Understanding Open System in IBS

Kamarul Anuar Mohamad Kamar, Elias Ismail, Emasria Ismail, Zuhairi Abd. Hamid, Maria Zura Mohd Zin, Mohd. Khairolden Ghani and Ahmad Hazim Rahim (2009), Understanding Open System in IBS, B&I Magazine, Nov- Dec 2009.


The fundamental idea of Industrialised Building System (IBS) is to move some effort away from construction site to manufacturing floor. In IBS construction, building components are pre-fabricated at factory and transport to site for installation. The government of Malaysia has agreed to expand the method of IBS in construction sector and endorsed the content of IBS Roadmap 2003- 2010 to guide the mission.

One of the main objectives of the roadmap is to introduce Open Building System (OBS) concept by the year 2010. OBS is the long term and systematic approach toward a positive development of building industry. The introduction of OBS will not only reengineer our construction process (supply-chain, trades, design, etc.) but will transform the way of doing business in construction. It allows openness in IBS supply chain where builders can bid for lower price of components. It encourages participation from manufactures and assemblers to enter the market, thus reducing the price of IBS components. OBS creates new businesses and develop more small and medium company particularly Bumiputera manufacturer that capable to produce construction components.

OBS also giving the values to customers by providing aesthetical, practical option and flexibility to construction products profitable market since the supplier will only be motivated to invest in new products and innovation solution if they can foresee enough sales. Local technologies on IBS component such as in lightweight components and interlocking blocks can be fully utilised. OBS allows at some points, customers and housebuyers to be involved in design, trough selection of building components at the onset of the project. The adoption of the OBS together with fully utilisation of IBS will greatly benefit the building industry as it increases the production capacity, lower manpower requirement, shorten construction time, improve quality and in the long run bring down the overall building cost.


Open Building System (OBS) was first promoted during the rebuilding years of post-war Netherlands. The rules for dimensions, positions and interfaces of components are important elements of OBS. It can be defined with the following characteristics:

• OBS is an innovative design and construction
• It allows interchangeability of components and sub-system from variety of manufactures and suppliers
• It takes advantage of an open market of building components that fit together, geometrically and functionally for a wide variety of building types
• It will encourage participation from manufactures and assemblers to enter the market, thus reducing the price of IBS components
• It advocates a concept of modularity and separation of different levels of decision-making
• The use of standard jointing system to fix two or more system together in one building
• It allows customer involvement in design. Customer can chose any building components using components catalogue provided by the developers
• OBS will encourage higher level of industrialisation through pre-assembly and automation

OBS vs. Closed System

Current systems in Malaysia which supports the usage of Industrialised Building Systems (IBS) are mainly a close system, where each component manufacturers have their own propriety building systems to be adopted in the project. A closed system can be classified into two categories, namely production based on client’s design and production based on manufacturer’s design. The first category is designed to meet a spatial requirement of the client’s that is the spaces required for various functions in the building as well as the specific architectural design.

In this instance, the client’s needs are paramount and the manufacturer is always forced to produce a specific component for a building. On the other hand, the production based on manufacturer’s design includes designing and producing a uniform type of building or a group of building variants, which can be produced with common assortments of component. Nevertheless, these types of building arrangement can be justified economically only when the architectural design observes large repetitive element and standardisation. In respect to this, closed systems can overcome the requirement of many standardised elements by automating the design and production process and sufficient demand for a typical type of building such as school so that a mass production can be obtained.

In Open Building System (OBS), a building can use two or more systems. It allows openness to selects components supplier where everybody can bid to produce lower price of components. Manufacturer and installer will look for cooperation models that will create benefit for both. OBS also allows the precaster to produce a limited number of elements with pre-determined range of product and at the same time maintaining architectural aesthetic value. The cost of building components will be reduced in the long run where plenty of options are available in the market. It also permits hybrid application.


With the introduction of Open Building System (OBS), dimensional coordination and accuracy of sizing of building material and components become essential and extremely important. It therefore require a solution to overcome the detrimental effects of changes in decision making to position and dimension in building process. Therefore, Modular Coordination (MC) provides means to simplify those decisions making by putting them in an orderly manner.

MC is a concept of coordination of dimensions and space where buildings and components are dimensioned and positioned in a basic unit or module known as 1M which is equivalent to 100 mm. It is well documented in the Malaysian Standard MS 10064: Part I -10: 2001. The rules set by the Malaysian Standard MS 1064 that were based on Nederlands Normalisatie Instituut (NNI)’s NEN 6000; the standards for MC in design of buildings. The system allows standardisation in design and building components. It will encourage participation from manufactures and assemblers to enter the market, thus reducing the price of IBS components.

The proposed enforcement of using MC through Uniform Building By-Law (UBBL) would encourage the adoption through standardisation and the use of IBS components. MC will allow designer to design building with standard sizes so the manufacturer will be able to produce standard size components. MC has been introduced in Malaysia since 1986, but has not been widely implemented in the building industry. The main factors limiting the uses of MC in building industries is lack of knowledge on MC concept and it requires precision dimensioning and proper planning.

Integration and Coordination in OBS

The major systems include the building site, the structural envelope, the division of space inside the building, the plumbing, wiring, heating and cooling, and the cabinets, furniture and other stuff that people put inside the building. By disentangling the systems and subsystems from each other, opportunities are increased for better organization, increased consistency, quality and more control and flexibility for the homeowner.

The key aspect of OBS is dimensional coordination to allow flexibility in form of construction, and the capacity to deal with differences in dimension and tolerance. In order to obtain an optimal result, a high degree of coordination must exist between various relevant parties such as designer, manufacturer, owner, and contractor. This is achieved through an integrated system in which all these functions are performed under a unified authority. Therefore the subdivision of the building process needs to reflect the lines of decision making and the definition of responsibilities between the parties. This subdivision can then be translated into specifications for connections between building parts.

The interchangeability aspect of OBS requires detailed organisation and coordination of building activities such the production, transportation and erection of the various building components at the worksite to achieve short construction period and a high exploitation of resources and investment. One of the most important aspects of any organization is its communication structure. Good communication among a team of architects and builders who have clearly defined roles is a rarity in the building industry today. The person who designs a building often never meets the electrician or plumber with the result that each piece of a home is built without considering the whole picture. In the building industry good communication has remained difficult to achieve because of the fractured nature of both the industry and any given project. Information technology can take a significant part of development by providing a better communication channel.

Barriers on OBS

The ideal state of having OBS for the whole industry is very unlikely in the near future as stipulated under the roadmap by the year 2010. This is because the industry already has 138 IBS systems providers with 375 IBS products that cover precast concrete frames, panels and blocks, steel frames, prefabricated timber frames as well as system formworks. Each system provider has invested heavily and not all systems or production facilities are easily adjustable or convertible. Other shortcomings to OBS include:

• Malaysian construction has very diverse group of stakeholders, which can have very different objectives, requirement and disagreement between stakeholders
• Lack of successful global recognize project on OBS using materials and products on available widely on open market
• Key issue in OBS is to educate clients and designers.
• OBS is not guaranteed the aesthetics demanded by the end users
• The implementation faced ‘joint and connection’ problem. It occur when two element from different systems are fixed together. The standardization of joint and connection detail is needed
• The adaptation required an extensive transfer of knowledge, skills and technology in order to reorient change in business process. The market situation is also a factor where some markets seem ready for OBS but whilst other none.
• The existing structure and legal regulation of construction industry.
• Market monopolise by big manufacturing company of close system.


Steps proposed for the successful introduction of Open Building System (OBS) in Malaysia:

• Educate the clients and create a market demand for OBS. Ultimately, the clients are the one who dictate the construction method of their projects.
• To introduce OBS, it is important to promote the development that meets the expectation of the sectors. An important way to get to know and understand that expectation of the sector is to involve stakeholders (architect, construction companies, developers and public administrators) from the beginning, gathering and analyzing the requirement
• OBS needs Life Cycle methods in order to state the requirement and consider user needs, to be able to design for required performance and life cycle, and to be able to make decisions between alternative option, this include introduction of Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Costing
• Uniform building regulation formulated to support OBS and standardisation is necessary to encourage industrialisation by establishing uniform requirement throughout the country. It is also important that the regulation be administrated and interpreted uniformly
• Improvement in logistics; manufactures of construction components and site shall adopt just in time technique, optimization of handling devise and tools and automation method to achieve cost reduction
• OBS requires extensive ICT tools; development of software tools in order to help users for the selection of adequate option, for instance, a dynamic catalogue
• Malaysian standard joints for IBS (wet or dry) must be designed and made available for use by the industry.
• OBS buildings must be competitive in terms of cost, performance and quality as compared to proprietary system and conventional methods in order to be sustainable in the construction market, thus enhanced OBS concept in Malaysia
• A complete comprehensive encompassing the entire construction value chain will ensure OBS success. These shall include verification, validation and certification of process on construction components, fabricator, factory, erector and related skills of specialization
• Considerable investment for training, education and technology transfer. The training must equip the professionals with timely and relevant skills. More Research and Development (R&D) in soft and hard issues of OBS
• OBM has to harmonize its approach, model and tools with the legal regulation and standard.

The Way Forward

The industry through government bodies like CIDB and SIRIM needs to develop Malaysian Standard Joint for IBS components. It is significant because of two prefabricated parts only fit on the building site if their dimensions and connections are well coordinated. Current developed joint are used in closed system protected by patent. They are specifically design to fit the pre-caster prefabricated component and it is not supporting holistic concept of openness in OBS. At present, CIDB through their research arm, Construction Research Institute of Malaysia (CREAM) has been collaborated with Public Work Department (PWD) and expert from University of Nottingham are developing the standard joint that look into the strength, stiffness, ductility and stability of the connection. The Malaysian Standard Joints will be available by the end of 2010. Furthermore, OBS can be success by introducing client-orientation approach. It can be materialized by targeting and penetrating the upper market and high-end urban development. The customers at this level are keen on the aesthetical products and practical design space of the building and OBS provide variety of available finishes and design concepts.

Marketing OBS concept to this target group will give a huge and profitable market since the supplier will only be motivated to invest in new products and innovation solution if they can foresee enough sales. Educate the customers to be more involved in design stage is the way forward to promote OBS. Customer can choose their building materials at the onset of housing development. This can create good marketing gimmick to developers in order to attract homebuyers. Developers, then can play their role to advice designers to design according to Modular Coordination (MC) and based on available IBS components in the market. Then, the contractors will pay the role of coordinating the installation of components according to customer’s wish. Based on IBS Roadmap, CIDB will publish OBS Roadmap, introduce OBS Steering Committee, to conduct OBS international seminar, publish OBS catalogue and to use OBS as a main criteria to judge the contender for Malaysian Construction Industry Excellent Award (MCIEA).

IBS Roadmap also keen to produce more Bumiputera contractor to be as a manufacture or erector in the near future. The construction of life-size structures at the compound of IBS Centre, Kuala Lumpur will be the first ever attempt at show-casing a diverse range of products and techniques in the construction technology market. The full scale structures will demonstrate attempts at using the OBS and combination of multi IBS products and components in building designed according to MS 1064, the MC design standard.

The components involve in this OBS pilot projects are from Pryda (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. (Roof trusses), BPB Malaysia Gypsum Sdn Bhd. (Internal wall partitions), IJM Building Systems Sdn Bhd. (Formwork systems), Corporate Builders Sdn Bhd (PC Walls), Baktian Sdn Bhd (PC Walls), ACP Industries Bhd (Half Slabs), Setia Precast Sdn Bhd (PC Walls), Eastern Pretech Sdn Bhd. (Hollow Core Slabs & Toilet Pod), PJD Concrete Products Sdn Bhd (PC Walls), Zenbes Sdn Bhd (Blocks), CSR Building Materials (M) Sdn Bhd (Light-weight Blocks), Lafarge Roofing Systems Sdn Bhd (Roof Tiles), VS Interior D├ęcor Sdn Bhd (Railings), Hoe Fock Wooden Works Sdn Bhd (Wooden Windows & Door Frames), STO Sea Sdn Bhd (Painting), Johan Ceramics Berhad (Tiles).

Let’s hope that OBS will not only improve performance and quality in construction, minimize the dependency of unskilled foreign labours but also giving the values to customers by providing aesthetical, practical option and flexibility to construction products profitable market since the supplier will only be motivated to invest in new products and innovation solution if they can foresee enough sales.


Anonymous said...

salam. i think i would like to make a thesis about OBS...any recommendation for the title of OBS?


Anonymous said...

Salam, My thesis topic is about the readiness of OBS application in Malaysia which highlighted the overall scenario and perspective Malaysian's stakeholders towards the OBS. However, after read a few article about OBS within country and overseas, I get confused about the real OBS is. Some said that OBS is the system which are installed with IBS components in construction period , some said OBS is a concept to the open style of building and some said OBS is one method to sustainable building where related to the Green Building. Can give me some explanation on the statement?

Thank you.