IN THE SPOTLIGHT ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Albert Leung

With over 40 years of experience working on high level projects across a multiple of disciplines, Albert Leung is highly qualified in the consultancy engineering business having been recognised by a number of academic institutions throughout his long and illustrious career.

He has worked on overseas assignments in the United Kingdom, South East Asia and Mainland China and has been responsible for numerous projects covering various stages of feasibility study, preliminary design, detailed design, tender documentation, selection of contractors and construction supervision. Albert is currently the Senior Technical Director of Atkins’ Hong Kong office.


Why should Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) be adopted in Hong Kong?
I think its important to begin by saying that I’m of the belief that MiC is an important step forward for the industry. I will outline why, but first let me provide detail as to what it is and what it does. MiC uses prefabricated modules – also called units – which are factory produced and come complete with finishes and fixtures. The modules are precast and then transported to a project site to be lifted and installed in their final positions. Minimal additional work is required to complete construction, which results in much faster project completion times. To help people visualise, I like to compare MiC works to Lego building that is on a massive grandeur scale.

MiC is a vivid example of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) which is now the forefront and focus of engineering development. Other industries such as aeronautics, automobile, toys, and textiles have been quick to adopt DfMA practices.

I see that MiC has the potential to significantly impact on the future of the construction industry. The advantages of MiC are multifaceted. For example, greater safety, sustainability, reduction in labour requirements, better quality products, reduced overall construction time and promoting a new way of working, to just name a few.

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Can you give an overview of the types of projects that have taken place in Hong Kong where the MiC method has been used?
There are a variety of projects where the MiC method has been and is being used all over the city on some rather interesting works. The MiC approach is particularly attractive for projects using repetitive and standard layouts. This includes construction works for things like temporary housing units, schools, office buildings and healthcare facilities.

Residential buildings are also an important sector for the Hong Kong construction industry. But we need to bear in mind that for residential buildings the layout of the building has to be finalised and fixed, probably by the time foundation and substructure works are in progress. This is because a long lead time is required to plan for prefabrication of the residential units as modules and includes the preparation of moulds and incorporation and integration of fixtures, openings and finishes, among others. This could be a challenge for residential building projects as Hong Kong developers are well known for frequent changes to suit market demands and trends.

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Has the Hong Kong SAR government helped with the adoption of MiC hitherto and if so, why?
Yes indeed. The Hong Kong SAR government is actively promoting the adoption of innovative technologies in developing the MiC method, as laid out in the government’s Construction 2.0 Report. Wherever possible, MiC works are to be implemented in government projects.

With the drive and encouragement from the authorities, there is an increasing market demand for MiC works in Hong Kong, capitalising on the multifaceted advantages throughout the construction industry and include clients and industry stakeholders.

To the construction industry, MiC helps resolve labour shortage problems exacerbated by our aging workforce and with an insufficient number of young people entering the profession. Safety is increased as working at great heights is minimised, whilst the sustainable benefit means wastage is reduced through the control of the production of modules in factory conditions.

Key benefits to clients include the delivery of better quality products, reduced construction time during a project, and minimized costs for repairs and maintenance.

For consultants like Atkins, MiC and DfMA are new design processes that will benefit and drive the development of the consultancy industry and aid in the career path for our talent. New dedicated MiC specialists and coordinators are required for the effective and efficient implementation of MiC works. Advanced integration and collaborative working with all stakeholders are key success factors for MiC initiatives. These additional opportunities will be invaluable for the growth of the consultant industry.

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Are there any challenges or key considerations for MiC to be adopted successfully? Do you see fundamental changes in the way the industry stakeholders are operating?
For sure. The success of MiC, just as the adoption of any new tools, approaches or technologies,means there is a learning curve for all stakeholders involved.

I think firstly the role of the contractors will undergo fundamental changes with MiC works. The most important challenge will be the issue that a substantial part of the construction works will be sub-contracted out to MiC module suppliers. The value of construction works undertaken by the main contractor can be significantly reduced. Notwithstanding that, the main contractor will still bear the full contract risk. The overall lability of the main contractor remains unchanged. How this can be resolved may need changes in the overall contract arrangements, the proper apportionment of risk and liability and the relationship between the client, the main contractor and the MiC module supplier.

For the MiC module suppliers, their proportion and value of works will increase significantly compared with traditional in-situ approach. Yet they are also facing various challenges. In Hong Kong, these MiC module suppliers will likely be located in Mainland China. Areas like quality control and quality assurance by qualified and independent personnel is key as is the transportation of the modules from Mainland China to Hong Kong.  Insurance and tax issues of various fixtures and installations inside the modules along with payment are all further challenges that need to be considered, particularly as there could be substantial costs involved during the manufacturing of the modules before they are delivered to construction sites.

For consultants like us, MiC works require a new design process different from in-situ approaches. The demand for Building Information Modelling (BIM) cannot be overemphasised. The setting up of BIM models for MiC certainly benefit the works. It will not be an exaggeration to say that without BIM, MiC works cannot be implemented efficiently.

BIM models can be shared with all stakeholders including the client, the architect, engineers, contractors and module supplier. This adds to an overall spirit of collaboration on MiC works projects.

I think there will be a strong demand for dedicated MiC specialists and coordinators to manage and administer MiC works. These specialists and coordinators can be sourced from good engineers with MiC works experience. The status of engineers can be elevated as an indispensable partner in MiC works. I see this as a great thing for the overall attraction and development of our industry talent.

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Do you see that Hong Kong would become a leader for MiC on the world stage?
Global demand for MiC and DfMA engineering works is growing. Hong Kong is uniquely placed to share, contribute and lead initiatives. The city has a highly skilled engineering talent pool which is fundamental to the success of MiC. I think the advancement and opportunities in Hong Kong are only limited by the imagination.

Our industry here has a strong focus on design for safety for which MiC can bring attractive solutions. The safety objectives, combined with Hong Kong’s extensive experience with high lateral wind loads design due to the city’s unique regional characteristics and its predominance of high-rise buildings, makes it at the forefront of engineering developments of MiC and DfMA works.

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At Atkins, we aim to be the center of excellence for MiC and DfMA works, capitalising on the breadth and depth of engineering domain expertise and extensive experiences in design and build works in the city. — Construction+ Online