Australia Needs to Catch Up on Prefab Construction

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Monday, April 13th, 2015
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The Australian building sector stands to benefit immensely from the growing global trend of prefab construction.

Earlier this year, UK housing minister Brandon Lewis issued a call for the country’s construction sector to embrace new forms of innovative building technology in order to hasten the development of new homes, and address a looming shortage of completed domiciles.

Lewis pointed to prefabrication and off-site construction in particular as a key new area of technological development in which British building companies were falling behind.

“More innovation in housebuilding is long overdue and it will be essential if we want to deliver more homes that move beyond the traditional system of taking 20 weeks to build a home, if the British weather holds up,” he said.

While most parts of Australia do not have to deal with weather that is as frequently inclement as England’s, its construction industry could also be falling behind when it comes to reaping the benefits of prefabricated building methods.

Zoran Angelkovski, managing director of the Manufacturing Excellence Taskforce of Australia (META) said at the launch of the the PrefabAUS Hub launch last year that prefabricated housing remained an untapped market for local manufacturers.

The Australian construction industry makes a contribution of over $150 billion to GDP, comprising roughly 10 per cent of the total output of goods and services. The prefabricated housing sector, however, amounts to just $4.6 billion, or three per cent of the construction industry’s output.

Warren McGregor, CEO of PreFab Australia, pointed to the manifold advantages that prefabrication and off-site construction can bring to the Australian building sector.

“Prefabrication offers a host of benefits such as reduced construction times (due to concurrent rather than sequential activities), reduced waste, overcoming challenges associated with remote sites common in Australia’s widely dispersed communities across our variety of landscapes,” McGregor said. “Reduced site disruption is another; being able to fabricate a substantial school or university building offsite and install on-site over the Christmas holiday period averts the year or so of site disruption that would otherwise be involved.”

In spite of its current under-representation within Australia, MacGregor believes the prefab construction sector is set to enjoy robust growth in the near future and achieve a tremendous increase in its market share.

“Australia is making impressive advances in the take-up of prefabrication and off-site construction,” he said. “The recent META PrefabAUS Housing Hub study reveals that prefabrication accounts for approximately three per cent of housing construction in Australia, and with the prefab sector experiencing much faster growth rates than the broader industry, this figure is expected to triple in over the next decade.”

MacGregor points out, however, that the industry should acquire greater knowledge and understanding of how and when to apply prefabricated building methods to different projects.

“Wider recognition in Australia of the array of prefabrication options that may be incorporated into a project is crucial,” he said. “The question is not do we go prefabricated or not, but which elements of each project are well suited to prefabrication and how is this best achieved. Almost every large project will benefit from the adoption of some off-site construction.”

MacGregor also called for changes to procurement methods in order to foster the uptake of more efficient offsite construction methods.

“Procurement methods, including for government agencies in Australia can often inadvertently preclude adoption of off-site solutions (if only for historical reasons),” he said. “Levelling the playing field in this regard would result in more opportunities for Australia’s off-site industry and superior project outcomes for clients.”

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