Throughout its long history, the construction industry has developed entrenched practices that are not easily disrupted by unproven or gimmicky technology. But in more recent years, it has started to embrace innovative technology solutions, especially in the areas of efficiency and safety, designed by people who understand the industry.
HKSTP Incu-Tech programme member, the MDM Group, is riding the efficiency trend of pre-fabrication for construction, designing innovative components for the industry. Its brainchild, MatrixDeck, is a high-performance reinforced floor slab. Formed of black plastic containers, the deck resembles a slab of chocolate. It requires less concrete and steel reinforcement for construction yet supports a greater column span with better sound insulation, thermal insulation, fire protection and environmental friendliness.
Innovative building blocks enable quicker, less labour-intensive work
MDM’s founder and CEO Billy Chu was an architectural engineer. He noticed that there was much room to improve work efficiency in the construction process and went on to research higher-performance precast building blocks.
MatrixDeck was patented in 2015. Billy says that on-site application has proven that the design can speed up construction work by 50%, using 50% less manpower and 30% less materials, while reducing carbon emissions by 172 kg per square metre compared to traditional construction methods.
Meeting specific demands of different projects
MatrixDeck has been adopted by multiple construction projects. The Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation Jockey Club Breast Health Centre built by Chun Wo Development Holdings in 2016 and 2017 is one example. As the building is located next to the Choi Hung MTR station, piling was not feasible and the building weight had to be minimised to avoid any impact on the structural integrity of neighbouring buildings. Billy says that MatrixDeck was a great solution to meet those needs, and better still, it sped up the construction process by 30%. Everybody was happy with the results.
MDM’s solutions were also used for building the Harrow International School Hong Kong, The Luna serviced apartment block in Lun Fat Street, Wanchai, and the Hong Kong Housing Authority’s Greenhill Villa development in Shatin. As well as MatrixDeck, the projects also used other precast pieces from MDM to get the best results. Greenhill Villa, for example, is the only project in Hong Kong to use the structural precast blocks to meet the stringent needs in the design and work processes.
Billy says that the construction industry has been grappling with a manpower crunch and an ageing workforce. Using precast pieces as building blocks is the way to go as it requires less manpower and can be done faster, with less environmental impact. It is a practical solution for large-scale developments with a standardised design.
While MDM is not the only supplier of precast building blocks in the market, it has been popular with contractors for competitive pricing, and its innovative products such as the MatrixDeck can meet specific building needs.
HKSTP incubation helps its business growth
Since becoming a member of the HKSTP Incu-Tech programme, MDM’s has been pushing ahead at full steam. With a team of just 10 people, its sales turnover in 2017 topped HK$60 million. Billy says that HKSTP provided the company with viable recommendations to lower costs and increase cash flow. As well, the company has leveraged the business networks of Science Park to connect with more property developers and extend its reach.
MDM will continue to sharpen its competitive edge with its research results to create more technology applications targeting the construction industry. There is much room to grow as only 10% of Hong Kong’s building projects make use of precast building blocks.
Looking further to disrupt the construction and property business
Billy has a bigger goal than business expansion and the introduction of more efficient and safe construction methods. He believes the flexibility offered by prefabrication gives property owners more say on the design of their units, rather than being at the mercy of developers. By having the right pieces manufactured and assembled, owners can decide the unit’s layout and the positioning of facilities and electrical equipment based on their needs.
While the impact of pre-fabrication on construction could be far-reaching, Billy expects there will be strong resistance given the conservative nature of the industry. But he is confident that his vision will be realised, and that people will have more control over the creation of their own quality living environment.