Featured in The Age: Prefab solution to auto sector woes

With prefabricated construction tipped to be a dominant feature of 21st-century building, the state government and industry have urged threatened automotive companies to transfer their expertise to the sector.

Manufacturing Minister David Hodgett said the impending closure of Toyota, Holden and Ford by 2016-17 would clearly pose huge challenges for Victorian manufacturing, which was, however, still a massive economic presence in the state.

 “The emerging prefabrication industry has a great opportunity to take advantage of the skills of the automotive sector,” he said, addressing the inaugural Prefabricating Australia conference in Melbourne.

The Hickory Group, which has delivered several multi-unit prefabricated buildings since 2010, was using designers from Holden to build their expertise, he said.

Prefabricated housing and building is manufactured off-site in advance, usually in simple sections that can be easily transported.

Mr Hodgett said globally, prefabricated construction was worth $US96 billion, but Australia’s share of this was only 3 per cent. Domestically, prefabricated housing made up only 3 per cent of the national housing market. In Scandinavia, it was much higher – 50 per cent in Finland and 74 per cent in Sweden. “So prefabrication in Australia has great opportunities – but a long way to go,” he said.

Mr Hodgett said Australian industry had ambitions to reach 10 per cent by 2020. “Ten per cent is still relatively small, but I recognise there are growth opportunities in the commercial market – health and education,” he said.

Following Mr Hodgett, a specialist manufacturing body was launched that aims to determine how Australia can transform its construction industry to a smarter, leaner manufacturing mind-set.

It will operate under the auspices of META (the art of manufacturing), a collaborative network of manufacturers and researchers.

META’s PrefabAUS Hub has 15 members, including manufacturers and the University of Queensland. META’s managing director Zoran Angelkovski told the conference  a primary objective of the Hub was to identify how the local construction industry could transform and compete against imported products in terms of quality, value and speed.

Curtain University professor of sustainability Peter Newman told the conference  that traditional construction techniques were outdated.

Professor Newman said the Stella building in Perth had been built with prefabricated components in 11 days. It performed better on all fronts compared with conventional construction.

Thermal performance was 30 per cent better; waste was halved; the building was completed in 40-50 per cent less time; construction costs were down 10-20 per cent; aggregate funding costs were down 35-40 per cent; and there were improved returns for the investor.

Professor Newman said 21st century materials were also helping this process. For example, there were now materials that shaped to a mould, and could be bent into all sorts of shapes.

Philip Hopkins, The Age, 13 August 2014

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