What do the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) have in common?
These Malaysian landmarks were all constructed using IBS – a construction method where the prefabricated and prefinished structural components are manufactured in a controlled environment (factory), before being transported and installed or assembled on site, just like Lego blocks.
Illuminating the way for the construction sector
The technology helps to attain better construction quality and productivity besides reducing risks related to occupational safety and health. It also alleviates the need for skilled workers and reduces dependency on manual foreign labour.
Most importantly, the IBS method results in the ultimate goal of lowering the overall costs of construction. Recognising IBS’s potential in promoting sustainable and green development, the Malaysian government introduced the IBS Strategic Plan in 1999.
The five common IBS categories in Malaysia are – precast concrete framing, panel and box systems; formwork systems; prefabricated timber and steel framing systems as well as blockwork systems.
There has been a push for private construction projects to adopt IBS, in fact in 2008, it was made compulsory for all local government buildings to achieve a minimum of 70 points under the IBS score Manual [as developed by the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB)] and to include IBS as part of contracts when applying for tenders of public projects.
CIDB reported that since then, roughly 331 projects under 17 ministries were constructed using IBS; the majority of these projects were public schools, hospitals, government offices and higher learning institutions.
You would think that IBS is being widely used in local construction projects – but that is not quite the case. According to a survey carried out by CIDB, the percentage usage of IBS stood at a mere 15%. While the adoption of precast and prefabricated components in public projects is high, the same cannot be said of projects in the private residential sector.
Changing the way buildings are designed and built
Quality excellence and productivity go hand-in-hand with pre-fabricated and productive technologies – not only do they offer speedier construction with fewer workers but quality finishes with better control and precision is also achieved.
Manufacturers such as USG Boral are innovating construction materials in order to help their customers work smarter and build better. One such product is the USG Boral Impactwall System® – a severe duty wall solution which provides durability in high traffic areas.
The cutting-edge offerings include Fiberock®, which provides lastingness for showers and wet areas. Meanwhile, the durable Durock®, is perfect for external walls as it withstands the effects of the harsh natural elements of rain, shine and wind.
Their drywall/gypsum which is made of gypsum also has a greater quality finish as compared to the conventional brick and mortar wall. Boasting a smooth finish with no skim-coat required, the drywall is definitely superior to the traditional brick wall, which is susceptible to cracks, and whose smooth finishing is achieved only with skilled plasterers.
It is also a fast track installation system, where the typical worker could install at an average 25m2 of drywall material per day versus only 4 – 7m2 of the masonry wall.
Not only does the drywall has a faster completion time and require less manpower, it also result in better quality control and fewer mistakes, thus less downtime is needed for rectification works. Another great advantage is the promotion of a dry and clean site as the installation requires no wet cement and layering.
The installation of wiring and piping is also made easier as modifications can be made without chipping or breaking through the wall. Moreover, the drywall system has superior acoustic performance as compared to its brick counterpart – it can provide required levels of sound insulation to achieve specified acoustic ratings.
Many have realized the need to harness innovative materials to enhance construction productivity, hence it is no wonder that drywall has gained its fair share of supporters.
Daron Cheah, Managing Director of USG Boral Malaysia shared that in 2014, the Singaporean government has made it compulsory for all new Housing & Development Board (HDB) flats to use drywall for the internal partition walls in replacement of the traditional brickwork and plastering.
This effort coupled with the usage of lightweight precast concrete panels in place of the conventional bricks have resulted in considerable savings – HDB managed to achieve an improved overall construction productivity of 7% that year (HDB Annual Report 2013/2014).
Enhancing Value For End Users
IBS is also defined as a system that makes use of manufacturing production in order to minimise resource wastage and enhance value for end users.
Recognising the need for innovation and sustainability in construction, more industry players are jumping onto the environmental and consumer friendly train to develop green products that not only delivers durability and performance but also helps building users save cost and energy usage.
A prime example is AkzoNobel, the leading global supplier of decorative paints and coatings; who recently introduced its Dulux Professional Weathershield Paint Series.
The product is enabled by the KeepCool Technology, which uses special pigment to deflect heat, keeping surface temperatures cooler by 5*C as compared to conventional exterior paint. This translates to roughly 10-15% savings in cooling energy costs – a definite boon in a tropical country like Malaysia.
Other special features of the Weathershield range include algae and fungal protection, alkali resistant features and UV protection – all of which work to make the paint retain its colour and last longer. Thus, decorating is required less frequently and the environmental impact and labour costs of the decorating process is reduced over the lifetime of the project.
Barriers to Implementation
The benefits of IBS is far reaching. Why then has it not gained traction in the private sector construction industry, especially for residential properties in Malaysia?
According to Daron, there are a few compelling reasons why most industry stakeholders are hesitant to embrace IBS. One of them is the negative perception of the public.
Many assume that the technology is inferior and lacking in terms of durability and performance. In actuality, it is just the opposite; drywall is in fact a proven system to replace the conventional brick wall – it has been a regular fixture in housing projects in most developed countries for over 20 years.
It is no wonder that developers are not willing to touch IBS with a ten-foot pole due to this stigma as they fear that purchasers will not respond well to their projects.
Cost is also a major stumbling block and is actually a double-edged sword when it comes to IBS adoption. The low cost of labour and dependency on foreign labour makes many developers unwilling to break away from this convenient and cheap option.
In comparison, a substantial amount of capital is needed in the initial stages of IBS construction for heavy machinery, high-skilled workers due to the superior technology and transportation costs of materials from the factory onto site.
Not to mention that there are restrictions that make it difficult for developers and contractors to utilize IBS technology in Malaysia. The local fire department’s guidelines limits the usage of drywall in residential and commercial buildings in Malaysia. Conversely, drywall is widely used in the construction of residential and commercial buildings in the US, Australia and Singapore.
The root of the problem, however, lies in the lack of IBS manufacturers in Malaysia. A research carried out by a local engineering student revealed that the current civil engineering and architecture curriculum does not mandate IBS – hence there are few professionals in the country who could claim themselves as experts in prefabrication technologies.
Looking to the future
There are many pieces in the jigsaw to catalyse the adoption of prefabrication as well as the usage of sustainable and innovative building materials.
In order to encourage the local private sector to take the lead, there is is the need to push for increased production of the raw materials used in IBS. Besides modifying and adopting IBS technologies captured from oversea practices, proper incentives and tax holidays need to be introduced to cater the production of innovative IBS methods.
This will help reduce the price point and make IBS technology more affordable to Malaysian contractors.
It cannot be disputed that to be competitive at the international level, it is important for the Malaysia construction industry to evolve and keep up with other countries – thus an increase in productivity, quality and safety is a must. Hence, it is imperative that those involved in the construction sector embrace IBS sooner rather than later.
This article was first published in the iProperty.com Malaysia August 2016 Magazine. Get your copy from selected news stands or view the magazine online for free at www.iproperty.com.my/magazine. Better yet, order a discounted subscription by putting in your details in the form below!