KaTRIS — driving digitalisation in Singapore’s construction industry

Kajima Technical Research Institute Singapore (KaTRIS) is the global R&D hub of Kajima Corporation, a leading construction company in Japan with operations around the world. Established in September 2013, KaTRIS not only promotes Kajima’s technologies but also proposes solutions to create new values for buildings and infrastructures.

Come 2023, KaTRIS will be part of The GEAR (Kajima Lab for Global Engineering, Architecture & Real Estate) in Singapore – which will serve as the company’s Asia Pacific headquarters. Here, KaTRIS will conduct R&D and open innovation on advanced construction technologies, including robotics, digitalisation and automation, as well as testbed sustainable and wellness technologies.

The changing landscape of Singapore construction

In recent years, the Singapore government has been putting emphasis on the integrated digital delivery (IDD) process. “It is one of the key thrusts for the construction industry in empowering the private sector to adopt related technologies,” explained Dr Chae Soungho, chief research engineer at KaTRIS.

“As a result of such initiatives, Singapore has established one of the most advanced environments for the construction industry, particularly in areas such as infrastructure, solutions, and databases to implement digitalisation. This is evident from the swift adaptation to new requirements around worker management as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

“Personally, I would find it difficult to assume that the construction industry will make a quick recovery from the current situation. With border control measures still being enforced and supply chains still recovering from the aftermath of the pandemic, there is a crucial need for companies to invest in innovative digital technologies and processes to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, accelerate productivity, and improve revenue.”

One of the latest digital technologies that has changed the landscape of the construction industry in Singapore is reality capture, revealed Dr Chae.

“Reality capture technology has dramatically improved over the years, becoming more affordable and more automated, accessible to everyday users, not just specialists. 3D reality capture enables users to replicate the on-site environment and turn this into virtual 3D models that can be viewed and accessed remotely.

“This allows for detailed overviews of construction projects, which can be shared with multiple stakeholders such as architects, designers and site engineers to identify design errors before construction starts.”

According to Dr Chae, KaTRIS was the first in Singapore to invest in Leica’s BLK2GO handheld 3D imaging laser scanner, which is very easy to use with ‘push button’ simplicity to capture detailed point cloud data in tight spaces and areas.

“In one of our projects, we used Leica BLK2GO to map out interference points of an old heritage tree. Using Leica’s Cyclone Register and Publisher software, we processed the point cloud data to produce a highly accurate BIM model, which allowed us to adapt our design without having to damage or cut the tree,” said Dr Chae, highlighting the benefits of the technology. 

“This provided increased accuracy at significantly shorter survey times as BIM models could now be generated in minutes instead of days. Previously, we would need to get a surveyor to manually take hundreds of reference points to perform verification checks, making it an extremely long and tedious process prone to human error.”

Another construction method in Singapore that is growing in popularity is prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC). “It enables contractors to manage workers off-site despite the pandemic and social distancing measures that needed to be implemented,” noted Dr Chae.  

“Our investments in sensing technologies, such as Leica’s BLK2GO’s GrandSLAM technology, have allowed us to further increase productivity of this construction methodology by checking the assembled PPVC modules for tolerance in a significantly shorter amount of time.”

KaTRIS acts as a ‘technical bridge’

With Singapore’s construction industry undergoing digital transformation, accelerated by the pandemic, KaTRIS is set to play an important role in this new era.

“We see KaTRIS’ role as being a technical bridge to connect and support both the technology and site team. At KaTRIS, we have the knowledge and know-how to spearhead the use of new technologies for streamlining the workflow processes. This includes clarification of on-site issues, feasibility study, solution planning and designing, on-site testing, training, and supporting workers,” explained Dr Chae.

“We have worked with industry partners such as Leica Geosystems to pilot and introduce innovative technologies, like light detection and ranging (LiDAR), simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM), and Scan-to-BIM technologies to help drive productivity in this sector.”

In addition, KaTRIS has recently rolled out a zero-energy building design method for one of the construction projects in Singapore. “Using a mix of smart construction technologies and solutions, we supported the implementation of a hybrid cooling system that allowed for sustainable outcomes in the construction industry,” said Dr Chae.

“We’ve also developed a suite of solutions with our industry partners to improve productivity in PPVC installation. One instance of this is the adoption of Leica’s BLK2GO handheld imaging laser scanner to increase the quality of our PPVC models' installation, such as through the collection of accurate point cloud data for tolerance checks and the scanner’s ease of integration with BIM.”

Dr Chae shared that KaTRIS plans introduce more new technologies, including construction robots supporting manual processes like concrete finishing, rebar tying and material handling.

“Traditionally, workers had to use various manual construction tools for concrete finishing, such as polishers, grinders and brooms to achieve the desired results. This resulted in longer project times with added cost to labour. With the concrete finish robot, we hope to automate this process and cut down the time required to execute this process.

“We are also looking to roll out 5D project control solutions to integrate the entire project life cycles' management through accurate data models to drive smarter and more informed decisions.”

The construction of The GEAR in Singapore is expected to be the first known application of a comprehensive suite of robotics solutions by Kajima outside Japan. “These robotic solutions are developed alongside our collaboration partners which look to automate the process of working with concrete, finishing and inspection,” said Dr Chae.

“For example, we are looking to deploy an autonomous laser scanning solution that combines Leica’s reality capture technologies with an agile mobile robot to increase scanning efficiency and productivity.

“Similarly, by incorporating some of our latest construction developments, such as VR/AR solutions for the remote project control and autonomous material handling robots on site, we hope that this project will demonstrate the practical effectiveness of robotics solutions in supporting the future of construction.”

Asia calling

Dr Chae pointed out that when KaTRIS was founded in 2013, Singapore was chosen as the location due to its advanced environment in the construction sector as well as ease of deployment of Kajima’s technologies in the region. “The country also has an advanced pool of talent that can support the drive for digitalisation in the sector.”

KaTRIS has since extended its footprint in Southeast Asia through collaborations with universities and companies. This is part of a wider effort to expand its presence further in the region.

In Malaysia, KaTRIS has implemented image analysis technologies to study geological conditions in tropical regions in order to mitigate geological risks before construction. Additionally, in Indonesia, KaTRIS has participated in a governmental research grant with local partners to introduce its methane fermentation technology in order to realise a sustainable waste-to-energy society.

“Similarly, we are looking towards developing better visualisation of data by harnessing the concept of digital twin technologies. With Leica’s BLK2GO handheld all-in-one imaging LiDAR system, we are leveraging the potential of having up-to-date real-world data for better data-driven decisions to improve the construction process.“

As digital technologies are making their way across Asia, the future of the construction industry in the region looks promising. KaTRIS is well positioned to ride on this wave.

“We are currently looking at plans to explore different markets in Asia and the region beyond Singapore and Japan. While no concrete decisions have been made, we are looking at venturing into innovations and technologies in further fields with regional industry partners from a long-term perspective,” said Dr Chae.

“As a vibrant and diverse region, Southeast Asia provides immense potential for us to share our technical expertise and solutions to meet the different needs of each country. In that same vein, we also take these opportunities to collaborate and learn from our partner countries to drive innovation and sustainability within the industry.”

Images: Kajima Corporation