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ᐅ Smart Technologies Transform Zero-Carbon Practices for Building Carbon-Neutral Cities

To promote sustainability and help Hong Kong reach its net-zero carbon goal by 2050, the Construction Industry Council fosters efforts to drive the development of green buildings by inviting relevant parties to exchange ideas and devise effective strategies. Recently, the Council invited Kevin O’Brien, Chairman of the Business Environment Council and Chief Executive of Gammon, to share insights on how smart tools and innovative building and digital technologies will enable the industry’s green and low-carbon transition, and how this will contribute to Hong Kong’s net-zero goal.

Three ‘Zero’ Strategies for Carbon and Waste Reduction

As this summer’s high temperatures showed, Hong Kong is very much feeling the effects of intensified global warming. “This September was the hottest on record in Hong Kong,“ Kevin noted. He stressed that immediate action was required to prevent temperatures becoming intolerable.

In its Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2050, the HKSAR government proposed the goal of net-zero by 2050 in response to global warming. Two strategies under the Action Plan – Energy Saving and Green Buildings, and Waste Reduction – are closely related to the construction industry. Construction work and buildings do make a major environmental impact, accounting for 39% of carbon emissions, 36% of energy consumption and 40% of drinking water pollution globally. New construction consumes 40% of raw materials globally, and annual construction waste is expected to reach 2.2 billion tons globally by 2050.

In response, the Council has proposed a ‘Three Zero’ strategy of zero energy waste, zero landfill waste and zero waste of resources. From these goals, strategic guidelines for waste and carbon emissions reduction can be developed, leading to a sustainable model for construction, fostering a circular economy, and stepping up the pace of the industry’s green transformation.

According to Kevin, smart and innovative technologies will be needed to implement that transformation effectively: “We’ve got modern design and we end up with modern assets, but I think sometimes in the industry, we’re stuck with 19th century processes. What we need to be moving towards is adopting modern processes, much as other industries have done.” Kevin believes that by applying smart engineering to design can make a difference.

Smart Tools Realise Energy Savings and Zero Carbon

Greenhouse gas emissions and embodied carbon are at the forefront of the industry’s efforts to reduce emissions and save energy. As Kevin pointed out, construction processes generate greenhouse gas, while materials such as cement and steel also produce embodied carbon. Conservative design approaches can further exacerbate the problem. Thus, implementing an energy saving, zero-emissions construction model is a key component of the larger transformation.

A primary task is to calculate the carbon emissions of the construction process. “We do have some tools that help us understand the challenges – we’ve got the CIC Carbon Assessment Tool,” Kevin noted. Free of charge, the tool was developed jointly by the CIC and more than 200 experts from the industry. It helps users evaluate the carbon performance of buildings, all the way from raw material extraction to the end of construction. Kevin added that use of the CIC Carbon Assessment Tool together with BIM’s automated carbon assessment tools has helped the industry to adopt a waste reduction and energy-saving construction mindset. Further impetus to development of low carbon construction will be added if developers select low carbon materials.

The next task is to replace on-site diesel power with low-emissions energy. For example, Gammon, will soon introduce its first electric crawler crane. He also suggested reducing energy usage in completed buildings by using smart systems and better usage of data.

Innovative Technology to Achieve Zero Waste to Landfill

Innovative construction technology is also helping to drive the industry’s low-carbon transformation. Kevin highlighted the Council’s promotion of Mi Infinity (i.e. implementing modular construction in different aspects), which helps to achieve the goal of zero landfill waste.

As he explained, MiC transfers much of the construction process offsite, to a more controllable environment. Apart from streamlining the on-site construction process, it also helps to reduce the risk of error and the corresponding incidence of waste. The reduced packaging involved in offsite construction helps to reduce waste even further.

Currently, many construction projects have adopted MiC, including public housing, the privately developed Tonkin Street project, City University’s student accommodation at Whitehead, and the Terminal 2 expansion at Hong Kong International Airport.

Kevin was pleased to note that the government is supporting the idea of turning waste into resources by establishing the Pilot Biochar Production Plant in Eco Park. The plant will convert wood waste from construction projects into biochar for multiple uses. This will not only drive a circular economy, but also helps to achieve the goal of zero landfill waste in the long run.

Digital Technology Facilitates Zero Waste of Resources

Kevin said that digital technology is integral to reducing wastage of resources and has led the industry into the era of lean manufacturing. For instance, software such as Autodesk Building Information Modelling (BIM) would enable design revisions to be executed and reviewed, and inconsistencies identified and corrected, at the design stage rather than on-site, where they would create enormous waste. BIM can also facilitate a more efficient use of construction materials, and allow for buildings’ operational performance to be optimised.

Kevin stated that rather than demolishing and rebuilding, redeveloping and re-using existing buildings – such as in the cases of Tai Kwun and Central Market – can also help to reduce waste and carbon emissions. “Whenever we’re reusing an asset, we’re reducing the end-of-life carbon. And not only that – we’re providing something for society to enjoy about the cultural heritage of the city that we love,” he said.

Although such innovations impose ‘green premiums’, these increasingly come with what Kevin termed ‘green opportunities’. As he pointed out, such factors as Hong Kong Stock Exchange requirements for listed companies to publish Environmental, Social and Governance reports, mainland China’s peak carbon and carbon neutrality goals, and pressure and monitoring from international environmental organisations, have made ‘green’ and ‘low carbon’ a major global business trend. Green mortgages, bonds and related supporting schemes – such as the Council’s own Sustainable Finance Certificate Scheme, which provides favourable conditions for the development of green construction – are now commonplace.

Kevin expects that green and low-carbon construction will gradually become a prerequisite for Hong Kong’s buildings and infrastructure. But for today, he urged the industry: “I am afraid that listening is not good enough, and there is enough talk; it is time for us all to do something today. “

ᐅ 15 Years of Building Hong Kong: The CIC Leads the Industry towards a New Digital Era

Established in 2007, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) has been nurturing numerous talents and leading the industry to overcome challenges over the years. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the CIC, the “Celebration for the 15th Anniversary of the Construction Industry Council and the Hong Kong Construction Exhibition Grand Opening Ceremony” was held in M+ of West Kowloon Cultural District on 31st October. The Guests of Honour, the Honourable John LEE, Chief Executive of HKSAR Government, Ms. Bernadette LINN, Secretary for Development, Ms. Winnie HO, Secretary for Housing and Ir Ricky LAU, Permanent Secretary for Development (Works), together with Ir Thomas HO, Chairman of the CIC and Ir Albert CHENG, Executive Director of the CIC officiated at the opening ceremony.

Hong Kong Construction Exhibition to Showcase the Development of the Industry

“In the past 15 years, the CIC worked hand-in-hand with the industry to construct and develop Hong Kong. With the theme of “The Past and the Future”, the “Hong Kong Construction Exhibition” showcases the development of the industry and provides a glimpse of state-of-the-art technological applications. Guests were greeted with the “Building ∞ Future” Digital LED Runway once passed by the welcome backdrop. The L-Shaped Digital LED Runway was 14m in length and was divided into 4 zones. Videos were played on the LED wall to showcase advanced construction technologies of different building stages, namely “Pre-Construction”, “Off-Site Construction”, “On-site Construction” and “Smart Facility Management and Liveable City”. Guests could thus have a better understanding of how technologies could benefit the whole building lifecycle. For instance, footage of modules prefabrication are shown in the “Off-site Construction" zone while “Smart Facility Management and Liveable City” Zone has demonstrated how the application of 5G, BIM and IoT could contribute to extending buildings’ lifes.

Interactive Safety Hologram

Stepping out from the Digital LED Runway, the guests would enter another exhibition zone where the exhibits of the MiC Model and Self-Compacting Backfill Material, as well as the “Hong Kong Past and Present”: Transparent LED Walls were placed. The Double LED walls has taken visitors on a journey to review the past and the present of over 60 Hong Kong’s landmarks and iconic infrastructures, such as the Peak Tower, the High Island Reservoir, the Double-arch steel bridge for Cross Bay Link and the Habour Area Treatment Scheme.

Life first and foremost, an Interactive Safety Hologram was set up to promote the safety information of the industry where guests could interact with our 3D Safety Ambassador to learn about different safety practices and related innovations of the industry. The Hologram has caught the attention of the Chief Executive, as he actively interchanged ideas with our Ambassador to understand how technologies could be put in real practices and help improve safety standards of the construction sites.

A Promising Future Ahead

The promising development of the construction industry is the results of the government support and the combined efforts from our practitioners. As Mr. John LEE, Chief Executive of HKSAR Government addressed, Hong Kong is destined to rise further as a city of boundless opportunities and Hong Kong’s annual construction volume is expected to grow to $300 billion in future. He said that the Government will press on with formulating measures to uplift the productivity of the construction industry, drive the development of high productivity construction methods, such as Modular Integrated Construction (MiC), across the industry.

Talents are the root of development and the industry must work whole-heartedly to nurture the next generation in order to boost productivity. Ir Thomas HO, Chairman of the CIC mentioned in his opening remarks that, in the year 2021, more than 60,000 practitioners were trained and helped alleviate labour shortage. The CIC will fully support the Policy Address, continue to train new talents and introduce more construction advanced technologies. The CIC will make every effort to boost the productivity of the industry and support the development of infrastructure in Hong Kong. He also announced that the CIC would co-organise the “Design for Future, Build for Life” publicity campaign with the Development Bureau to uplift the image of the industry and attract new blood.

Energetic Musical Performance

As the grand opening ceremony was unleashed by the 3D videos, the atmosphere was further livened up as the guests, including industry leaders from all sectors, were treated to the musical performance by the young and energetic dancers, which featured the development of Hong Kong construction industry in the past decades.

ᐅ New Technologies Opening New Directions in Urban Renewal

The construction industry has been actively promoting Construction 2.0 reforms as a means of addressing future challenges. Similarly, urban renewal works, which are closely related to the construction industry, have also been implementing comprehensive reform in recent years. The CIC has invited Ir WAI Chi-sing, Managing Director of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), to share how the URA has addressed the problem of urban decay and opened up a new direction for urban renewal through innovation, digital transformation and cross-sector cooperation.

Urban Renewal Lags Behind Urban Decay

“In the past few decades, urban renewal has very much been outpaced by the rate of urban decay,” said Ir WAI. According to URA records, the average age of buildings being demolished and replaced is 50 years. Currently, Hong Kong has approximately 12,000 buildings older than 50 years of age. Over the next two decades, the number will increase to 25,000. Ir WAI fears that even if the URA accelerates renewal work, they will be unable to catch up with renewal demand fuelled by the pace of urban decay. Taking Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok (Yau Mong district) as examples, 65% of the area’s approximately 3,000 buildings are over 50 years old. The estimated cost of acquisition and compensation equates to more than HKD1,100 billion, which the URA is unable to bear alone. Additionally, the renewal potential of a building decreases over time, which reduces the private sector’s interest in participating. A further consideration is that in Hong Kong, there are gaps to fill in building maintenance, including requirements to enhance the regulatory system, property owners who lack knowledge and organisational capacity, and owners’ corporations which lack sufficient financial reserves. All the above have aggravated the situation of urban decay. Facing this daunting challenge, in recent years the URA has, like the construction industry, made multiple changes and implemented new initiatives. They want to rectify the situation with new ideas.

Developing new materials to extend service life

One of the most important initiatives is the adoption of innovative building materials that extend the lifespan of buildings and slow the pace of urban decay. As the first engineer to be a Managing Director of the URA, Ir WAI has used his expertise and turned to civil engineering technologies to inject fresh thinking into construction projects.

As Ir WAI pointed out, the design life of buildings is currently based on a wind load return period of 50 years. If this could be prolonged to 60 or 70 years, the building service life could be longer. “As engineers, we all know in civil engineering, the design life is 120 years. So, it may not be appropriate to simply adopt this design life in building, but it may be time to review the building design code,” He said.

As a result, the URA has commissioned a study across the expertise of the civil engineering and construction industries. It is examining the feasibility of elements and technologies common to civil engineering projects – including use of a longer design life and more durable materials such as higher-grade concrete and coated rebar – and their effectiveness in prolonging the service life of buildings.

Launching Internal Digital Transformation

While encouraging the application of innovative technologies, the URA has embarked on its own internal digital transformation. Ir WAI said: “The use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) is now mandatory in all URA projects, serving as a common platform for communication and collaboration.”

The Shanghai Street/Argyle Street and Central Market projects exemplify the effectiveness of BIM. As well as preserving and revitalising buildings of historical value, new facilities have been added that meet the requirements of modern construction. The URA used BIM to integrate information such as construction design, structural engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering and plumbing facilities over the whole building life-cycle. BIM also aided in identifying structural incompatibilities between old and new designs, allowing the team to resolve issues early and save time and cost.

To facilitate urban renewal planning, the URA developed a unified GIS-based planning system known as URIS. URIS integrates geographic information and data such as land use, planning requirements, development density, etc, and visualises such information on a map. This enables the URA to precisely devise suitable renewal plans for different districts, and also helps to obtain higher operational effectiveness in the project cycle.

The URA also plans to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) for URIS and BIM to automate the approval process for general building plans. In light of this, the URA requests its staff to attend AI-related training.

Cross-sector Collaboration to Promote Urban Renewal

The URA has been active in working with different sectors to seek innovative urban renewal solutions. “Since I joined the URA in 2016, I have been saying that the extent of URA achievement is contingent on the success of building rehabilitation,” Ir WAI stressed. If aged buildings can be maintained in good condition and design life prolonged, the pace of urban decay can be slowed down.

In view of this, the URA has been enhancing property owners’ building maintenance knowledge and the standards of rehabilitation technologies. With the support of the construction industry, they established a one-stop Building Rehabilitation Platform to provide comprehensive building rehabilitation related information and technical support to property owners. The URA has also worked with the Lands Department to introduce amendments to the Deed of Mutual Covenant provisions pertaining to URA projects. These require owners to draw up regular maintenance plans and allocate money in reserve for their execution. The URA has also worked with the Home Affairs Department and multiple NGOs to help property owners set up owners’ corporations to facilitate the coordination of maintenance work.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the construction industry because they were active in the process of setting up the Building Rehabilitation Platform,” said Ir WAI. He expects that as the relevant measures become effective and successfully raise general awareness of building rehabilitation, the construction industry will have to train up skilled workers to meet demand for repair works.

To encourage private sector participation in renewal projects, the URA commissioned the Yau Mong District Study and has adopted area-based strategic planning to form a renewal blueprint. The blueprint also introduces new planning tools such as street consolidation area and transfer of plot ratio. Street consolidation areas forming large-scale redevelopment zones and transfer of plot ratios of residential and non-residential areas can flexibly respond to the public’s needs and cope with changes in the market.

Summing up, Ir WAI said that although the new initiatives and collaboration can enhance its effectiveness, urban renewal still faces many challenges. In future, the URA will step up the pace of innovation, and hopes that the civil engineering and construction industries will continue to collaborate on new solutions.

ᐅ Thinking out of the Box - Technology Propels a New Era in Landscape Architecture

When talking about modular construction, rectangular boxes come to our mind most of the time. During a visit to CIC-Zero Carbon Park, Mr. Paul CHAN, President of the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects and Vice-chairman of Landscape Architects Registration Board shared his latest proposition of applying Mi-infinity concept in transitional housing projects and the latest technological advancement in the landscape architecture arena.

Showing Care Through Mi∞

It is a landscape architect's job to create an enjoyable and functional living space, be it a permanent residential development or transitional housing. With Paul’s extensive experience in creating various functional space as well as his eagerness in technology adoption, Paul shared that Mi-infinity concept matches perfectly with the need of transitional housing projects. He said that transitional housing projects are, most of the time, built on a very small piece of land among completed buildings or establishments which can only be used for a short period of time. The offsite production feature of modular construction enables minimum disturbance to surrounding environment and a speedy establishment or removal process which is ideal for transitional housing projects.

From modular housing units, Paul took the idea further as he noticed residents' need for community facilities. With reference to similar facilities around the world, HKILA's Workgroup on Transitional Housing pulled together professionals from the construction sector, experts from the social welfare sector and users to explore possibilities and make the best out of the limited space available in the transitional housing projects. Paul is proud that the brainstorming sessions bore fruit, as variety of multi-functional space was created.

Flexibility to the Max for the People

Paul also mentioned that this successful application has inspired many other projects into considering "Mi-Landscape". Taking CIC-Zero Carbon Park as an example, Paul envisioned some modifications in the park with modular recreation facilities to add more vibrancy to the park. He said multi-functional modules and adjustable furniture and fixtures are now available where modules can serve as a market or playground in the morning and be transformed into a cinema at night. We can even install solar panels on the modules so that the modules will be self-sustainable and reduce carbon emission.

In fact, back in 2017, Hong Kong has already welcomed its first Mi-Self-Service Library Station in Sai Wan Ho. Other Mi-community facilities, like the Star Gazing Facilities in Sai Kung and Skylight Market in Tin Shui Wai were subsequently completed in 2019 and 2020 respectively, showcasing to the construction industry the infinite possibilities of modular construction.

Technology Applied Across Landscape Life Cycle

Paul believed that modular construction, as well as other construction technology, is the way forward for every role in the construction industry. In the old days, technologies were only used to visualise design effects. With advancement in technology and practitioners' competency, construction technology is used widely in landscape architect's work, from landscape surveying, designing, to facilities management.

Paul highlighted that technology played an important role in forecasting potential conflicts between planned design and the natural environment. For instance, drone mapping and point cloud modelling helps to collect data with high accuracy in a quick aerial survey while ground penetrating radar gives information on what's under the surface of the ground. Landscape architects will be well informed of the natural terrain in the planning stage of the project and plan ahead necessary actions needed to realise their plan.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is also a common tool for landscape architects nowadays. With the help of BIM, various work plans can be incorporated into the same interface where all parties can project clashes and plan better. Paul shared his experience in a stormwater storage pool project built under a park that BIM has prevented a lot of problems in their planning stage. Given the complexity of the project, both structural and infrastructural considerations are important aspects of the project and BIM has helped the project team to plan the public space, staff routing, wires and waterway etc. which are very complicated Paul is pleased that with BIM's help, the project team can visualise the project outcome and that inspired the team to further innovate with more idea to improve the project result and came up with creative ideas to make use of the pool area when it is not in use.

Once facilities are completed, facilities management can make use of geographic information system (GIS) mapping to record and manage the facilities. Paul shared that he was involved in a project to develop a dashboard system to record trees conditions around the city as part of a campaign to encourage public understanding of trees. GIS provided valuable information to the team for selecting the right area for the campaign. The dashboard system was used to update the government's tree database for maintenance and repairs work. Paul said such system would be particularly useful after a typhoon hits the city.

These are only a few examples of technology adoption in landscape architecture to save efforts. Paul envisioned a lot more extensive technology application will be inspired by the successful projects. The CIC hopes that if landscape architect can inject sustainable elements into their plan, Hong Kong will be able to reach carbon neutrality sooner.

Get Ready for the Age of Mi-Landscape Architecture

Innovative technology adoption in landscape architecture is expected to gain importance in the decades to come. As such the biennial Best Landscape Award for Private Property Development organised by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has included use of new construction techniques and modern construction solutions as well as use of new technology in maintenance as its judging criteria.

It is also the government's vision to promote advanced construction technology and at the same time collect environmental data for better planning, Paul believed that Hong Kong landscape architects should catch on this global trend and grasp this golden opportunity to modernise the trade and create better landscape for the city we love.

ᐅ Riding into the Future on Digital Transformation and a World-Class Railway Network

In recent years, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) has been motivating the industry to undertake digital transformation and use digital technologies to enhance efficiency, reduce costs and resolve labour shortage issues. Not long ago, the Council invited Dr Jacob Kam, Chief Executive Officer of Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR), to share how the corporation is using digital transformation to plan and build the next generation of MTR lines.

  

Building for people – a business philosophy for operation

Since its inception, the MTR has maintained a business philosophy of "Building for people". Its mission is to connect communities, offer safe, comfortable and convenient railway services to Hong Kong residents, and drive Hong Kong's evolution as a metropolis.  

 “On the mainland, there is a saying that ‘building railways is building cities’,” stated Dr Kam, citing the Tung Chung Line and the Airport Express Line as examples. The lines have connected Tung Chung and Hong Kong’s airport to urban areas while providing land for property development. Since the launch the lines, Tung Chung has developed from a fishing village into a new town which will eventually accommodate more than 300,000 people.

Elsewhere, another project to redevelop the Siu Ho Wan Depot will open up a large area for building 20,000 public and private housing units. 

The MTR business philosophy of “Building for people” is also evident in its determination to upgrade services continuously. Compared to railway operators worldwide, the train  service performance level of MTR is among the highest in the industry, with 99.9% of passenger journeys achieved on time. 

However, Dr Kam expressed that the company’s pursuit of excellence doesn’t just stop there: “We are striving for 100% on time.” Though the international railway industry has stated it is impossible, Dr. Kam is confident that “if it is ever achieved, it will be achieved in Hong Kong.”

Develop a common data environment 

Following a new direction of "Go Smart Go Beyond", the MTR has studied and adopted smart technologies and innovative solutions, merged technologies with its people-centric business philosophy, and continuously improved the efficiency of every aspect of its business. One of its key digital initiatives was to develop a Common Data Environment (CDE) to integrate complex and disparate engineering data.     

In recent times, several railway construction projects – including the Tung Chung Line Extension, Tuen Mun South Extension and Northern Link – have been initiated as outlined by the Railway Development Strategy 2014. Their scale is huge, and their challenges and complexities comparable to other large-scale construction projects. 

In view of this, Dr Kam said, “We are building a CDE to collect all kinds of information and data about project life cycles and contain it in a single source of truth.”

The CDE can consolidate documents from contractors, construction plans, design diagrams and so on a single platform. It also allows users to review BIM three-dimensional models and any project modifications, progress and records, facilitating monitoring and follow-up actions.  

 “The CDE also enables us to do analysis, data analytics, forecasting and more,” Dr Kam added. For example, forecasting and avoiding design conflicts regarding beams, columns, steel bars and other elements can save time on redesigning and schedule adjustments, increasing the probability of projects being completed on time.  

The MTR plans to develop its own CDE first and an industry-wide one next, creating better connections for practitioners to share and exchange data.

 

All-round application of digital technology

In recent years,  the MTR has introduced a variety of digital management systems with functions ranging from project planning, cost control, design, DfMA and the application of MiC, to routine railway operation and repair. Ultimately, all these systems enable passengers to reach their destinations smoothly and quickly.   

“We are building a data lake to store and monitor data related to customer service, asset conditions, operations and maintenance, in order to enable smart maintenance, smart operations, and more importantly, smart customer service,” said Dr Kam. 

For instance, MTR has upgraded its mobile app to offer real-time information to passengers. One of the more popular functions include station alighting and interchange reminders, as many passengers focus their attention on their mobile phones and may forget to alight at the right station.

For maintenance and asset management, MTR uses an all-in-one smart platform to collect train and railway data for real-time analysis, enabling them to avoid possible failure events and perform maintenance in advance.

The MTR has also introduced a series of carbon neutral pilot designs which use digital technologies. These range from installing transparent solar panels at Hin Keng Station, to an AI-controlled chiller, and an electromagnetic braking system which generates electricity that can be used by stations.

 

Moving forward in solid partnership 

Looking forward, the MTR will simplify station design to further adopt DfMA and accelerate digitalisation to establish partnerships across industries. Dr Kam firmly believes that the company cannot create and upkeep a world-class railway network alone,but shall rely on an orchestrated effort of experts and all industry.  

“To promote DfMA, digitalisation, strong stakeholder engagement and new engineering contracts, we need to partner with the whole industry, experts, government, regulators, technology providers and others,” Dr Kam declared.  MTR will continue collaborating with a variety of partners to build a world-class and sustainable railway network and services, allowing Hong Kong to move forward into the future.

 

ᐅ Get Ready for High Productivity Construction!

Being the 9th most expensive city to build, Hong Kong’s construction industry is at the same time facing challenges in manpower shortage with its ageing workforce. With “Northern Metropolis Development Strategy”, “Lantau Tomorrow Vision”, and other infrastructure developments in the pipeline, it is expected that the annual construction expenditure will reach HK$225 billion to HK$345 billion in the coming decade. Is Hong Kong ready for it? As part of the Construction Industry Council (CIC)’s continuous effort in promoting a more efficient industry environment, we have invited Ir John KWONG, Head of Project Strategy and Governance Office of the Development Bureau (DEVB), to share with us the way Hong Kong should move forward to achieve high productivity construction.

 

ALL IN for a Livable City

As the Chief Executive, Mr. John LEE, has proposed, his goal is to improve efficiency and increase the quantity of housing and land supply. He intend to introduce a broader adoption of Modular Integrated Construction MiC and Building Information Modeling (BIM) in public housing projects in order to speed up the housing supply. John KWONG foresees that Hong Kong will have a persistent demand for construction service, workforce, and aspirations of fast delivery, we also need to overcome challenges of high construction costs.

 

Work Smart, Not Hard

During his presentation, John KWONG pointed out that the industry need to achieve high productivity construction through less manpower requirement, shorter construction time, lower construction cost and better sustainability and safety performance. He suggested that adopting advanced innovative construction technology is apparently a must for us to achieve more with less effort while MiC and Multi-trade integrated Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MiMEP) are the solutions. Several government projects’ adoption of MiC and MiMEP has proved that these technologies helps to improve construction efficiency.

 

Advantages Backed by Data

In December 2020, the University of Hong Kong studied the performance of MiC pilot projects, and found that most critical indicators performed better when compared to conventional construction methods. The result shows us that those technologies do not only save construction procedures and staffing on-site but also shorten construction period and reduce project cost.

 

Measured the performance of the MiC pilot projects

Economic Performance Critical Concrete MiC Steel MiC
Superstructure construction to occupation Shortened by ~ 30% Shortened by ~ 50%
The unit cost of building ~ 6% lower ~7% lower
Overall labour cost ~ 45% lower ~ 70% lower
Defect frequency Largely reduced Largely reduced
On-site labour productivity ~ 100% improved Over 400% improved

 

Let the Result Speak for Itself

A number of MiC projects were completed in Hong Kong, industry practitioners are recognizing the benefits of MiC and were awed by the record-breaking time used to set up the Community Isolation Facilities during the fight against the fifth wave of pandemic.

Using the 5th phase of the CityU Student Hostel project in Ma On Shan as an example, John illustrated the benefits of MiC as it potentially shortens the construction time by almost 30%. To build this 3-tower project with about 2,000 beds with conventional construction methods, the construction period could be 36 months; a contractor proposed to that the whole project can be completed in 24 months with MiC method. “We are hoping to see the success of this project as it demonstrates how a construction project can succeed with MiC.” John shared. We can see that MiC method can shorten superstructure’s construction period by 10 -14 months, especially for tall buildings.

 

The Revolution Has Begun

John is proud that the Hong Kong is moving faster than expected to achieving our target in MiC adoption. With the advancement in MiC technology, Hong Kong will be able to complete a lot more modules on or before 2029. As we increase the speed, efficiency and quantity delivered, the team must also adopt innovative technologies to enhance productivity and accuracy.

Besides the design, construction and operation team, a project involves many other contractors in different construction services. Therefore, extensive use of BIM and common data environment (CDE) will be essential to improve efficiency of design and production, as well as enhance construction safety and risk management.

CDE is pivotal in maintaining the industry’s sustainable development while utilisation of BIM allows the project team to identify conflicts and figure out solutions in advance to ensure a safe and smooth construction. Once the designs are ready, different prefabricated parts will be produced overseas simultaneously. Completed assemblies will be delivered to the site and handed over to the operation team. These technologies dramatically reduce the construction period and staffing; furthermore, it helps create a safer working environment for frontline workers. The CIC hopes to set a benchmark in the construction industry with these good examples.

 

Let’s Ride on the Wave with Supporting Mi Policies

Mi technologies is an upcoming high-value-added industry with tremendous potential, covering areas in design, manufacturing, trading, information technology and logistics. In addition, the industry development attracts advanced technology investments, arousing the interest of more digital technology and engineering talents in Hong Kong. Therefore, Building Department has set up the “Pre-accepted Modular Integrated Construction System” to build up the MiC supply chain for the industry to support wider application of MiC in Hong Kong.

To develop the “Mi” industry in Hong Kong, CIC and DEVB are planning to assess the Mi ecosystem for high productivity construction. In order to ensure the proposal meets the needs of the industry, the entire industry should advise on different levels (design, production, construction, and installation). We should also consider integrating the Great Bay area into practice to grow the market and fulfil the needs of Hong Kong.

John shared that Mainland China is also picking up the pace of change in the Mi industry. The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MoHURD) published a new technical guideline on design, manufacturing, installation, quality and maintenance management and stated that modular construction is the new development of the precast. He foresee that more opportunities will arise in the Mainland for MiC construction.

MiMEP is also valuable to our industry with the advanced development of Mi technology. The DEVB is looking forward to MiMEP’s rooting in Hong Kong. “When we look into MiMEP, we realised that is a high value add for Hong Kong.” John said.

More than 70 MiC projects are under construction; CIC will produce individual cases for benchmarking internationally and share success stories of the industry in order to encourage advancement. CIC is also looking at beefing up its Mi education programmes to train the technology and engineering talent on MiC, MiMEP, BIM, and CDE projects etc.

 

High Productivity Construction is the Future

Facing the persistent demand for construction services and other challenges, John suggested that the industry should focus on 3 solutions:

1. Off-site prefabricated

2. MultiTrade integrated and module maximisation

3. Plug and Play

John reminded us that high productivity construction is the ultimate goal. New technologies can bring significant benefits to the long-term development of Hong Kong’s construction industry in all aspects as it helps to cut down the cost and on-site manpower requirement while improving productivity, safety performance, quality and sustainability. Therefore, John and his team have confidence in the success of MiC and expect to set a bigger goal when MiC becomes mainstream in Hong Kong. CIC is also excited about the transformation and the opportunities to bring a new chapter to the construction industry.

ᐅ Turning the Impossible to Possible Together: Speedy Construction of the Community Isolation Facilities

Dream big, think big – together, we can turn mission impossible into reality. In 32 days, with the strong support from the Central People’s Government (CPG) and the Liaison Office of the CPG (LOCPG), the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG) delivered 20,400 beds in six Community Isolation Facilities amid the early days of the fifth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. Both the scale and the speed of the entire construction project are unprecedented. Apart from adoption of advanced technology, it takes much team work to give birth to this miracle in the history of the Hong Kong construction industry and provide such quantity in a short time with high efficiency.

At the “CIC – See What I See” event, Ms. Winnie Ho, the designated Secretary for Housing has shared with us the success ingredients of this legendary journey in her capacity as Director of Architectural Services. In hindsight, she sees this massive challenge as a “life-saving mission” that could benefit every one of us in Hong Kong in the battle against COVID-19.

Collaborative Leadership Ignites Team Spirit

Walking back the memory lane, Winnie said the key to success was the strong support of the CPG. It only took the team seven days to complete the Tsing Yi Community Isolation Facility, which could house about 1,300 quarantine units and offer around 3,900 beds. Winnie said that the sourcing of beds could be “a big headache”. But thanks to the staunch support from the CPG, the team could find factories to produce all the necessary equipment and components for the facilities within a short time.

Winnie recalled that with the rapid development of the outbreak, the whole project team raced against time. For example, the supply of water, electricity as well as drainage services have been indispensable to construction work on-site. At that time, the leaders of the LOCPG, the HKSARG as well as project contractor China State Construction International Holdings Limited personally supervised and conducted many multi-party meetings with the goal of resolving problems immediately. Winnie’s team read up blueprints, finalised plans and liaised with colleagues from relevant government departments to ensure that the work could be done on time. This kind of intense communication motivated all teams to work closely with each other. Together with the resources and the highly skilled team pulled in by the contractor, the first phase of six quarantine camps finished construction and entered into service in just 32 days.

Winnie felt that all parties involved in the project shared the same mindset and vision. Leaders took up the roles of “commanders-in-chief” and “deputy commanders-in-chief” in the team, shouldered their responsibility and streamlined the workflow with a determination to prioritise the construction work. Such team cohesiveness enhanced efficiency and performance. Every time when Winnie raised a problem, the team would put up their hands and respond, and contributed immensely by coming up with effective solutions. With this high level of mutual trust, the team morale was high.

One of the big challenges of the project has been that there was no precedent to follow. The design of the quarantine units and ancillary facilities had to reach the same standard as the existing regulations and requirements, and also to meet the actual needs of operational teams. Seamless coordination work was essential. The management team was required to work on and review the design, oversee construction materials production and monitor on-site work simultaneously.

These episodes demonstrated the importance for everyone in the team to understand the mission and purposes behind their work, especially as the construction project engaged a maximum of 15,000 workers at the same time, with half working in the factories in the Mainland and the other half in the work sites in Hong Kong. Without this kind of calling, it would be challenging to make sure everyone is marching towards the same goal.

“Time is life. We are saving lives. With this mindset, we are not taking this merely as another construction job – it is a life-saving mission to help Hong Kong get rid of COVID-19,” Winnie said. “It’s possible. We call this the ‘Spirit of Community Isolation Facility’(方艙精神). This spirit comes collectively from this big group of people. We didn’t set out with a spirit in mind at the beginning. But in the end, this emerged.”

When there is a will, there is a way. The construction speed for the first phase of six Community Isolation Facilities was 60 times faster than that in 2020. Between February and March 2022, around 600 beds were added every day while that in 2020 was 10.

Launching ground for pioneering construction technology

Apart from the determination of each and every single team member, the widespread use of technology accelerated the workflow at construction sites of these Community Isolation Facilities. Many construction related technologies are ready for use, what matters the most is how users could manifest the full potential of technologies to serve their own purposes. In a sense, these sites are the launching grounds for pioneering construction technology. After careful experimentation on large scale projects, innovation and insights come up naturally. The building of quarantine camps proves that the construction industry can enhance quality and speed, without compromising the safety and environmental standards.

Winnie mentioned that the quarantine camps have adopted Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) units to minimize the on-site work time. Workers would simply connect these units to water, electricity and sewage systems available on site.

The use of MiC units encountered a new logistical challenge. To deliver these units within a short window of time, the construction team had to rely on delivery via sea transport. Each shipment could send around 30-40 units to the construction sites. That meant there was a need for more barging points and China State had to build them quickly.

Winnie added that another thing her team learnt this time was that the factory could produce MiC units at a rate faster than the construction site could digest. That created a demand for holding sites. At one of the project sites, there were as many as 10 holding sites to store the MiC units to be deployed. One mega project of another government department had a works site located on one of the holding sites, and the officers agreed to move out within two days. “I’m so grateful. At that time, everybody gave us their strongest support and understanding,” Winnie said.

Under this arrangement, the Digital Works Supervision System could come in handy. The system allows users to keep track of the origin, delivery, and latest status of all MiC units in one glance. It keeps users fully informed real-time.

Technology can provide users a new perspective. The use of drones allowed Winnie to inspect the site from the sky. At one construction site, she relied on drones to check the handling of wastes, for confirmation that proper procedures were implemented. Moreover, drones could “fly” with the lighting system to allow operations to continue at night, which was particularly useful for such an urgent project which required many workers to work around the clock.

"Looking at the image captured by a drone at height is even better than seeing the site on the spot,” Winnie said. “When I stand on the spot, I just see a lot of mud. But when you fly a drone, you can see anything you want to see."

China State also made use of their own developed Defect Monitoring Tools to speed up the handover process. Given that quarantine camps are highly repetitive in terms of structure, the company has developed a mobile application to allow users to tick the boxes in the checklist at ease and organise any necessary follow-ups.

In one case, there were some defect items for improvement at one project. With the mobile application, workers knew where and how to tackle those problems, e.g. putting back signages and fixing a loosened handle. They could then take a picture to show the work done. The supervising team thus could stay in the office and check the progress from their mobile devices, saving the efforts for another round of on-site inspection. Within three hours, more than half of the issues were solved.

Setting up a Common Data Environment (CDE) to collect, manage and disseminate data and project information throughout the project lifecycle is gaining traction and attention in the construction industry. “It is essential to continuously collect data about and identify common defects, analyse how they can be fixed and improved,” Winnie said.

Photo courtesy: China State Construction International Holdings Limited

Caring culture in practice

What touched Winnie deeply was the caring culture in the construction sites and Community Isolation Facilities. While the workers spent their energy and time to finish their work to look after the people of Hong Kong, they were also being looked after. The care stations on the ground, ranging from hair salons to canteens, are still vivid in her mind.

The Community Isolation Facilities also arranged celebration of Children’s Day, Easter and Ramadan to bring a festive atmosphere to the occupants. A cartoon character “Hero of Community Isolation Facility(方艙俠)” was created by the operator Security Bureau to bring in positive energy and for easy communication with the occupants. Winnie and her colleagues also often use instant messaging apps stickers of the Hero to encourage each other.

Construction 2.0 driven by the younger generation

Looking forward, “Construction 2.0” is not a squishy concept. It is our future that we can fully grasp.

One day, Winnie talked to a smart guy who was serving as a team leader at the information technology department at China State. She assumed that he would have studied relevant disciplines such as IT and computer, but turned out he started as a rather common frontline construction expertise. This smart man managed to turn his interest into skillsets applicable to advancement of construction work. Winnie still found this example inspiring.

Indeed, many young engineers that came from government departments, the public sector and contractors said that their exposures in this project were eye-opening. The MiC method impressed them the most with its ability to shorten lead time and raise productivity. So long as young people could equip themselves, they could continue to serve the Hong Kong society at different roles.

Keeping the spirit

“You can see the team members are so proud of their work in building this facility to protect Hong Kong,” Winnie said. “I am very proud of my team. At that time, everybody faced a lot of difficulties. But not one of them said ‘no’, nor being hesitant. They all came in immediately when I called upon them.”

Winnie’s team is still working on two Community Isolation Facilities construction projects, one in Penny’s Bay and the other one in Kai Tak. Both are scheduled to finish within this month. Maybe there will be new challenges, but attitude determines success, no doubt the “Spirit of the Community Isolation Facility” will prevail and the team can overcome all the upcoming new challenges, with one united goal and the generous support from our country.

Last Updated: 2022-11-15 17:10:08