After years of official encouragement, Gamuda Bhd is demonstrating to the construction industry that the Industrialised Building System (IBS) holds immense promise by investing in not one, but two purpose-built IBS plants.

In early 2015, Gamuda invested more than RM100mil – excluding land cost – in constructing Malaysia’s first robotic IBS factory at a 7ha plot in Sepang’s Tanjung Industrial Park.

The factory was completed last June, and is now producing concrete segments for three blocks of affordable housing in Jade Hills in Kajang. This is a 148ha development by Gamuda Land, Gamuda’s property arm.

The factory has the capacity to produce up to 2,000 apartment units a year.

According to Gamuda Engineering Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Ubull Din Om, the mass adoption of IBS was driven out of the need for better efficiency, less material wastage, and shorter delivery timelines.

“The use of IBS also increases the level of safety at the site as fewer workers will be needed. In developed countries, health and safety compliance costs can be so high that in some cases, they nearly match the cost of putting up the building itself,” said Ubull.

“Sustainability and innovation have been the key drivers in Gamuda as a construction and property group since the company’s inception 40 years ago. As a result of the drive for efficiency, the reliance on labour, especially unskilled foreign labour, can be reduced.”

That said, Gamuda took its time to carefully research and shop around for the best solution for Malaysia.

The IBS factory is clean and neat and reduces many of the hazards associated with conventional wet works at construction sites. Seen here is engineer Lim Hui Yan with a completed wall segment.

The IBS factory is clean and neat and reduces many of the hazards associated with conventional wet works at construction sites. Seen here is engineer Lim Hui Yan with a completed wall segment.

“It has taken us a few years to plan and decide on a plant design that will suit our local context and needs before we committed ourselves to the purchase.”

Gamuda’s fully robotic IBS plant that is housed within a factory stands out as many other contractors are still practising IBS in a rather haphazard manner. It is not uncommon for building components to be fabricated under open air conditions, resulting in inconsistent end product quality due to temperature fluctuations and exposure to the elements.

The spanking new factory just 9km away from KLIA, is as clean and neat as any modern factory, with the compound largely dust-free, unlike some precasting yards.

“As we are both a developer and contractor, we are aware of what the market needs, and what is the best way to get there,” said Ubull.

“We are also different from the rest in the sense that we are utilising an integrated 3D Building Information Modelling design and utilising a shared Common Data Environment (CDE), which allows us to customise our designs without having to invest in a new set of moulds for every new project.”

CDE enables sharing and transfer of relevant information related to drawings, design, raw material supply, stockyard inventory, logistics and even finance data on a single platform through software and robotics engineering, resulting in the automation of the entire production process.

“This enables us to roll out from design to construction quickly as each cast is formed individually by the robots,” added Ubull.

The equipment and machinery in the factory are commonly used in Europe and other parts of South-East Asia which have already embraced IBS. The Government, through MIDA and CIDB, has granted Gamuda IBS the Investment Tax Allowance which allows 60% of the qualifying capital expenditure to be given tax breaks, making the company the first in Malaysia to utilise this.

“The equipment was not difficult to procure, though a lot of thought went into specifying the plant to fit our needs. A significant proportion of the cost and time was also invested in the Building Information Modelling (BIM) academy to train our staff so they could design and operate the automated process,” Ubull pointed out.

BIM is the means by which everyone can understand a building through the use of a digital model built using data contributed in a collaborative fashion – before, during and after construction.

Robotic welders at work at Gamudas IBS facility in Sepang.

Robotic welders at work in Gamuda’s IBS facility in Sepang.

Creating a digital building information model allows those who need to interact with the building to come up with the best solution or action to maximise the long-term value for the asset.

BIM is expected to transform the Malaysian construction industry by taking it through a digital revolution in which team members will be working on a common platform that allows them to create value from the synergy between people, process and technology.

Gamuda is one of the forerunners in the use of BIM, having implemented it for the underground portion of the Klang Valley MRT project since 2012. The use of BIM is now mandated throughout the company. “Based on our experience with Line 1 of the MRT, there has been reduced wastages as co-ordination between different construction trades was carried out before any physical work started on site. This helped to avoid costly and time-wasting rectifications when two or more elements get into each other’s way. It certainly helped reduce the rerouting of ducting, cabling and hacking of structures,” added Ubull.

With reduced dependence on manual and unskilled labour, there is now a value add in terms of local human capital development as more employees, including its subcontractors, are trained to use BIM and IBS.

“To facilitate the human capital development process, we have set up an academy which will train over 1,000 staff in BIM – in 3D, 4D and 5D workflows – over the next two years. Gamuda hopes to lead the change in the construction industry as far as reducing inefficiencies and wastage are concerned,” Ubull continued.

“We hope to see greater emphasis on IBS in future government procurement. With Gamuda IBS, any construction will easily exceed the IBS score of 75 as desired by the Government. For example, our affordable housing projects at Jade Hills have achieved a score of more than 90.”

A second IBS factory by Gamuda is currently under construction in Banting, and will be ready in the third quarter of 2018.

“This facility will cater to industry needs as Gamuda intends to play a key role as turnkey contractor. Federal or state housing projects will benefit from Gamuda’s IBS proposition, where we would be able to build in half the time, thus ensuring the Government is able to deliver affordable housing on time as construction can be shortened by 12 to 18 months for high-rise buildings. The shorter delivery time translates into savings in interest payments for the house buyer.”

Gamuda is also in discussions with various parties to make customised IBS products for them. Gamuda Land is working closely with Gamuda IBS to develop products for affordable housing all the way to premium landed homes.

“Gamuda IBS is not a gamble. We believe it to be a natural evolution towards being efficient, highly skilled and delivering high quality products,” said Ubull, who added that the construction industry has not seen many ground-breaking developments.

“It has been practised in pretty much the same way for the past 30 years or so – the technology has not changed. But we believe the future is here.”

As the IBS building elements are installed in Lego-like fashion, the worksite is cleaner and neater as there are few wet works (like concrete mixing and plastering), while dependence on manual labour has been cut by 60%.

For first-time house buyers, the end result is affordable houses constructed with the same precision as high-end homes.

“In fact, you can see that the affordable houses we are building now using IBS can come out looking better than some so-called luxury products built 15 to 20 years ago,” added Ubull.