• Q&A on Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) with Albert Leung, Senior Technical Director of Atkins’ Hong Kong Office

    6 January 2021

    Can you outline the unique aspects of MiC and why organisations in our industry should adopt it?

    My own belief is that Modular integrated Construction is an important step forward for the industry and is particularly important in a market such as Hong Kong where construction tends to be a transient fixture.

    In essence, MiC is a process in which a building is constructed off-site, under a controlled plant process, using the same design and materials to the same standards and codes as conventionally built facilities – but producing the works in about half the time. Buildings are made in “modules” that when put together on site, reflect the identical design obejctives and specifications of the most sophisticated site-built facility. The modules are precast and then transported to a project site to be lifted and installed in their final positions.

    One should visiualise a lego building that is built on a massive grandeur scale, in order to understand how MiC works are actually carried out. Whilst I believe the advantages of this practice are wide in number, the key benefits are found in areas in such as greater safety, sustainability, reduction in labour requirements, better quality products and a reduction on overall construction time.

    Speaking directly to the industry, can you provide an overview of the advtnages for using MiC on future projects?

    Naturally there are challenges but the benefits generally speaking are overhwhelming. As I’ll outline further in more detail during this question and answer session, the advantages extend throughout the construction industry and extend to clients and industry stakeholders.

    Some of the positives I would point to include areas such as a reduction in labour requirements – particularly as the construction industry is experiencing labour shortages due to an ageing workforce and a fall in the number of young people opting for construction as a career choice.

    Improved safety, too, is an overlooked area but important neverthless – for example, working at height is minimised which, in turn, reduces accidents and injuries to workers.

    This also helps to reduce the cost of medium to long term work place insurance premiums.

    A further key area is improved sustainability where wastage is reduced both onsite and, due to good planning and control for the production of the modules, in factory conditions.

    For those who own projects using MiC, the immediate benefits relate to quality output, time and cost. Modules that are produced in factories tend to churn out better quality, whilst fewer schedule overruns means lower projects costs. Lifecylce products costs also tend to be lower as repairs and maintenance costs are minimised.

    For consultants, as MiC grows in popularity with dedicated specialists and coordinators are required for effective and efficient implementations. This creates attractive new opportunities and disciplines for growth of the consultant industry.

    Can you outline the key attributes a contractor should possess to successfully run MiC projects in Hong Kong?

    Suppliers tend to be located in mainland China, which can occasionally throw up issues that those overseeing works in Hong Kong need to resolve before and often during the production and installation process. With this in mind, the expertise needed from contractors should be wide and varied but encompass key areas that include experience in quality control and quality assurance coupled with an independent mindset needed in the factory.

    Experience or knowledge of the transportation of modules from mainland China to Hong Kong is important, as is ensuring the right unit insurance is in place. Similarly, knowledge is required for tax relating to the various fixtures and intallations inside the modules, whilst a solid understanding of payment issues during manufacturing and delivery to the construction site is critical in keeping an all-round handle on the management of the project. Contractors should be aware of the responsibility of managing various parties during the process too.

    In your opinion, Albert, can you explain to us what the key to success is for running MiC projects?

    This is one of the most important questions as it includes and relates to many different facets and elements of one’s business. Firstly having the desire, appetite, and can-do spirit to learn and excel are important attributes for success in MiC works. The opportunities available are substantial meaning engineering professionals can become experts in MiC works if they wish to pursue this area.

    As also mentioned, global demand for MiC works is growing with Hong Kong ideally placed to share and lead on best practice given the highly skilled local engineering talent pool available and professionals with experience with high lateral wind loads design due to the nature of the city’s unique regional characteristics. Indeed, the predominance of high-rise buildings and a focus on design for safety, especially in provisions against progressive collapse are all best served in Hong Kong.

    The Atkins’ Hong Kong office aims to be the center of excellence for MiC works, capitalising on the breadth and depth of engineering domain expertise and extensive experiences in design and build works in Hong Kong. Advancement and opportunities in Hong Kong are only limited by the imagination.

    Finally, can you tell PRC readers what role the Hong Kong SAR government has helped with promoting MiC across the construction and related industries?

    I think the advancement and opportunities in Hong Kong are only limited by imagination. Global demand for MiC engineering works is growing with Hong Kong uniquely placed to share, contribute and lead initiatives given the highly skilled engineering talent pool in the city. Given this, the Hong Kong SAR government has been an active participiant in promoting MiC through both government projects and private construction initatives.

    We strongly welcome the fact its been a proponent and of course we hope the authorities continue to pursue the widespread adopton of MiC wherever possible. As the government has taken the lead in pushing this method, taking advantage of the benefits provides a golden opportunity to promote the MiC concept with both clients and industry stakeholders who are presently not familiar with how its proving to shape the city’s construction landscape.

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