Featured in the AFR: Off-site build absolutely prefab-ulous

The building industry must embrace off-site construction methods or risk losing up to $30 billion a year and 75,000 jobs overseas, industry body prefabAUS warns.

Off-site construction accounts for 3 per cent- $1.4 billion -of the total construction sector with Australia behind Japan, South Korea, China and Scandinavia in adopting the technology.

Prefabrication involves the assembly-line construction of structures such as apartments, hotel rooms, hospital wards and bathroom suites. On completion the items are delivered and installed-like Lego at the site.

Use of the technology can reduce costs through shorter construction time and reduced waste. It also has potential to reduce job numbers on building sites.

PrefabAUS is hosting its inaugural national conference in August and will push for industry take-up to rise to at least 10 per cent in the medium term.

"If Australia doesn’t move to develop an off-site manufacturing base now, we will lose a major slice of our construction industry off shore," prefabAUS chief executive Sarah Backhouse said.

"Time is the most significant saving. With prefabrication, the modules can be manufactured in the factory while the site is being prepared.

"The soon you finish, the sooner you can start earning income."

Members of prefabAUS include the Hickory group, which developed the patented Unitised Building System with architect Nonda Katsalidis.

Hickory is currently building 800 bathrooms off-site for developer Harry Stamoulis’s 68-level apartment tower at 568 Collins Street in Melbourne, due for completion next year.

The bathrooms are assembled complete with fittings, tiles and plumbing in a 17,000-square metre warehouse in Brooklyn and delivered by truck to the site where they are lifted into position by crane.

"It’s 10 hours start to finish to build a bathroom," said Damien Crough, who heads Hickory’s prefab business, Hickory Building Systems.

"There’s 90 per cent less waste because everything is cut to size."

Hickory also prefabricates hotel rooms, full apartments and hospital wards off site.

Last November, Hickory assembled One9 Apartments, a nine-storey, 36-module apartment block in Moonee Ponds in five days.

Fitout and refurbishment company ISIS is currently undertaking its third hospital expansion for private healthcare provider Ramsay using prefabricated hospital wards.

Each ward module comprises a passageway with a fully-fitted bedroom and bathroom on each site.

They will take two days to install and a further four to eight weeks to finish.

"It reduced time on site by about a third and means less noise and less impact on the existing hospital," ISIS science and healthcare unit commercial manager Daniel Morgan said. ‘"It’s costs about the same, but it’s leaning to being slightly cheaper, depending on the complexity of the project"

Dean Lockhart, who heads the Victorian arm of Probuild, currently building the MY80 apartment block for Malaysian developer Mammoth and Grocon’s Swanston Square mixed-use project, said developers still tended to shy away from prefabrication.

"They still see it as shipping containers tarted up. A big education process is needed to get more industry backing.

"It’s worked really well with mining camps and there’s a great market for holiday home, but it’s only had modest success in apartment development"

Larry Schlesinger, Australian Financial Review, 31 July 2014


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