Skip to main content

Mi Infinity

Earlier the government announced that as of March this year, there were 147,500 general applications for public rental housing (PRH), with the average waiting time increasing to 6.1 years – a record 24-year high. Land and housing shortages have been the most pressing livelihood issues for successive governments. How to increase housing supply whilst eliminating subdivided units and cage homes will be a similarly top priority for the new leadership team.

Top-down pathway to drive innovation

Since 2016, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) has been committed to driving the use of innovative technologies in government and the industry, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), Modular Integrated Construction (MiC), Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), and Multi-trade Integrated Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MiMEP).

The incumbent Chief Executive, Mrs. Carrie LAM, who acquired a broad understanding of the construction industry while serving as the Secretary for Development earlier in her career, supports and recognises the need for innovation in the industry. As early as the 2017 Policy Address, the government expressed strong support for the use of MiC in public and private construction projects to address the issues of labour shortages, an ageing workforce, safety and high construction costs. As a result, a number of pilot public projects were implemented, including InnoCell at Science Park, Married Quarters for the Fire Services Department at Pak Shing Kok in Tseung Kwan O, and Nam Cheong 220 transitional social housing in Sham Shui Po. The 2018 Policy Address subsequently put forward “Construction 2.0”, a joint initiative by the Development Bureau and the CIC for enhancing the industry’s competitiveness and sustainable development with the application of new technology via “innovation”, “professionalisation” and “revitalisation”.

MiC pilot projects include (Left) InnoCell (source of image: Leigh & Orange Limited) and (Right) Married Quarters for the Fire Services Department at Pak Shing Kok in Tseung Kwan O (source of image: Yau Lee Construction).

Multi-pronged approach to implementing technology

The Development Bureau subsequently set up a steering committee to promote the application of new construction technologies through collaboration with related departments and devise relevant policies. After visiting Singapore to study the strategy and experience of MiC adoption, the Secretary for Development, Mr. Michael WONG, pushed ahead for its use in all public works projects, including schools, hostels, hospitals and government office buildings. After years of effort, more than 70 projects in Hong Kong have now adopted MiC. Among them is the Chinese Medicine Hospital in Tseung Kwan O, which will become a remarkable example for the industry after its completion in 2025. Construction work on the City University of Hong Kong Student Hostel at Whitehead, Ma On Shan, commenced in mid-March 2022. In addition to hostel rooms, it will feature a communal area, corridors, toilets and plant rooms all adopting MiC technology. In total, the project involves more than 1,300 MiC modules, making it the largest MiC-built student hostel project in the world and reinforcing Hong Kong's significant position in the international MiC market.

Meanwhile, the government required public works projects with budgets exceeding $30 million to adopt BIM technology starting from 2018. BIM enables the comprehensive analysis of the entire construction life cycle through virtual reality and three-dimensional models, helping to resolve construction risks in advance. In December of last year, the Development Bureau issued a  technical circular (works) which further required works departments to provide their design and as-built BIM models to the Lands Department to facilitate the development of the BIM Data Repository. The BIM Data Repository is a one-stop platform for managing, analysing and sharing public works projects’ BIM data from design to completion, and will help to drive the development of a “smart city” in Hong Kong.

Last month, we visited two major construction sites which demonstrated the works department’s efforts to enhance overall project efficiency and safety by integrating digital project management, a people-oriented approach and new technologies in line with “Construction 2.0”.

The courage to strive for success

The Expansion of Sha Tau Kok Sewage Treatment Works Phase 1 is the first “Construction 2.0” pilot project carried out by the Drainage Services Department. During our visit, six young engineers gave a detailed introduction on the challenges overcome by the use of innovative technologies. These included Hong Kong’s first application of land-sea two-way Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) method to construct a new 1.7 km submarine outfall while avoiding disturbance to the seabed and nearby fish farms, and minimising the impact on the marine ecology. The team also used underwater drones to replace divers for inspecting diffusers and silt curtains, enabling them to capture and receive real-time images while reducing costs and enhancing safety.

Another highlight at the temporary sewage treatment plant was the construction of a 14m high Equalisation Tank (EQ Tank). As the location is surrounded by super structures, traditional lifting and stacking methods would have imposed a certain degree of safety risk. The team therefore used the DfMA method to divide the tank into 150 steel panels, each precisely cut at the factory and connected with over 12,600 bolted joints. After delivery to the site, they were installed using the top-to-bottom construction method for the first time: the bottom of the tank base first, followed by the top shell ring section and the rooftop layer. Nine sets of screw jacks were temporarily erected at tank base for lifting the tank ring-sections one-by-one. As a result, installation of each layer was completed in just five minutes without welding and overhead work, effectively improving the working environment and worker safety.

(Top Left)The EQ Tank was installed using the top to bottom construction method for the first time. (Top Right)The new sewage treatment plant is under construction. (Bottom Left and Bottom Right) Application of MiC to build the “wafer-like” MBBR Tank.

In another first, the Drainage Services Department adopted a full-scale Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor (MBBR) to treat biogenic carbon and nitrogen pollutants in sewage. The team applied MiC to build the “wafer-like” MBBR Tank. The inner part of the tank comprises top, middle and bottom layers, each divided into four stainless steel plate components. The outer part of the tank is formed with stainless steel plates enclosed by I-beams, initially assembled into 14 modules. At the site, the tank body was installed starting with the bottom ring, followed by the middle and top rings, with the I-beams finally assembled around the tank body. Each MBBR tank was completed in 10 days without welding, allowing the temporary sewage treatment plant to be completed within 18 months.

(Left) Workers will receive virtual reality safety training at site. (Right) The Centralised Management Platform enables the team to supervise the site work progress as well safety performance remotely and in real time.

The engineering team also made use of a Centralised Management Platform to integrate, manage and share different innovative technologies’ big data. When connected with the relevant ChatBot system, the platform enables the team to supervise the site’s safety performance remotely and in real time. According to Ms. Alice PANG, Director of Drainage Services, “The project has achieved zero accidents so far, and the key for such remarkable result is the implementation of essential concepts from the New Engineering Contract cooperatively by the client, consultants and contractors.”

Teamwork overcomes challenges

In order to alleviate traffic congestion in Central Kowloon’s east-west transportation corridors, in 2017 the Highways Department began construction on the Central Kowloon Route (CKR), a dual three-lane carriageway with a total length of 4.7km. The project’s eight contracts include flyover construction, temporary reclamation and tunnel building projects. Of the many challenges entailed by this complex undertaking, the biggest is the construction of a 2.8km-long Central Tunnel, whose route is adjacent to four MTR lines and through seven major fault zones. Access shafts have been built at Yau Ma Tei, Ho Man Tin and Ma Tau Kok for large scale excavation and blasting work. For the underground tunnels, working conditions were deemed undesirable due to it being a confined space with high temperatures and humidity, low visibility, potential threat of collapse, and other factors. The team applied BIM at the design stage to achieve Design for Safety, and by incorporating plenty of available drawings and information, they could use three-dimensional models to simulate and display the structure’s components, which allowed the engineers to control each construction process accurately.  

(Left) The Central Tunnel is the most challenging work in the construction of Central Kowloon Route project. (Middle) Using overhead crane can lift up an average of 4,000 tons of muck out per day. (Right)The dual-lens AI camera is used to detect object or human inside ranked detection zone.

On the day of our visit, the team brought us 107m underground at the Ho Man Tin shaft to demonstrate the first Automatic Canopy Installation System (ACIS) used in Hong Kong. The system incorporates the usual jib and loading units but eliminates the traditional manual installation of canopy pipes for temporary support. Since workers do not need to touch the machine, accidents can be reduced. Engineers also use WiFi and the Internet of Things (IoT) system to upload all data from sensors and CCTV to the Cloud, enabling them to communicate in real time and monitor the tunnel environment. Dual-lens Artificial Intelligence Cameras are installed in large construction vehicles to provide three-dimensional views, with the control screen providing an audible alarm and flashing signal to alert drivers if an object or human is detected within a ranked detection zone.

ACIS eliminates the traditional manual installation of canopy pipes for temporary support, which can help to reduce accidents.

The CKR project also required the temporary reclamation and backfilling of the Kowloon Bay seabed to build a 370m underwater tunnel. Traditionally, installing lateral support at sea entails relatively risky actions such as welding, large liftings and hot processes. For this project, the engineering team employed the innovative Modular ELS Mega Truss Skidding System to transport and install lateral support while saving 60% in manpower, eliminating 50% of machinery usage, and enhancing productivity. The project is also promoting digitalisation by utilising the Integrated Digital Works Supervision System (iDWSS) and creating a Smart Site Management Hub (SSMH) to store, process and analyse contractual information. Data and information can be integrated and exchanged conveniently, enabling the team to monitor construction progress and performance in real time.

Thanks to their hard work and dedication, as well as their professional and collaborative attitude toward innovation, the project team successfully met the challenges of working overhead, underground and at sea. They have also overcome the difficulties of temporarily relocating a public library, preserving the Yau Ma Tei Police Station, a Grade II historic building, and demolishing the Yau Ma Tei multistorey carpark amid the hustle and bustle of a downtown area. In terms of professionalism, collaboration and innovation, the project sets an excellent example for the whole industry.

Smart buildings for a smart city

Since April, I have visited sites including the Multi-welfare Services Complex in Kwu Tung North, the Lyric Theatre Complex for the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Kai Tak Sports Park, the Sha Tau Kok Sewage Treatment Works and the Central Kowloon Route, and have witnessed how the industry has gradually developed the MiC mindset and the Common Data Environment (CDE) concept. Now we need to embed more technology into the industry. Apart from MiC and MiMEP, Multi-trade Integration (Mi) has been employed to build facilities ranging from smart residential buildings, hotels, schools, offices, laboratories and operating theatres to offshore terminals and lift towers and more around the world. In the future, we will continue the development of MiC, MiMEP and Mi technology, combined with the collaborative benefits of Offsite Manufacturing and Plug-and-Play methods to enhance the industry’s productivity, efficiency, sustainability, quality and quantity, and achieve the goal of zero accidents. Hong Kong can only rise as a world-class smart city by building with smart construction.

Building a new chapter on a base of results

In last year's Policy Address, the government identified 350 hectares of land for the construction of 330,000 public housing units, of which only two-thirds of the total will be completed between 2027 and 2032. How to speed up construction and reduce waiting time for the public? Chief Executive-designate Mr. John LEE has proposed improving efficiency and quantity, and putting results as the goal to tackle different issues. His policy outline includes supporting a broad use of innovative technology, including MiC and BIM in public housing, developing the Northern Metropolis and Lantau Island to increase land supply, and revitalising Hong Kong's economy by constructing infrastructure, which is a vision shared with CIC, industry and stakeholders. I believe the policy will help lead Hong Kong out of its housing and land area predicament and turn over a new chapter in its development. 

Ir HO On-sing, Thomas

Last Updated: 2022-06-01 11:33:47