Ming Shan (Charmaine) Ng, PhD candidate from ETH Zurich, Switzerland
JSPS postdoctoral fellow, SIA RIBA, ARB, LEED AP
I am very honoured to be invited by the Department of Civil Engineering at National Taiwan University (NTIÙ) from March to August in 2021 to work on several research collaborative projects together with the chairman Prof. Dr. Shang-Hsien Hsieh and his research teams from the Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) Group. It was a very fruitful, joyful and productive research visit and I have learnt a lot from the professors, researchers and students at NTU, as well as my friends in Taiwan. I believe my research stay at NTU can contribute to the ongoing research collaboration between ETH Zurich and NTU, as well as enhance the Taiwan – Switzerland connection through scientific activities.
Case-based research in Taiwan: BIM-based process from digital design to digital fabrication
One key collaborative project, on which I was working in Taiwan, was to investigate the liability factors in the process from digital design to digital fabrication in current practice in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector. Digital design involves a data-rich design process that includes 3D design modelling, virtual design collaboration and digital design documentation. State-of-the-art digital design technology is Building Information Modelling (BIM). Digital fabrication refers to data-driven production through digital threads derived from computational programming. State-of-the-art digital fabrication includes additive manufacturing such as 3D printing and subtractive manufacturing such as production with a computer numeric control (CNC) machine. Past scholarship has provided evidence that digitalisation can improve productivity, quality, efficiency and sustainability performance in the AEC sector. Digitalisation in construction projects can be achieved through the adoption of digital design and digital fabrication through BIM-based digital systems integration. While BIM-based digital design has been widely adopted in many projects in current practice, digital fabrication is still slow in its adoption. It is partly because it entails re-thinking of the information and organisation in the overall process from design to construction, and partly because there is insufficient understanding of the management for liabilities in designing for digital fabrication adoption. Several projects have already been adopting digital fabrication to different extents. However, the liability factors involved in the process from digital design to digital fabrication are still unclear. Project stakeholders found it hard to comprehend the factors and mitigate the corresponding risks to ensure successful adoption and achieve projects’ target values. Stakeholders’ sceptical attitude towards digital fabrication adoption has thus hindered the adoption of digital fabrication and innovation in the AEC sector.
To assist the increasing number of stakeholders designing for digital fabrication, NTU and ETH Zurich established a joint research project to investigate the liability factors in the process from digital design to digital fabrication through case studies and the Delphi surveys. In this case study research, we conducted two-stage research to look into the process from design to construction of the Weiwuying National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts in Southern Taiwan, which had successfully adopted digital fabrication technology in the BIM-based process. Firstly, we studied and mapped the process from schematic design to construction completion in a swimlane diagram through a review of publications and interviews with the key project stakeholders. Secondly, we conducted three-round Delphi surveys of 14 stakeholders, who had been actively participating in the process from digital design to digital fabrication. In the Delphi surveys, we asked the participants to propose liability factors and rate the importance of liabilities for future digital fabrication projects based on their experience in the Weiwuying project. The surveys resulted in 163 liability factors under eight categories: 13 actors, resources, 23 conditions, 20 attributes, 22 processes, 14 artefacts, 25 values and 28 risks. Based on the findings, we proposed the corresponding conceptual framework for contract design to consider the important liability factors in four contract scenarios. We further discussed the key takeaways about how existing commonly adopted project delivery models, namely Design-Bid-Build (DBB), Construction Management (CM), Design-Build (DB) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), can foster and manage design for digital fabrication in construction projects. This collaborative case-based research is expected to result in a journal publication in the summer of this year.
Exploratory studies: Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) implementation in projects in Taiwan
Besides our collaborative research about BIM-based process from digital design and digital fabrication, NTU and ETH Zurich have also been conducting ongoing exploratory studies about IPD implementation in public and private projects in Taiwan. This also involved industry collaboration with Dentons Taiwan in Taipei. IPD involves multi-party contracts between the project owners, the key design teams including architects and the key construction teams including the general contractor, Target Value Design (TVD) involving risk-and-reward sharing and early contractor involvement and BIM-based digital systems integration throughout the design and construction process. The recent development of the IPD project delivery model intends to break with the tradition of fragmentation in the AEC sector to embrace supply chain integration through collaborative management, so as to create an inter-organisational governance structure in construction projects. IPD involves social interaction and trust amongst multi-disciplinary project stakeholders that encourage open communication to convert interests by integrating talents of all involved parties. Besides TVD, IPD involves several lean management approaches such as the Last Planner System, owner’s active engagement, incentivised contracts with guaranteed cost reimbursement and open book culture with fiscal transparency and flexibility in contracts. IPD involves social interaction and trust amongst multi-disciplinary project stakeholders that encourage open communication to convert interests by integrating talents of all involved parties. In a typical IPD project, BIM-based digital systems are specified in the BIM protocol to be adopted from the design process to construction. The project teams are required to share and submit data-rich BIM models and documentation for project submissions to the project owner on a regular basis. In this collaborative project, NTU, ETH Zurich and Dentons took the initial steps of a preliminary industry and literature review to explore the current obstacles to contract for IPD implementation in public and private projects in Taiwan and how they can be further investigated in future research. Our collaborative research aims to understand the current legal situation that could hinder IPD implementation in public and private projects in Taiwan, and to propose questions for research on how IPD or IPD-ish models can be employed in public and private projects in Taiwan. We summarised the identified barriers in two categories – decision-makers’ sceptical attitudes and legal regulatory barriers. The identified legal barriers include the following aspects: (i) untested status might elevate legal risks to IPD stakeholders; (ii) IPD contracting requires early contractor involvement, which might be impeded by competitive bidding for public projects; (iii) “no sue clauses” might conflict with the default provisions, such as waiver of subrogation, limitation or cap on damages and waiver of consequential damages; (iv) concerns about the shared risk-and-reward mechanism in Taiwan. The allocation of the liabilities amongst the project teams would depend heavily on how the clauses are drafted in the contracts; and (v) impacts on indemnity clauses in an IPD contract. The initial part of our work was published as a proceeding in the 25th Symposium on Construction Engineering and Management (SCEM 2021) held in Taipei, Taiwan in July 2021. In our publication, we proposed three future research directions. These include research about the use of BIM in contract to ensure data transparency and information integration to address stakeholders’ sceptical concerns regarding IPD implementation, and research and development of IPD-ish contractual framework based on the current regulations and laws in the AEC sector in Taiwan, as well as multi-party contracts, to implement IPD in firstly private projects, and hence in public projects in future.
Engagement in teaching and academic activities at NTU
Besides collaborative research projects, I am also very delighted to have the opportunities to engage in teaching in two courses – the BIM Implementation Practice for the Circular Economy and the Social Design Engineering D-School course in the spring semester at NTU. I enjoyed interacting with the professors, teaching assistants and students in classes, as well as sharing my knowledge, learning and teaching at ETH Zurich. Furthermore, I am very honoured to co-organise the International Forum on IPD and TVD hosted by the NTU BIM Centre in May 2021. I am very delighted to share my work experience as an architect for the Google Headquarters construction projects in California, U.S. on the topic titled “IPD and TVD in practice: adoption of innovation and new technology”. The entire IPD forum was recorded and published on the website of NTU BIM Centre.
To summarise, my research visit in Taiwan at the Department of Civil Engineering at NTU has been one of my most fruitful research exchange experiences during my four-year PhD study at ETH Zurich. I am very honoured and grateful to have the opportunity to work together with experts at NTU. I believe our NTU-ETH Zurich collaborative projects will continue to deliver novel scientific contributions in the coming time. Last but not least, I would like to thank Prof. Dr. Shang-Hsien Hsieh and Ms. Yun-tsui Chang, as well as the researchers and students at the CAE Group, the colleagues at the Department of Civil Engineering and NTU BIM Centre, to provide me with a wonderful and welcoming environment for my research stay in Taiwan.
Ming Shan Ng