The 12 Key Principals for Implementing Industrialised Building System (IBS)

(Article for Building & Investment (B&I) Magazine)

By Kamarul Anuar Mohamad Kamar, Ir. Elias Ismail, Emasria Ismail, Ir. Dr. Zuhairi Abd. Hamid, Professor Mustafa Alshawi, Maria Zura Mohd Zin, Mohd. Khairolden Ghani and Ahmad Hazim Rahim
Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) Malaysia

Industrialised Building System (IBS) is defined as a construction technique in which components are manufactured in a controlled environment (on or off site), transported, positioned and assembled into a structure with minimal additional site work. Those parts of building that are repetitive but difficult, time consuming, labour intense to cost at site are design and detailed as standardised components at factory. IBS also involve onsite casting using innovative and clean mould technologies (steel, aluminum and plastic). IBS offers benefits in term of cost and time certainty, attaining better construction quality and productivity, reducing risks related to occupational safety and health, alleviating issue on skilled workers and dependency on manual foreign labour and achieving ultimate goal of reducing overall cost of construction.

However, the availability of cheap foreign labour which offset the cost benefit of using IBS is a root cause of the slow adoption in Malaysia. It also relates to sheer cost of investment and the inadequacy of market size. Small contractors are already familiar with the conventional system and for them the technology suit well with small scale projects and therefore not willing to switch to mechanised based system. Furthermore, small contractors lack financial backup and are not able to set up their own manufacturing plants as it involves very intensive capital investment. As a result, the industry is reluctant to use IBS unless it is required by the clients. A wider understanding on the characteristics and what is involved in IBS is needed to guide the industry. There is a critical need to manage the design and manufacturing differently from the traditional way as IBS is different and needs a different mindset along with the right environment. Rethinking the old processes is now critical if the industry is to move forward. What is needed is guidance on key principals which can be orchestrated the effort to adopt new construction mechanism. There are consensus of opinion that IBS best handled as a holistic process rather than just a collection of technological solutions. The approach requires total synchronisation on construction, manufacturing and design processes. It needs emphasis on rationalisation, standardisation, repetition, collaboration, supply chain partnering and more effective planning and project management. The article provides basis on the principals that are critical to IBS in Malaysia which result to the success or failure on IBS implementation. The 12 Key Principals in Implementing IBS are as follows:

1. Changing conventional design to IBS during after the tender has been rewarded is a bad practice. IBS can be only benefit if decision to use it can be decide as early as possible not as afterthought during the project. The design must be firm before manufacture and installation. The concept of design freeze should be implemented.

2. Planning is essential. IBS requires thorough arrangement of detail design, work delivery schedule, most cost effective way for installation and logistic is coordinated and benefit in term of shorter construction period is materialised. Tighter and longer period of planning are required to allow for design, logistic and installation planning, procurement and approval procedures. Extensive planning must be completed well in advance which lead to better project performance, coordination, better scope control and ensure smooth project sequence.

3. IBS can be best implemented if we have capability in design management and design integration, where aspects that can benefited the projects can be incorporated through design i.e. standardisation, modular, pre-assembly, manufacturability and constructability.

4. Obtaining manufacturing input at an early stage of the project is essential to IBS design. It is vital for IBS adopters to involve the project team in design stage as early as possible to ensure their input on the issue of manufacturing, design harmonisation and constructability are captured before the design is confirmed and transfer to the manufacturing floor.

5. The adopters must have a clear business strategy, clear capital expenditure analysis, structured cost control instruments and initiate the use of appropriate technology at time. Based on the industrialisation principal, innovation adoption is an evolution which depends on the maturity of organisation. There is no point on implementing the latest construction technologies in IBS, without considering one capability and readiness to embrace in it. In recent times, more and more public projects were tendered in Private Finance Initiative (PFI) mode. Thus, requires companies to have strong finance capability and strategy. Partnering perhaps is the way forward to build up capacity and capability to implement IBS. Successful IBS implementation is also depends on the strong support, commitment, awareness, vision, knowledge and leadership of CEO/Senior Management. In most cases, IBS is a top-down implementation. Obtaining this support could be the key to the successful IBS project.

6. IBS requires good communication channel and information flows between all level of decision making and all project phases. Effective communication channel across the supply chain need to be established in order to coordinate processes and deal with critical scheduling in IBS from the beginning until the project completion. Clarity and simplicity of communication channel is the rule. ICT could be a reliable support tool.

7. The repetition process each time project was implemented allows continues improvement and waste elimination in the technique and processes to achieve better performance in IBS. IBS can only benefit the adopters if the implementer can adopt improvement in each repetitive process and potentially to cut corners in term site arrangement, logistic, process flows due to the nature of repetitiveness. This is the essence of manufacturing which has been adopted in construction through IBS.

8. The imperative factor in successful IBS implementations lies in good site management, planning and control of overall process in project life cycle. This in turn, leads to recommendation that experience and well-trained workers are the critical for IBS. Project Managers must be able to work with multi trade involved in IBS. Engineers with good technical knowledge in analysis, design, manufacturing and construction have the ability to manage systematic IBS systems. Design knowledge is also critical. If the components are skillfully designed, erection can be carried out efficiently. Furthermore, complying with good practices in design and construction leads to high quality IBS structures. A comprehensive training scheme will support this.

9. IBS can only be implemented if we have demand and economy viable. IBS adopters were suggested to be selective in choosing projects that are economic viable and can benefit by the use of IBS. Large and repetitive contract is preferred. It was observed that a number of successful IBS adopters are indeed a sub-division of developers which can ensure stability, continues resources and continues business. Others initiate partnering and strategic alliance. Only by having demand IBS can sustain.

10. ICT is the key enabler to IBS implementation and become a reliable support tool. The application of ICT tools needs to be utilised in a more widespread manner, in order for the IBS industry to improve efficiencies, planning, manage process and ensure reliability of components deliveries.

11. The integration of IBS components or modules into the building requires the various parties and supply chain to cooperate closely. This requires very careful definitions and management of interfaces between contractors and suppliers and a good communication channel. It has been suggested that by implementing integrated approach in design and construction, fragmentation gap could minimised. Establishing partnering and strategic alliance in supply chain is the way forward.

12. There is no reason why construction approach to components production should be radically different from what is used by today’s leading manufacturers of consumer product. It should include management and sustained improvement of the production process to eliminate waste and ensure the right components are produced and delivered at a right time, in the right order and without defect. In this respect Malaysian construction industry has a great deal to learn about effective logistics management.

Industrialising construction by way of manufacture of building components and delivery on site exactly when needed is considered an effective way to achieve productivity gains and to make the industry more attractive for new entrance. Nonetheless, with over forty years of laissez faire implementation in Malaysia, IBS has not widely accepted or used as mainstream construction. To expedite the adoption of IBS, factors which are important to IBS need to be identified. There is a critical need to manage the design and manufacturing differently from the traditional way as IBS is different and needs a different mindset along with the right environment. Rethinking the old processes is now critical if the industry is to move forward. The 12 Key Principal to Implement IBS which has been identified in this article will assist in our understanding on IBS and improve overall readiness. As the way forward, partnering in IBS project should be encouraged. But, culture and competitive nature of this business will hamper partnering efforts. Government, on the other hand should continue creating market demand for IBS particularly from private sector. By having continues demand and volume IBS can sustain.

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