21st Century Prefab Offers New Opportunities

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Monday, March 30th, 2015
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We are accustomed to seeing the ‘made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’ labelling on many food products in the supermarket. Is it time for ‘assembled on site from local and imported prefabricated components’ labelling on a work site?

I believe it is that time, as the construction industry starts to take on a new look after a century in which it has hardly changed, especially when compared to the impressive advances in just about every other industry over that time.

A vast range of kitchen appliances, white goods, bathroom fittings and other items that go into construction in Australia are separately sourced (increasingly from overseas) and delivered to site to be individually installed. but the majority of the structural and other elements are fabricated on site, just as they have always been.

Prefabrication 21st century-style is much more than the prefabrication of complete homes and apartment modules. Although relatively well known, these ‘volumetric’ modules are just one incarnation of prefabrication. More broadly, prefabrication involves the transformation of how we think about the construction industry and what project efficiency really means, like supply chain implications for mechanical sub-assemblies and wiring harnesses, to cite just two examples.

It has profound implications for how projects will in the future be initiated, how they will be procured and how they will best be managed to capture the significant cost, efficiency and quality advantages that will become available.

This change is already underway and gaining momentum. Amy Marks, president and owner of XSite Modular, is adamant that the experience in her native US clearly shows that the take-up should be much wider than the residential sector, where much of the prefabrication action has been to date in Australia. As examples, she cites the increasing importance of prefabrication in delivering hi-tech projects and the telecommunications sector.

XSite advises clients around the world on enabling and optimising the use of off-site and prefabrication in large, complex, technology-embedded buildings. Marks has experience with all types of buildings including low, medium and high density housing, student accommodation, military housing, hotels, healthcare buildings, government buildings and mission critical buildings including modular cable landing stations, data centres, and semiconductor fabrication facilities. She was recently appointed by the Government of Singapore to a two-year position on an international panel of experts focused on construction and productivity.

As evidence of its appeal, prefabrication has caught on at Balfour Beatty, one of the world’s leading infrastructure groups, with 2014 revenue in excess of US$7billion.

XSite Modular’s structured approach to consulting has moved us forward light years in our off-site initiatives across the US and provided tremendous value to our company and our clients,” said Balfour Beatty US national vice president of operations ​Nancy Novak.

The path ahead presents both threats and opportunities, and it is not just the smaller players who will be impacted. It leads us to ask, just what can we expect these changes to look like and what changes are already evident in the Australian construction industry?

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