Hong Kong developers put their faith in technology to cut human error after New World's Pavilia Farm fiasco

Sun Hung Kai Properties, Chinachem Group, The Pavilia Farm, Urban Renewal Authority

Major Hong Kong developers plan to replace some manual operations with technology in a bid to eliminate human error and ensure safety and build quality in the wake of the construction fiasco at a major residential project rocked the world’s most expensive property market.

Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP), the city’s largest developer by market value, and Chinachem Group said they were re-examining their construction work procedures and using new technology following the debacle at New World Development’s The Pavilia Farm in Tai Wai.

“Construction technology will certainly help to remove human errors,” said Eddie Ho, deputy general manager at Sanfield (Management), a wholly owned subsidiary of SHKP. “Now, we are thinking of using robots to do painting and plastering to replace humans at our new residential project in Sai Sha, Sai Kung.”

SHKP will start producing different grades of concrete in various shades of grey, which will allow on-site supervisors to spot the difference and eliminate the possibility of any error, said Ho, who is overseeing 18 projects currently under construction.

The company’s board has asked Ho to give a detailed report of the group’s construction work after New World said it would tear down and rebuild two of the seven tower blocks at The Pavilia Farm under construction because of defects.

The concrete walls in the podium of blocks one and eight of The Pavilia Farm III “did not meet the requirements of the approved design” found during concrete strength tests, subway operator MTR Corporation, which is developing the project with New World, said.

A New World spokeswoman said that “human error” was to blame for the costly mistake and the entire team had been sacked.

SHKP’s on-site staff get information on the concrete used at its projects, such as slump test, cube casting and temperature measurement, by scanning the project worksheet’s QR code with a smartphone. A slump test measures the consistency of fresh concrete before it sets, while a cube test determines the compressive strength of concrete.

Sun Hung Kai Properties, Chinachem Group, The Pavilia Farm, Urban Renewal Authority

Sun Hung Kai Properties subsidiary Sanfield Construction monitors the quality of concrete used in the developer’s projects using QR codes. Photo: Handout

SHKP sources concrete from its own plant – Glorious Concrete (Hong Kong) – which produces 500,000 cubic metres a year. The group’s construction costs alone amount to HK$15 billion a year, said Ho, who joined SHKP 12 years ago following his stint as the consultant for structural design of the 108-storey International Commerce Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong.

SHKP has also set up a new firm, Sanfield Construction Innovation, to focus on research and development of construction-related technology. One such product developed by the company is a “smart helmet” that can track a worker’s location, vital signs and trigger an alert when worn incorrectly. Workers can also call for help using the built-in SOS button in case of an accident.

The products developed by the company will also be marketed to companies in the mainland, Ho said.

Chinachem, meanwhile, in a bid to reduce any chance of mistake or negligence, said that it strictly monitors the work at its construction sites.

Site supervision is very important to avoid human errors and accidents as many workers are involved in installing steel reinforcement bars and removing the formwork after the concrete is cast, chief executive Donald Choi said, giving an example.

The company is also trialling the use of modular integrated construction (MIC) technology at its new project in Cheung Sha Wan.

The 20-storey single tower at Tonkin Street, a joint venture with Urban Renewal Authority, will be the first private residential project to be built using the MIC method, Choi said.

Nearly 80 per cent of the tower will be built by stacking thousands of prefabricated concrete modular units, which will be made in a factory in the mainland and transported to the site where they will be assembled and installed.

“Not only will it ensure the build quality and minimise mistakes but also save construction time by about 10 per cent,” Choi said.

Costs will reduce further once it becomes an industry trend, he added.

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