Around much of Australia, sentiment appears to be growing that traditional fabrication performed on site is not the way of the future and that much of the fabrication going forward will instead be performed offsite in a controlled environment.

Thus far, however, much of that is yet to happen. Data on the topic is scarce, but PrefabAUS CEO Warren McGregor puts offsite manufacturing’s share of the construction fabrication market at three per cent. Whilst there are a number of factors behind this, one revolves around knowledge gaps amongst architects about how to design for prefabrication.

A group of around 20 leading companies and organisations involving builders, designers, suppliers, developers, industry associations, academic institutions and the Victorian government is trying to change this. Together, they have formed the Modular Construction Codes Board, which they have tasked with producing a code of practice or a handbook for the modular building industry.

Set to focus upon critical areas of design for performance, design for manufacture and assembly and regulatory guidance, the code aims to provide direction for architects and engineers about areas such as structure, services, façade, architecture, materials, safety, durability and logistics. On structure, for instance, the code will address considerations such as loads, element design, structural analysis and modular form.

John Lucchetti, chair of the board and a principal at Wood & Grieve Engineers, said the code will address a shortfall in guidance which is available to designers about strategies needed to design for modular construction. Stressing that it will not compete with the National Construction Code, Lucchetti says the code will provide guidance about strategies to manage the nuances and subtleties which arise when designers move away from traditional building methods.

“What we are doing is addressing the knowledge gaps that exist at the moment about how to build modular buildings,” he said.

Lucchetti’s comments come amid ongoing discussion surrounding questions about whether traditional or modular construction represents the way forward.

In a recent article, Dr Stephan Hajkowicz, senior principal scientist at the CSIRO, outlined what he saw as two possibilities. Under one such scenario, construction remains a largely bespoke business with each and every building and relationship (e.g. between builder and purchaser or builder and architect) remains unique. Under the second and more likely scenario, Hajkowicz says modular revolutionises the industry and advanced manufacturing techniques lead us to a ‘make anything factory’ type of mentality.

As well as providing guidance, Lucchetti said the code will help to raise the profile of the modular construction sector and to increase its credibility in the eyes of designers, engineers, builders, developers, financiers, suppliers and regulatory authorities. He said many within the sector were looking to see that modular as an industry was being well-governed and well-led.

Finally, Lucchetti said the process through which the new code has been developed has enabled stakeholders to reflect upon the role which prefabrication would play going forward and what various players wanted to achieve through modular building.

He acknowledges that modular is not suitable for every project but says the code will facilitate effective use of prefabrication for projects where this method is suitable.

“I don’t see modular construction as the be all and end all,” he said. “It is a way of building buildings like any other way. It’s going to have its situations where it is very advantageous and its situations where it is not the right solution.

“What we are trying to do (with the code) is provide the framework so that when it is the right solution that it will be adopted well.”