The building industry in Australia is not keeping up with international efforts with regard to prefabrication and needs to halve on-site construction times over the next decade or risk being left behind, industry leaders say.

In a recent statement, renowned construction sector advisor David Chandler OAM said the local industry needs to reduce overall costs by up to 20 per cent and develop its off-site construction sector to compete with an increasingly global industry.

“The construction industry is transforming and traditional craft-based on-site fabrications are shifting off-site,” Chandler said, adding that off-site construction is expected to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of Australia’s overall building sector by 2023, and that Australia could miss out on more than $30 billion dollars annually and 75,000 employment positions if we miss the boat.

“Construction is becoming industrialised. Australia’s construction industry is not keeping up,” he noted.

Others agree with Chandler’s assessment.

Sarah Backhouse, CEO of prefabAUS, which is holding a three-day conference on prefabrication in Melbourne this week, said overseas off-site manufacturers were already turning building into a global industry.

“If Australia doesn’t move to increase off-site capabilities now, we could lose a major slice of our construction industry off-shore,” Backhouse said, adding that prefabrication was transforming not just off-site work but on-site construction as well.

Around the world, the trend toward increasing levels of prefabrication is gaining momentum.

On its latest data centre in Sweden, tech giant Facebook, for example, is hoping to cut building time in half compared with the time taken to construct traditional data centres by using modular buildings, lean design principles and streamlined processes.

Locally, the concept gained attention a couple of years ago when Lend Lease slashed months off construction schedules on its Forté project at Docklands – the world’s tallest timber building.

Mid-tier builders are also getting in on the act.

Melbourne based Hickory Group, for example, recently erected a nine-storey, 36-module apartment block in the Melbourne north suburb of Moonee Ponds in just five days, and is in discussions with potential partners overseas to export its intellectual property in this area.

Chandler says Australia needs to cut reliance on imported building materials by up to half and on-site labour costs by 30 per cent, and says the development of a healthy prefabrication industry will help bring this about.

“It is understandable that companies such as Incitec Pivot are taking their new US$850 million ammonia plant off-shore (because of high building costs locally),” he wrote in a recent editorial. “The current cost of construction in Australia is unsustainable.”