SME Spotlight

Teambuild's building blocks to success

Move to adopt new building method opens more doors for construction firm

Being a technology pioneer can come with an unexpected cost, as Teambuild Construction knows all too well.

The firm has made such advances in innovations for the construction industry that it has become a magnet for a succession of curious government agency officials, delegates from Hong Kong and Malaysia, and even competitors.

The star of this particular show is the company's status as the first adopter here of what is called prefabricated pre-finished volumetric construction (PPVC) technology.

It is a building method that involves making modules and completing finishes in factories before assembling them on the building site.

Those sites are becoming increasingly popular with visitors keen to study how Teambuild Construction works with PPVC. And while every delegation that turns up is a disruption, at least the technology is efficient enough to take the hit.

"With any visit to our site, we have to stop work because the crane is not supposed to operate. Even with that, we still finish the project on time," Teambuild executive director Johnny Lim said with a laugh.

Persevering through the risks and pains of being a first mover to establish an early track record was the key that opened more doors, Mr Lim added. It was not so much a matter of learning from mistakes as it was learning to foresee potential problems and finding ways to overcome them.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE

I think the industry has gained a certain level of confidence. When we were pioneering this, the industry had a lot of rumours saying that we were bound to fail big time. We persevered in the first two projects; we learnt whatever we needed and we improved our system to make it easier to construct and more productive to build.

TEAMBUILD EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JOHNNY LIM, on the challenges of being a pioneer in the use of PPVC technology.

"There are bound to be certain (issues) which you have to experience to understand the problem," he noted, citing construction workers hoisting a module only to find that the alignment was slightly off.

"The next time you do it, you might want to think of using some form of locators to guide the module more accurately into place, for instance," he added.

The Singapore construction firm started its PPVC journey in 2013 with the project Rivervale Delta in Sengkang. That development did not use PPVC in its construction, but the company used it as a case study, modelling it in 3D digitally and simulating the process to see how much time it could have saved with PPVC instead of the conventional method.

The answer: nine months.

Convinced that this was a viable method, Teambuild Construction started looking for the right project to lodge a tender. About a year later, it won the tender as main contractor for West Terra in Bukit Batok, a housing development consisting of nine 18-storey blocks of around 1,800 units. The company decided to hedge some risks by using PPVC on only three out of the nine blocks.

Said Mr Lim: "The three blocks we chose were blocks with smaller units like two-and three-bedroom, so the modules were smaller and more manageable."

The second reason for the decision was cost. "Because PPVC is a costlier method of construction, if we used it for all nine blocks, we probably wouldn't have won the project because our cost wouldn't have been competitive."

Mr Lim said that in 2014, PPVC technology cost 15 to 20 per cent more than the conventional way of building because of the costs of transport and lifting equipment such as tower cranes.

Tower cranes at that time could hoist up to only 10 tonnes, but PPVC modules can weigh about 25 tonnes each. The company had to custom-make a tower crane that could lift 40-tonne modules. Today, with increased adoption of PPVC technology, suitable tower cranes with 20-to 30-tonne carrying capacities are available locally.

After the HDB project, Teambuild completed Singapore's first concrete PPVC private residential project, The Brownstone.

In its pilot HDB project, it managed to increase productivity by 26 per cent - measured by manpower and time savings. For The Brownstone, it boosted productivity by 40 per cent.

After that, the work came in fast. The group now has a pipeline of four new projects, all requiring PPVC: Valley Spring in Yishun, Parc Riviera in West Coast Vale, Parc Botannia in Fernvale, and Fernvale Glades in Sengkang.

"I think the industry has gained a certain level of confidence," said Mr Lim. "When we were pioneering this, the industry had a lot of rumours saying that we were bound to fail big time. We persevered in the first two projects; we learnt whatever we needed and we improved our system to make it easier to construct and more productive to build.

"Because we had so much faith in what we were doing, we made a bid for a piece of land to build an integrated construction precast hub to manufacture prefabricated construction elements for our projects."

Government funding also helped, Mr Lim added.

The Government co-funds up to 70 per cent of the cost difference between the conventional and the PPVC way of construction. If a particular site does not require the use of PPVC and a developer voluntarily decides to adopt it anyway, it can also approach the Building and Construction Authority for funding.