Take a 'tour' of building before construction starts

(From left) DCA Architects' BIM manager Min Thu, BCA chief John Keung and Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee taking a virtual tour of the upcoming Mapletree Business City II project at the new Centre for Lean and Virtual Construction on 21 December 2015.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Building owners, designers and contractors can now take a virtual tour of their planned projects at the new Centre for Lean and Virtual Construction.

The million-dollar Building and Construction Authority (BCA) facility was opened officially by Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

Located at the BCA Academy in Braddell Road, the centre is open to firms and institutes of higher learning, with lower fees for the latter.

Designers and engineers can use various 3D technologies to get a better sense of what a building will be like well before it is built. The concept of virtual design and construction - where a structure is first built virtually and then, physically - enables issues to be fixed at the virtual stage.

To boost the industry's use of this approach, the BCA Academy will launch three nine-month diploma courses next year in virtual design and construction, design for manufacturing and assembly, and lean construction.

"The centre is valuable to us contractors as we can test out technology before deciding whether to invest in it," said Straits Construction executive director Kenneth Loo.

For instance, users can point a mobile phone at a printout of a floor plan and watch the project "rise up from the paper" and be built in 3D on the screen.

This would give workers on the ground an overview of the whole construction process.

There is also the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which allows users to walk through a virtual model.

This was used by the Kimly- Shimizu joint venture in building the Yishun Community Hospital.

A representative from Alexandra Health, which will run the new hospital, took a virtual tour to see if the design suited its workflow, and nurses gave feedback based on digital models.

"Since we already have this building information modelling (BIM) model, we decided to do more with it to reduce unnecessary work later," said Kimly- Shimizu joint venture BIM manager Gan Chee Meng.

Replacing traditional blueprints, BIM software presents architectural and engineering plans in the same integrated model.

The centre includes a BIM training room. Small firms will particularly benefit, said Mr Loo, who is also president of the Singapore Contractors Association Limited.

"There's always a psychological barrier with new technology. Here, they can have a feel of what it's all about," he said.

Since July, all firms have had to submit architectural and engineering BIM data for new projects larger than 5,000 sq m. But using it at the submission stage is not enough, said BCA chief executive officer John Keung. "We need to get them to use BIM to work together." The software helps identify design clashes - for instance, between walls and amenities such as cabling. This allowed Kimly-Shimizu to find and fix problems at the planning stage for the hospital, saving three to 21 days of rectification work each time.

"We are confident that there will be more firms coming on board once they know the benefit of cutting waste and speeding up the building process," said Dr Keung.

This article was first published on December 22, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.