Significant opportunities lay before the modular building and off-site construction sector in Australia, according to the director of an international project management firm for the offsite manufacturing and modular bathroom industry.

Yorkshire based Intelligent Offsite director Paul Bonaccorsi said Australia’s modular building industry had an opportunity to extend its reach beyond the traditional resources sector and into areas such as high-rise multi-residential buildings.

The modular bathroom industry in particular is set to benefit from the international experience of companies such as Lend Lease, Laing O’Rourke, Westfield and Multiplex, who have used bathroom pods outside Australia and are becoming increasingly comfortable with their use in domestic projects.

Bonaccorsi added, however, that while clients will always be the driving force behind any push toward use of off-site construction or otherwise, European experience suggested manufacturers of prefabricated products needed to be flexible and innovative in seeking out new markets.

“The driving force will be the clients. In the majority of cases we have seen, the client pushes the contractor down the route of off-site,” he said, adding that many contractors were more comfortable with traditional construction methods and often had to be coerced into discovering new methods.

“But the manufacturers have their part to play in constantly innovating. For example with modular in Europe, the market was stagnant for a few years. Then we (the modular industry) started doing McDonald’s restaurants, petrol station shops. That then took us into other retail industries such as supermarkets, and permanent modular began to be bigger than relocatable. We then moved into prisons, hotels, complete hospitals, railway stations – all sorts of markets.”

Bonaccorsi’s comments come amid increasing debate within Australia surrounding the best ways to address the slow take-up rates of prefabrication and offsite building around the country. Proponents of prefabrication say it offers faster construction times, reduced labour requirements, fewer defects, less construction waste, higher levels of safety and productivity and better sustainability.

modular house

In August, renowned construction advisor David Chandler said Australia was decades behind in this area, and warned that the nation could miss out on more than $30 billion dollars annually and 75,000 employment positions if it continues to lag.

BIS Shrapnel research analyst James Middleton, meanwhile, stated the market is being held back by the relatively small and fragmented nature of the Australian market, the cost of transferring modules over long distances and the perceptions about modular homes being inferior products.

However, he said incorporation of better features and designs are helping to change perceptions, and that the prefabricated industry has enormous potential as a contributor to the provision of affordable housing, though growth in the sector is expected to be gradual and focused more on individual building components as opposed to “apartment buildings that go up in 10 days or fully built houses being dropped off at construction sites by semi-trailers.”

“In short, whilst the reports of a six storey apartment building in Perth being built in ten days are impressive and exciting, they are unlikely to be game changing,” Middleton wrote on BIS’s blog on October 10.

“However, modular construction will play an increasingly significant role in the Australian building industry moving forward (particularly in the affordable housing sector) by being at the cutting edge of new technologies and techniques, so watch this space.”

Bonaccorsi encourages manufacturers to look at innovative products such as alternative wiring systems which speed up construction processes and increase cost advantages associated with the end product as well as to look at what clients such as McDonalds, IHG, Hilton and BP have used in overseas and offer them something similar here.

modular house

He said the key thing is for manufacturers to look at ways to offer more, such as through extended guarantees.

“The most important lesson we learned in Europe was to offer more than traditional construction” Bonaccorsi said. “Better quality is paramount, but also for example extended warranties for the end user.”

“If you have faith in the products you are using to make the building or pod, why not pass it on?”