not just about supporting our firms to adopt commercially available solutions, increasing productivity, and raising our standards. It is also about investing in early stage technology – R&D, for tomorrow. One good example is 3D concrete printing by HDB, with partners like NTU, Robin Village Development and Witteveen+Bos. 3D concrete printing reduces manpower for volumetric production and improves productivity at the worksite. But the technology is still very nascent. That is why HDB is taking the lead at the Centre of Building Research, to understand the technology, bringing in partners together to build an ecosystem, understand how it can be used and applied in Singapore for the future. This is one example of what we are doing to support innovation and to uplift the entire sector.

Another example of things we are working on is 5D BIM. I asked what is 5D BIM because it is the first time I have heard about it. I was told it is 3D BIM with the time component and the cost and budget component added. It harnesses computational power to automate workflows, and lets planners and developers and builders make better decisions, better predict material and labour costs, and supports tasks like planning, budget control, progressive payments, etc.

All these tasks can be automated, and we can do things better. BCA is working with Hubble Pte Ltd and Rider Levett Bucknall on this project. This is one example of how we are investing in R&D under the Cities of Tomorrow (CoT) Programme. So, for companies and solution providers, if you have got a good idea and need R&D support or partnerships, please let us know.

But we always say the test of the pudding is in the eating. Solutions may look good on paper and work well in the lab, but do they work well in a real life environment? We need a place to test-bed our solutions to see whether we need big adjustments, whether we need to customise; and if they don’t work, we need to pivot. One important aspect of supporting test-bedding is in making sure that regulations are in place to support these innovations.

This is the reason behind the Building Innovation Panel (BIP) that we set up – one-stop shop, one-step process for firms. Come to us with your innovation, your new ways of doing things, and BCA is committed to champion these solutions. This brings together the various regulatory agencies – SCDF, MOM, the Government Procuring Entities (GPEs) like HDB, JTC, PUB, etc., to look at how we can facilitate innovation. The intent is not to say no; the idea is how we can say yes to support innovation.

I am glad to share that the scope of BIP has expanded since 2019 to cover new areas, e.g. robotics and automation, advanced and sustainable building materials and green building technologies. To date, we have issued 100 in-principle acceptances – 52 for PPVC units, 46 for prefabricated bathroom units, and 2 for R&A solutions.

One of the R&A solutions approved by BIP was the autonomous Robo-Carrier by Shimizu that helps to carry heavy materials at the worksite – from the ground floor, up the lift shafts, to the level where building works are been done. It will be deployed for the expansion project at Mount Alvernia Hospital later this year. It is expected to increase site productivity by 30%.

In addition, I was told that it improves worksite safety as workers do not have to physically carry these very heavy materials. The robots will do the heavy lifting at night, supervised by a small crew, and workers will come in the morning to do the rest of the work. This will improve productivity, safety, and very importantly, work-life balance, at a time when we need to retain workers at our worksites. So, companies with innovative proposals, please make full use of BIP.

And oftentimes, it is not just about innovation at one worksite, but innovations that allow us to benefit a wider group of residents, a wider group of stakeholders, and at a precinct level. And sometimes it is only at a precinct level that we can get economies of scale and critical mass to try out new solutions. Therefore, we launched the Built Environment Living Laboratory Framework (BE LLF) at IBEW last year – one-stop platform for test-bedding application submissions. We have identified two locations in Singapore – two locations that we have aspirations for, two locations that we are proud of, and one is Punggol Eco-town, the second is Jurong Lake Gardens – to test-bed innovative solutions in a real life environment, so that firms can gain experience and we can scale the solution if it works. We have received over 30 proposals since BE LLF was launched. They are all very interesting proposals, and we aim to shortlist the projects soon.

In this regard, NParks and BCA launched a call-for-proposals for innovative solutions for sustainable operations at the Jurong Lake Gardens last week. The call is still open, and I encourage solution providers, contractors and firms with ideas to actively participate. We would like to see what we can do at Jurong Lake Gardens. It is an area that we are going to be very proud of – Singapore’s National Gardens in the heartlands. Our aspiration for it is to be a model for sustainability for the rest of Singapore and for the rest of the world. Very high expectations and very high aspirations, we want to innovate and try out new things.

Having talked about innovation, technology, prototyping, R&D, test-bedding, and living labs, another important area that we need to concern ourselves with is who is going to do all these things. And this was a common theme when BCA and I spoke to a small group of industry partners about the future of the built environment sector. All partners agree that the Government has a role to play in developing a talent pipeline and upskilling our workers. But everyone in the sector, from builders, consultants, developers, contractors, operators, to the individuals, we all have to play our part as well. I would like to share today two initiatives that we started, I think there has been good progress, and I would like to encourage all of you to actively participate and continue to build on this foundation.

The first is the iBuildSG Club launched in June last year. Even though it was during the COVID-19 period, it was an important effort that we pressed ahead with. It engaged more than 6,000 students from secondary school onwards, and 80% of those engaged and surveyed were keen to know more about careers and opportunities in the built environment sector.

We all know there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to work in the construction industry and the built environment sector – social expectations, social stigma that work in the sector is dirty, demanding and dangerous. We need to collectively, as an industry, challenge ourselves, transform ourselves to change this perception. And we’re doing so, step by step, starting with students in schools; there are many things we are doing, from having building design competition to having Built Environment Formation Programme where we prepare interns for their day-to-day work. There are many things we can do and there are many more things we can work on together. I would like to thank the partners who have journeyed with us and encourage all of you to join us on this important effort to grow the talent pipeline for tomorrow.

But it is not only about growing the talent pipeline for tomorrow, it is also about upskilling our existing workforce – people that we treasure and who have been contributing to building Singapore. We launched the Skills Framework (SFw) at IBEW last year, providing firms a skills roadmap to train and develop their staff in key competencies that they are keen in and want to invest in. And for individuals, they can tap on the Skills Framework for career progression, identify new roles like DfMA, IDD, etc., which they have an interest in and find out how to get there. We are working with training providers to pull the training programmes together.

One important aspect of it is accreditation framework. We have three schemes, one by the Society of Project Manager (SPM) for project managers, the second by the Singapore Contractors Association (SCAL) for construction management, and the third by the buildingSMART Singapore (bSS) for digital delivery management. We look forward to many more bodies coming forward to work with us on accrediting and creating new schemes. And there’s so much more we can do – such as having HR workshops and working with training providers. Let us continue to push on with this important effort and we welcome all of you to join us in developing talent pipeline and upskilling our existing workforce.

In conclusion, let me draw your attention to two important calls for participation this morning. One is the BCA-IMDA joint Call-for-Proposals for Integrated Robotics and Automation solutions for the Built Environment; solution providers, please give us your proposals, and firms, please tap on the curated solutions and grant schemes when available. The second is the Built Environment Living Laboratory Framework’s call for test-bedding proposals in the Jurong Lake Gardens; please share with us your proposals on transforming and building up the area for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends of the industry, the last one and a half years have been a very trying period for all of us, and we are still going through the pandemic. Nobody knows when the current crisis will end, and when we will see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we will get there, steadily step by step by working together. Let’s continue to work together to strengthen the sector, even as we tackle the existing challenges together. Let us also not forget casting an eye on the future. Look at the slide behind me – Marina Bay, we have built this together, year by year, month by month, day by day. We can do it! I am glad to say that working together, the sense of spirit, the sense of support among industry partners is palpable. I look forward to all your support and partnership as we emerge stronger from this crisis. Thank you very much.