One of Australasia’s leading experts on prefab construction believes the mass customisation of building creation is inevitable given ongoing technological advances.
According to Daiman Otto, chairman of PrefabNZ, emerging technologies in the field of pre-fabricated building are leading the industry inexorably toward the mass customisation of buildings, as well as an attendant paradigm shift in the design and construction industries.
“Mass customization where pre-fabrication is going,” he said. “It will happen inevitably."
The new process would mark a radical departure from existing prefab building processes, which primarily involve the ongoing duplication of standardised units and parts.
“Right now we’re doing mass duplication really, really well,” said Otto. “By that we mean you set up a standard set of components or room types or basically known quantities that can be duplicated or combined together.”
Otto noted that mass customization will entail the creation of a completely versatile manufacturing process for the bespoke creation of different buildings.
“Mass customisation means that every single product can be different - it really doesn’t matter what the end product is, it’s all about setting up the processes,” he said. “For example, you could arguably take a sketch of any kind or shape of building, and then have that run through a mass customization digital fabrication approach, and output that sketch or that idea.
“And through your production line, you could do exactly the same thing for something completely different straight after it without any loss of efficiency between the two products.”
According to Otto, the confluence of technologies required for the mass customisation of building construction already exists, and is simply waiting for the creation of an interface that knits them all together.
“All of the means and mechanisms are there, all the tools are there, all the digital fabrication know-how is there, all the machinery is there, but what’s not there is an interface between all those things to line it all up in a loss-free process,” he said.
“If you’re undertaking renovations, for example, you can have a designer come to your house, digitally measure it up, then have those figures exported to a 3D model of the house, run an algorithm on your aesthetic preference, and generate a number of options for how you might create that new space.
“That same model can then be sent to a 3D printer or a CNC fabricator or some other process to make the whole thing - so everything is already there, it’s just that the interface for getting those things working together hasn’t appeared yet.”
Otto believes that, given the concurrent existence of the technologies required for mass customisation, it’s inevitable that they will eventually be incorporated into a single process.
“It’s inevitable that it will happen, and I think there are people already working on aspects of that - there are people working on the interface between software and CNC machinery for example, as well as people working on models that have structural information embedded in them," he said.
“It’s a case of everything that can be programmed will be programmed – it’s inevitable.”
The emergence of the mass customisation of buildings will engender profound changes in the architecture and construction industries, given the huge extent to which it will facilitate the development of built environments for clients.
“I think there’s going to be quite a paradigm change in terms of how the people working on buildings and the people working on design as well,” said Otto. “There are couple of other things that people will perceive as dangerous or harmful, and one is that the architecture and design industry could have less of a role to play in bespoke buildings.
“Buildings are becoming products, and when you go buy a BMW you don’t pay a design fee for it - it’s all built in, it’s all priced in.”
He said mass customisation would allow for a "democratisation" of people who can take on roles in the design process.
“Anyone will be able decide to design something using software or a process with all the structural information and safety information automatically inputted, and a lot of the constraints are built in," he said. “It means that pretty much anyone can design something that can effectively be built.”