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?”

  • Australia is hardly in the dark ages when it comes to modular. Hickory's Sync Bathroom Pods currently being installed in the next iconic Melbourne Tower – 568 Collins Street (architects: bruce henderson; engineers: meinhardt) – are just one such proof of that –

  • All good in theory and on paper at the top & bottom of the scale – money is always the prominent denominator. Advances either technology, building so forth all look pretty, what it all needs is attitude ass off seats get out there and do something positive that will generate an overall collective honest equation.

  • Very very truth….
    I have been saying for years that Australia is 20 years behind in modular building….
    We are probably the only company in Australia that for the last 5 years have invested heavily in new technologies and modular building systems.
    It would be good to see more media attention and awareness regarding the benefits and the saving that modular construction will give

  • I have been to the site where they make all this product and its very inspiring to be there. every thing is done indoors at their large complex leaving nothing to chance its all hands on by them self's . I when into the display home on site it shows its easy to construct and now want to have a go myself there are so many reasons to use this product

  • Yes, it's correct in saying that Australia is a few years behind the UK and other countries around the world in the take-up of bathroom pods for commercial projects. However in Sydney and Melbourne Interpod Offsite has been delivering successful pod projects for the last 5 years. This started changing modular bathroom perceptions in Australia back then, and has been rapidly spreading throughout the whole nation ever since. With a track record of successful projects using Interpod bathrooms, we are finding the industry is ready and thirsty for change, knowing that offsite construction is the answer for their bathrooms. The tier 1 companies now see this as the way of the future. Yes, as a nation we’re behind, but we’re catching up fast !

  • If that was the only thing Aussie was decades behind in we would be laughing!

  • We're currently involved in a project looking at the different skill set requirements for people working in a prefab environment. The aim is to produce improved training outcomes for people working in this environment and hopefully improved career pathways.

    • Maybe you could arrange a an exchange project with a UK company whereby some of your staff could come over here to see how we do things and take some experienced staff over there to help train your people.. Just an Idea

  • Working as International Consultant (Project Leader) , Building Materials and Housing Technologies, United Nation Industrial Development Organization, Vienna, Austria. Looking for adoption of new housing technologies under various projects supported by UNIDO in large number of countries.