Crafting an edge in the construction industry

  • Local construction conglomerate capitalizes on ICT as a way to differentiate itself in the market
  • Claims its flagship digital modeling tool makes construction more efficient, helping clients save money

CONSTRUCTION is perhaps one of the most complex engineering disciplines there is, yet not many know how much information and communication technology (ICT) is extensively used at the backend because so much is focused on the end products that these companies build, whether they are highways, bridges, or properties – residential or otherwise.
But for local construction giant the Sunway Group at least, ICT is at the center of not only its operations but also its design philosophy, making it a key differentiator in its value proposition to its clients.

Dato’ Tan Kia Loke, its senior managing director for construction, said ICT is used extensively in his group’s front- and back-end operation divisions. In fact, such is the prominence of the value of ICT in the Sunway Group that it was the first company in Malaysia's construction industry to use a full enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, some 20 years ago, he claims.

Crafting an edge in the construction industrySpeaking to Digital News Asia recently, Tan (pic) says that the Sunway (construction) Group got into ERP because it saw the value of using such a system to improve work processes and efficiencies for its operations.

“Apart from gaining from efficiency using ERP within our company, one big advantage is when we had joint ventures (JVs) [on construction projects] with overseas partners.”
Tan explains that in managing a JV construction project with such an ERP platform in place, JV partners will comfortable with each other as the system allows off-site and cross-border approvals as well as transactions to be done more efficiently, resulting in time- and cost-savings.
“Can you imagine the impact on your bottom line when executing an overseas project? I can approve transactions from my seat here in Malaysia,” he says.
Digital modeling tool

Besides modernizing much of Sunway Group’s ICT infrastructure, Tan, who describes himself as a “non-tech savvy” executive, says that he’s constantly looking out for how ICT can continue to give the company an edge in the business.
One ICT application that Tan is particularly proud of is Sunway Group’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) software, claiming that his is the only construction company in the region that applies such a methodology in its projects.
Essentially a high-tech tool for those in the construction industry, VDC is a five-dimension modeling software tool that is able to incorporate not only 3D design but adds two other dimensions – that of time and bill of quantities (cost) into the model so as to create a much more holistic way of designing buildings.
The VDC tool aids the Sunway Group to not only vastly improve design criteria but also to lower costs and avoid unnecessary delays in project delivery. Tan says work on VDC began in 2010, and the integration of off-the-shelf software and Sunway Group's construction processes and expertise has culminated in a full-fledged working tool today.
He explains that in a typical construction project, there are three parties involved: The architect, the civil and structural engineers, and the mechanical and electrical engineers. Each of these groups of people have their own plans and drawings and the irony is that not all of them communicate well with each other.
“Without a modeling tool to work with in the beginning of the project, what we contractors find out, often the hard way, is that there are changes and obstacles to the design of a building far too late as a lot of collaboration only happens at the construction stage.
Crafting an edge in the construction industry“For example, the structure in a building is put in before, say, an air condition duct, which is the responsibility of the mechanical and electrical engineers. But what we find is that without simulation, the air condition duct may not be able to go through the structure as these obstacles were not ironed out from the outset.”
Tan says that with the VDC, all plans, drawings and specifications can be put in into the tool and the end design simulated to look for any anomalies before actual construction takes place, which will not only save time and money later but make life easier for all three parties.
“The main benefit of the VDC is that the digital process allows us visualize how the project (see chart, click to enlarge) will look like much earlier during the feasibility study phase (pink) rather than later, when the actual physical structures are already built in the construction phase (green)”
To prove that Sunway Group’s VDC works as it says, Tan say that it has applied this new modeling to a current building it is constructing in its backyard. Known as the Sunway Pinnacle, the office block is due to be ready in June 2013.
“Using our VDC technology, we have already begun to see savings of up to 10% (RM20 miilion or US$6.4 million) of the total cost of construction, some RM200 million (US$64 million),” Tan says. “The VDC has helped us to pick up things not previously detectable, many of which came from the electrical and mechanical components.”
He says while the VDC tool is commercially available to others in the construction industry, the Sunway Group is the first company that has successfully married the software with its technical expertise and construction processes holistically so that it can provide a significant advantage to it as a company offering such services.

“Others too can buy such tools as they are available for all in the market to access. But the question is are they able to use it to their advantage and offer their clients the added value that we can bring?”

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