Adam Jordan, Asia-Pacific lead at Bryden Wood, reviews developments in Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), construction platforms (P-DfMA) and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) in Asian markets.

Bryden Wood is focused on developing innovative approaches to improve the efficiency and productivity of the construction industry. We were pioneers in Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) before the approach even had a name. Our completed DfMA projects show a track record of achieving considerable benefits including cost and programme reduction, higher quality, better labour productivity, improved health and safety, less waste and lower carbon content. 

Once a radical proposition, over recent years DfMA has become a mainstream ‘hot topic’ around the world. Bryden Wood’s two key markets in Asia - Singapore and Hong Kong - have both had recent success at promoting DfMA with a focus on volumetric modular construction. This approach to prefabrication has been given a different name in each market: Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) in Singapore, and Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) in Hong Kong.

Bryden Wood has been privileged to play a part in the development of the DfMA market in Singapore and Hong Kong. Now as off-site becomes more established in both markets, the benefits and limitations of volumetric modular construction are becoming clear and we have been considering the question, ‘What next?’. 

Singapore: Prefabricated Prefinished Voulmetric Construction

Singapore has a strong reputation as a regional innovator and the construction industry is no exception. In 2010, Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) launched the Construction Productivity Roadmap to foster improvement in workforce productivity and greater technology adoption by the industry.

DfMA has been on the radar in Singapore since at least 2014 when it was identified as a key component of the second Building Information Modelling (BIM) Roadmap issued by BCA. In 2015, the Singapore Government published the Essential Guide to BIM for DfMA which was authored by Bryden Wood in conjunction with BCA. The Guide was intended to demonstrate the opportunities that DfMA (and particularly PPVC) could bring to projects, but also to consider and explain typical BIM considerations that should be taken at each stage of a DfMA project to set it up for success. 

The Essential Guide to BIM for DfMA presented several early adopter case studies in Singapore with a focus on PPVC. BCA subsequently identified PPVC as a preferred DfMA approach as embodied in the Construction Industry Transformation Map which was launched in 2017 to accelerate the uptake of digitalisation and more productive modern methods of construction

Regulatory authorities in Singapore have made efforts to support the growth of PPVC as a preferred DfMA approach. BCA now mandates the use of PPVC on many types of residential Government Land Sale (GLS) projects and has established an acceptance framework backed up by the PPVC Manufacturer Accreditation Scheme. 

BCA have promoted potential benefits of PPVC including improved productivity (up to 40% manpower and time savings), less dust and noise pollution, improved site safety and improved quality control in a factory environment. 

There are now several recognised PPVC project success stories in Singapore, including the Crowne Plaza hotel at Changi Airport and the Clement Canopy and Brownstone condominiums. However, BCA also notes that PPVC currently attracts a cost premium of just under 8% compared to reinforced concrete construction, driven by a range of factors including comparatively low supply and demand.

Singapore has shown a great commitment to achieving the advantages of DfMA but PPVC has been more successful on some projects (and some types of project) than others. A local mindset has been established that equates PPVC with Design for Manufacture and Assembly at the expense of alternatives. This is starting to change with the government and private sector looking at other DfMA solutions such as panelised lightweight construction and CLT (cross-laminated timber), both of which have been successfully used in Singapore. However, local industry discussion of DfMA remains dominated by the idea of standardised PPVC modules being stacked up to form finished buildings.

The ongoing struggle to deliver PPVC cost-effectively in Singapore has an increasing degree of urgency. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in Singapore’s foreign workforce shows the need to drive greater productivity while reducing over-reliance on foreign labour is more urgent than ever before. But the big question is, ‘What next?’

Hong Kong: Modular Integrated Construction

The Hong Kong Government is also a leading agent for change in the regional construction industry. In recent years there has been a growing focus on the potential afforded by DfMA to address systemic issues in construction in Hong Kong. The Construction Industry Council, a statutory body established in 2007 to advocate for and promote the Hong Kong construction industry, has been instrumental in growing awareness of the opportunities afforded by DfMA and particularly MiC, the local term for prefabricated and prefinished volumetric modules.

The publication Construction 2.0, produced by the Hong Kong Development Bureau in September 2018 with the assistance of KPMG, recognises the following core challenges facing the construction industry:

    • Significant future construction volumes
    • High costs
    • Unsatisfactory mega-project performance
    • Unsatisfactory site safety performance
    • Declining productivity
    • Lack of creativity and innovation.

Construction 2.0 identifies three pillars to advance the future of the construction industry in HK: innovation, professionalisation and revitalisation. 

BIM, DfMA and Design for Buildability all play a key role in fulfilling the innovation pillar. If done right, they can also lead to increased professionalism across the sector and help revitalise the industry for young talent – achieving industry-wide transformation.

In order to make MiC adoption more appealing to private sector projects, the Buildings Department of Hong Kong has established a Pre-Acceptance Mechanism for MiC. The Development Bureau has also released a Technical Circular (2/2020) which sets out a range of government projects for which MiC adoption will be mandatory.

Early adopter projects in Hong Kong have had some success with MiC although so far this has been limited to particular building types, primarily social and elderly housing. A range of other projects are in development, however Hong Kong remains a comparatively small market which makes it challenging to scale up a modular supply chain. There is huge production capacity available in neighbouring mainland China but Hong Kong’s building regulations limit available supply sources.

Hong Kong has an aging construction workforce but is well situated to take advantage of the industrial capability already present in the Greater Bay Area. Moving more construction work off-site into a factory is the logical solution. With road and sea access to a large supply chain with few import restrictions in the Greater Bay Area, it will be possible to pre-manufacture components of almost any size required to achieve benefit.

Applying the Lessons of Manufacturing

For Bryden Wood, an attractive aspect of both Singapore and Hong Kong has been the enthusiasm and commitment to drive construction productivity improvement through innovation. We have been working hard to move the conversation forward in both markets. Volumetric DfMA solutions have their applications and it has been great to see some successful projects delivered in this way, however there is a growing awareness that PPVC/MiC is not a one-size-fits-all solution to every construction problem but rather one possible tool in a spectrum of opportunities afforded by DfMA. 

At Bryden Wood, we believe there is a way to deliver a wide spectrum of building types efficiently, safely and productively using standardised components. For more than two decades Bryden Wood has been breaking down buildings to kits of component parts and looking for ways to deliver different types of projects using the same constituent parts. This work has culminated in our Platforms approach to building, developed in close consultation with the UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) which recently led to the UK Government issuing a call for evidence on a Platform approach for DfMA (P-DfMA).

We define a platform as a set of components used for creating a range of products. An analogy in the manufacturing sector would be a set of mechanical parts that is used to create the standardised chassis that sits inside many different models of car. Recent decades have seen rapid change in manufacturing efficiency driven by whole sectors working with a defined range of components to enable rapid innovation to take place. Mass production encourages continual improvement in component design and manufacture, speeding up product evolution. 

Conclusion: Construction Platforms, a Way Forward

The central concept of volumetric methodologies such as PPVC and MiC is to retain conventional construction practices but simply relocate them away from building sites and into factories. Conversely, Bryden Wood’s Platform approach has the potential to deliver the fundamental industry transformation that both Singapore and Hong Kong are striving for. If such an approach was applied to the local context, with components tailored for the unique construction and regulatory landscape of each country, a new manufacturing-led approach to construction could start to emerge and set an exciting new example for the Asia-Pacific region. 

At Bryden Wood, we are excited to see DfMA playing an ever more mainstream role in the construction landscape in both Singapore and Hong Kong and we will do our best to support the industry in both countries in whatever ways we can.


If you'd like to continue to learn about our Design to Value approach and Modern Methods of Construction, sign up for our monthly newsletter here: