The building industry is one of the oldest crafts known to man, and one that has remained relatively unchanged over the intervening millennia since man first learnt how to construct usable shelters. Construction has mainly remained an onsite activity, with the main changes over the years being in the materials used in construction as well as design to improve strength and durability (Morel 79). Although the world became industrialized and most of the processes used to make products were mechanized, for a long time, the construction industry remained manual, with construction sites populated by many people, each doing their bit in the building of the structures. Consequently, construction has tended to be a lengthy process as the time required to build a strong structure is long to ensure that the building has sufficient time to cure and dry. The long build times inevitably raise the cost of construction, which is passed on to the consumer, hence making houses expensive to buy or build.
Therefore, there is a need for the building industry to develop new building protocols that allow for the automation of the building process and the considerable reduction of the onsite work needed to complete structures (Lall 127). To address this need for an efficient building process, the industrialized building system (IBS) has emerged in the recent past as an answer to the automation needs of the building industry. The IBS promises to substantially reduce the lead times needed to complete new construction projects, substantially lowering the costs of building, which can then be passed on to the consumers in form of cheaper housing than is currently available in the market (Kamarul et al. 127). This research paper shall look at the state of the IBS in Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis what is available in the ground, what has been done so far as well as the institutional capacity of Saudi construction firms to implement the IBS. The paper shall also consider the costs involved with the IBS and the viability of the system as well as the effect the system is likely to have on the productivity of the construction workers. Lastly, the future of the system shall be analyzed, especially concerning what can be done to efficiently implement the IBS and increase the uptake amongst the construction industry stakeholders.
This research paper shall focus on the Saudi Arabian construction industry, and the progress that has been made so far in modernizing the industry to put it at par with the international best practices as well as in adopting the new technologies in the industry. The paper shall have a holistic examination of the industry examining the current state, capacity, productivity of the industry workers, and efficiency in terms of speed, cost and profitability as well as the future prospects of the industry. The research questions for the paper are:
- What is the current state of the construction industry in Saudi Arabia?
- To what extent has, the industry adopted and uses the industrialized building system (IBS)?
- What is the capacity and capability of the industry to implement the new system taking into consideration the worker productivity, and speed and quality of construction?
- What is the profitability of the industry, cognizant of the costs involved in construction and the future prospects of the industry?
The industrialized building system has become a much talked about concept in the building industry as industry players consider a shift in normal practice with a view to delivering quality at a reasonable price to clients. However, the concept at best remains fuzzy, amorphous, with different meanings, and encompassing different process depending on the user experiences in each of the countries that the system has been implemented either partially or fully. This literature review shall attempt to define the concept especially as it is understood in Saudi Arabia as well as examine the state of IBS in the country presently.
The Industrialized Building System (IBS) concept is one that has entered the building industry mainstream in the recent past and has become a buzzword for a newer approach to construction. However, the concept of construction industrialization remains relatively nebulous, as there is no universally accepted definition of the IBS, and research into the field remains at its infancy compare to other construction aspects (Kamarul et al. 122). Research into the IBS has been hampered due to the problems in delineating the limits and boundaries for IBS vis-à-vis the traditional construction approach. The understanding of the IBS is not generic across countries and depends on the user experiences, making a comparison across countries difficult as well as coming up with acceptable standards, which can be observed and enforced uniformly internationally. The term construction industrialization is often used interchangeably with other terms leading to misunderstandings about the meaning and nature of the IBS, considering that a good number of the technologies that are used in industrialized construction often coexist with onsite construction work, especially in hybrid construction sites, making it difficult to determine the boundaries between IBS and traditional construction. Despite the challenges in obtaining an acceptable definition of IBS, the system has been touted as a means through which the productivity, quality and safety of constructing can be significantly improved, implying that it is necessary to obtain a working definition of the concept to be able to explore its application and prevalence in the Saudi construction industry. To have a better grasp of the industrialized building system, this paper shall look at the meanings of some concepts, for example, industrialization, industrialized construction and building system, as a means of coming up with a working definition of IBS.
Just like the IBS, the term industrialization has a wide range of definitions with little consensus between scholars on the acceptable definition in addition to continuously evolving to reflect present realities. Whichever way industrialization is defined, it involves aspects of mechanization, standardization, and prefabrication in the production process, which allows for greater efficiency, mass production, and exploitation of the economies of scale. The process of industrialization is based on the premise of reducing costs in the production process hence making goods cheap and easily available to the consumers. Currently, industrialization can be viewed as a process that uses mechanical power and tools, computerized design and control systems and continuous production coupled with continuous evolution in efficiency and standardization (Arrey 38). Although industrialization has inevitably led to the decrease of the human component in the production process, human expertise is this necessary to manage the process and lead innovation that is necessary to continuously improve the efficiency at which raw materials are turned into products.
Industrialized construction involves the application of the concepts of industrialization, aiming at ameliorating the efficiency and output of the building process. This requires a paradigmatic shift in the approach to construction vis-à-vis the thinking and practices used with a view to improving the construction production so as to produce a customize built environment of the highest quality (Rogers 25). The change in approach to construction requires the use of integrated processes, which lead to the optimization of standards, enhanced organization, cost efficiency, increasing mechanization and automation, producing maximum value at minimal cost outlay.
- Building system
- To effectively implement industrialized construction, a building system, which can be considered as a number of elements that are interconnected that help to deliver the designated performance of the building, are needed? The building system includes both managerial and technological procedures, which help to produce and install the elements that are needed for the efficient functioning of the system (Warszawski 31)
Having looked at the definitions of the terms forming the foundation of industrialized building system, it is possible to define IBS is an innovative process used in building construction that uses the concept of mass production prevalent in industrialized systems onsite within a controlled environment or at a factory offsite. The process involves the logistics for delivering the mass-produced components and the installation of the parts coupled with the coordination necessary for systemic planning and integration (Zabihi et al. 1201).
Saudi Arabia is one of the pioneers in IBS, and has extensively used the system in the construction industry – for close to half a century. The concept was introduced into the country in the 1970s by foreign contractors who came to work in the country (Sarja 119) attracted by a construction boom in the country that was driven by the economic boom that Saudi Arabia experienced due to the high international oil prices. The economic prosperity enabled most Saudi families to move into the middle class and there was an unprecedented rise in the demand for housing to house the newly affluent citizens as well as demand for the supporting infrastructure to ease the life of the citizens. The government was also a major driver of demand as it initiated mega projects and built whole cities from the ground, which was a massive undertaking requiring that constructors work hard and within strict timelines to deliver the projects.
This was an appropriate environment for the implementation of the industrialized building system as a means of reducing the lead times needed to deliver the massive projects. Since the entry of foreign contractors from Europe and the Far East in the 1970s and 80s into the Saudi construction market helped to rapidly modernize the industry as they brought with them technologies that had been tested elsewhere. The foreign contractors helped the Saudi construction industry to make a rapid and decisive technological leap that could have otherwise taken many years were the industry to evolve naturally. The 1970s and 80s witnessed a paradigmatic shift in the accepted approach to building as the concept of industrialization and the mass production of structures was demonstrated in the mega construction projects initiated and funded by the Saudi government.
State of IBS in Saudi Arabia
Although IBS has a rich history in the country, the extent of industrialization in the building industry remains relatively rudimentary with mass production limited to a few aspects of the whole construction process (Aburas 122). Therefore, the country has yet to reap the full benefits that are expected in a fully industrialized building environment with significant offsite building activity. Ideally, the industrialized building should help a contractor to build efficiently at minimal cost, increase the productivity of the workers, and help in delivering a quality built environment that is affordable to the consumers. The IBS is especially important in delivering a built environment within the estimated timeline, a factor that helps in greatly reducing the delay associated with building and consequently the unnecessary costs caused by delays that inevitably raise the cost of the final product. The Saudi construction market has been experiencing a boom in the past few decades that has been driven by the increased earnings from oil and gas exports and the high international prices for the country’s exports, leading to increased activity in the construction sector as the government uses the oil and gas windfall to initiate and fund social projects. In addition, there has been an increase in business activities and businesses are implementing building projects as well as individuals using their newfound prosperity to construct.
It is interesting to note that despite the long history of the industrialized building in Saudi Arabia, the industry’s adoption of the system remains patchy at best with industrialized processes being relatively few. Consequently, the industry is plagued with inefficiencies and construction delays are more of a norm than an exception, making the cost of building to be unnecessarily high (Al-Kharashi and Skitmore 2009). The magnanimity of delays in the construction sector is a concern that needs to be expeditiously addressed if the Saudi construction is to be efficient and provide exceptional value for the resources invested. Therefore, although there have been some strides made in the use of IBS in the country’s industry, the system is patchily used and there are no standards that are used across the industry, depriving the industry of the expected benefits of fully implementing the IBS.
There has been progress in the use of IBS in the Saudi construction industry since its introduction approximately half a century ago, especially in matters to do with mass production that is associated with IBS. The application of the industrialized building concept in the country has been mainly limited to onsite prefabrication works, where contractors prefabricate the concrete building blocks, which are then produced in large quantities to satisfy the needs of the project being built (Sarja, 125). Some of the concrete components manufactured industrially onsite include hollow-core slabs and large panel filigran that are precast to the desired shapes and sizes and then fitted into the areas they are designed for. Other than the prevalent concrete prefabrication works on site, there are also some steel structural systems on site that are use to shape steel to the desired shapes and sizes for the building. However, the extent and complexity of the steel prefabrication works onsite remains limited and the work is mainly focused on shaping already manufactured steel materials into components of the right shapes and sizes for fitting into the buildings.
The Saudi building industry has a relatively developed offsite prefabrication industry that has the capacity to produce prefabricated steel parts, which are needed by contractors without undue delay. The country has developed a number of industrial complexes containing steel mills with the capacity to prefabricate steel to fit the requirements of contractors that may need steel parts. Owing to the country’s vast energy resources, the country can be able to produce customized steel parts at a competitive price considering that the cost of electricity is low in comparison with other countries. Despite the innate advantages that the Saudi offsite prefabrication industry has, offsite industrialization for the building industry remains a work in progress and there is room for improvement in capacity and output (Aburas 122).
This research paper obtained data for review by searching academic databases for published works on the industrialized building system using a number of phrases and keywords to limit the number of articles that could be reviewed. In addition, the search parameters were time bound, limiting the articles under consideration to between 2009 and 2015 to ensure that only the latest published data in the field will be used. To refine the search parameters further, only articles that addressed the concept of IBS in Saudi Arabia were reviewed to ensure that contextually relevant information will be used to form the foundation of analysis. The key phrases used in the search were, ‘international building system in Saudi Arabia’, ‘onsite and offsite construction in Saudi Arabia’, and ‘moving towards an industrialized building system in Saudi Arabia’. The search parameters were refined to ensure that articles had either ‘the entire phrase’ or ‘all of the words’ before they could be considered as suitable for the subsequent data analysis. The articles that were identified from the initial search were then thematically analyzed to determine whether they contained relevant data before being included into the final data analysis.
The research was constrained by paucity in the number of scholarly articles that are available, which address the concept of international building system, especially in Saudi Arabia, a consequence of the limited research in the area.
|Number of articles
|International building system in Saudi Arabia
|Onsite and offsite construction in Saudi Arabia
|Moving towards an industrialized building system in Saudi Arabia
Table 1: Key Word Search Results. Source: Prepared by the researcher.
Although, there has been a global economic downturn, the construction industry in Saudi Arabia has been robust and been on a continued growth trajectory. The data shown below -summarizes the state of the industry over a five-year period.
|No. of operating industrial units
|No. of workers operating industrial units
|Power generation capacity (MW)
|Number of subscribers (in 000s)
|Cement production (in 000s of tons)
|Domestic cement sales (in 000s of tons)
Table 2: Real Sector Indicators. Source: Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency
The data shows that there are a considerable number of industrial units in the country, which have been rising year-on-year, coupled with a similar rise in the number of workers operating in the industrial sector, evidence of the strong and growing Saudi offsite industrial base and human capital that can be used to implement the IBS. However, an analysis of the project performance indicators shows that the time it takes to deliver a project is not a consideration (Appendix), indicating that there is need for instituting the IBS.
The construction and building industry is one of the most important sectors of the economy, contributing significantly to the economy of Saudi Arabia both directly in the amount of revenue it generates and indirectly by stimulating the growth of other related sectors that rely heavily on the activities of the industry. The contribution of the construction sector to the economy is growing steadily, implying that the sector can be one of the primary drivers of the Saudi economy with the adoption of the efficient IBS.
Chart 1: GDP Contribution of the Building and Construction Industry. Source: Prepared by t.he researcher.
Graph 1: Building and Construction Industry as a Percentage of GDP. Source: Prepared by the researcher.
Despite the challenge in obtaining copious amounts of data, a considerable amount of data was obtained from the academic database that is used in analyzing the IBS in Saudi Arabia. The data was grouped into two major themes identified as benefits of offsite construction in Saudi Arabia and challenges that face the implementation of offsite construction.
The benefits that are associated with offsite construction, which is a main component of the IBS, are considerable and have been documented for different countries. However, these benefits are not necessarily universal and for Saudi Arabia, the benefits are:
- Time saving
- Reduction in cost
- Improvement in quality
- Increased productivity
Despite the benefits that are associated with offsite construction, there are considerable barriers in the industry to the implementation of the concept of offsite construction in Saudi Arabia
- Difficulty in achieving economies of scale
- Higher capital cost
- Poor interfacing between discrete systems
- Changing design parameters
- Deficiencies in the planning system
An analysis of the data on IBS obtained shows that there is some level of IBS being implemented in Saudi Arabia currently, with contractors adopting various forms and levels of industrialization in their work. However, there is no standardization in the IBS in Saudi Arabia, presenting a serious challenge in terms of implementation and enforcement of building codes to ensure that contractors put up sound structures at a minimal cost. There is need for the country to move towards full implementation of the IBS because the benefits that are associated with a fully functioning IBS will help to address some of the problems bedeviling the Saudi construction industry. For example, Saudi construction has problems with delivering projects within the stipulated timeline, making most construction projects to overrun their estimated budgets as delays add unforeseen costs. Implementing the IBS will help to address this problem conclusively because one of the major advantages of the IBS is that it utilizes offsite construction to deliver most of the components needed for building, considerably reducing the onsite work. Reducing the onsite component of construction helps to insulate the project from unforeseen work stoppages caused by onsite labor or logistical problems hence helping to deliver a project quickly and on schedule.
To move towards a full implementation of the IBS in Saudi Arabia, a number of issues have to be addressed and some steps taken to guide the building industry towards the implementation of the system. One of the biggest barriers to the full implementation of the IBS in Saudi Arabia is the lack of economies of scale that could sustain a vibrant offsite construction industry, which is crucial for a functioning industrialized building system. The lack of economies of scale has consequently made the capital costs necessary to start a vibrant offsite manufacturing industry prohibitive leading to small fragmented offsite construction operations. To address this problem, there is a necessity for a government-led legislative effort to standardize the building materials that are used across the building industry, to ensure that contractors use similar materials when working on their sites. By standardizing materials that are used, it is possible for offsite construction to take off because whatever environment is being built, the materials required will be similar hence offsite constructors cannot run the risk of manufacturing unneeded materials. The process of standardization can be easily implemented because all that is needed is for the government to publish the standard requirements and then enforcing them through the relevant government agencies.
Secondly, there is need to facilitate and enhance the interconnections between the different systems that are involved in the building industry to help harness the synergies that can be created from collaboration. Most of the systems that are involved in the construction industry work independently with little motivation for cooperation due to intense competition between the players. Consequently, the industry has become highly fragmented with little integration either vertically or horizontally, hindering efforts to fully implement the IBS. To address this problem, there is need to create well-defined niches within the building industry and companies should be legally required to operate within a single niche to avoid overlapping of responsibilities. The niches should be structured such that they allow for vertical and horizontal integration, enabling greater cooperation within the industry and hence industrialization. Authorities charged with approval of design plans should ensure that contractors submit plans that shall remain unchanged during the whole construction process unless unforeseen exceptional circumstances occur. This will help other players in the construction process to prefabricate parts that are needed offsite long before the actual construction process begins hence helping to industrialize the building process. Lastly, a more robust planning system than is currently evident by government agencies as regards to how the building industry is run and regulated is urgently required. Having a robust legal framework that encourages industrialization in the construction industry can help to accelerate the implementation of the IBS in the country.
That it is advantageous to expeditiously implement the IBS in Saudi Arabia is not debatable owing to the current state of the building industry, especially with regards to time and cost efficiency in the delivery of construction projects. However, adoption of the IBS in Saudi Arabia faces serious challenges that hamper the implementation of the system, implying that there must be a conscious effort from the industry players to embrace the system and help in its adoption, implementation and operationalization. Implementation of the IBS in Saudi Arabia depends mainly on the government’s goodwill especially with regard to the creation of a robust legal framework that can bring sanity into the industry and encourage the industry players to be partners in the implementation process.
Aburas, Hani. ”Off-Site Construction in Saudi Arabia: The Way Forward”. J. Archit. Eng. 17, SPECIAL ISSUE: Residential Construction, (2011):122–124. Print.
Al-Kharashi, Adel and Martin Skitmore. Causes of Delays in Saudi Arabian Public Sector Construction Projects. Construction Management and Economics, 27.1 (2009): pp. 3-23.
Arrey, Orok. “Industrialization and Economic Advancement in Nigeria: A Study of the Role of the Iron and Steel Sector.” Global Journal of Management and Business Research 13.9 (2013): 37-46. Print.
Kamarul A M Kamar, Zuhairi A Hamid, Mohamed Nor A Azman and Mohd S. S. Ahamad. “Industrialized Building System (IBS): Revisiting Issues of Definition and Classification.” International Journal of Emerging Science 1.2 (2011): 120-132. Print.
Lall, Sanjaya. Competitiveness, Technology and Skills. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2001. Print.
Morel, Peterson. ‘The Craftsman.’ In Arnold, Giardina (Ed.), The Romans, 2nd Edition. Chicago: Chicago University Press, pp. 54-117, 1989. Print.
Rogers, Everette. Diffusion of Innovations. 5th Edition. The Free Press: New York, 2003. Print.
Sarja, Asko. Open and Industrialized Building. London: E & FN Spon, 2003. Print.
Warszawski, Abraham. Industrialized and automated building system: A Managerial Approach. 2nd Edition. E & FN Spon: London, 1999. Print.
Zabihi, Hossein, Farah Habib, Leila Mirsaeedie. “Definitions, concepts and new directions in Industrialized Building Systems (IBS).” KSCE Journal of Civil Engineering 17.6 (2013): 1199-1205.
Summary of available previous studies on performance indicators at project level
|Author & Year
|Country Performance Indicators
|1. Client satisfaction 6. Closeness to budget
2. Planning period 7. Profitability
3. Staff experience 8. Payment
4. Communication 9. Claims
|1. Predictability- time cost 5. Profitability
2. Construction cost 6. Safety
3. Construction time 7. Defects
4. Productivity 8. Client satisfaction
|Department of the Environment, Transport, and the Regions (DETR), 2000
|1. Time 5. Client changes
2. Cost 6. Business performance
3. Quality 7. Health and safety
4. Client satisfaction
|Pillai et al. (2002)
|1. Benefit 6. Cost effectiveness
2. Risk 7. Customer commitment
3. Project status 8. Stakeholders
4. Decision effectiveness 9. Project management
|Cheung et al. (2004)
|1. People 5. Safety
2. Cost 6. Client satisfaction
3. Time 7. Communication
4. Quality 8. Environment
|1. Staff experience 5. Contractor experience
2. Resources 6. Time
3. Site management 7. Cost
4. Safety 8. Quality
|Constructing Excellence, 2005, and Roberts and Latorre (2009)
|1. Client Satisfaction 7. Profitability
2. Defects 8. Productivity
3. Predictability cost, time 9. Safety
4. Construction cost, time 10. Social indicators
5. Variance cost, time 11. Environment
6. Contractor satisfaction
|Rankin et al. (2008) and Canadian Construction Innovation Council (CCIC)
|1. Cost 5. Scope
2. Time 6. Innovation
3. Quality 7. Sustainability
4. Safety 8. Client Satisfaction
|Luu et al. (2008)
|1. Construction cost 5. Team performance
2. Construction time 6. Change management
3. Customer satisfaction 7. Material management
4. Quality management 8. Safety
|Skibniewski and Ghosh (2009)
|1. Construction cost 4. Defects
2. Construction time 5. Client satisfaction product
3. Predictability cost and time
|Toor and Ogunlana (2010)
|1. On time 6. Safety
2. Under budget 7. Defects
3. Specifications 8. Stakeholders
4. Efficiently 9. Disputes
|Construction Industry Institute (CII) (2011)
|1. Cost 4. Accident
2. Schedule 5. Rework
3. Changes 6. Productivity