Lead image: The prefabricated Harwyn studio Pod. See more here

As Australia’s automotive sector faces its imminent end, the building industry should tap into the skills of auto industry workers to expand the nation’s capacity for building manufacture, says former NSW Sustainability Commissioner in Sydney, and Project Leader for the CRC for Low Carbon Living, Professor Peter Newman.

“The modular building industry is growing at a great pace,” he notes. “However only three per cent of Australia’s building industry is currently modular and there is a huge opportunity to develop this industry, transfer skills from our dying auto industry and provide jobs, and compete with a growing level of manufactured building imports from the region.”

Modular or prefab buildings have been given buzzword statuses in recent times, but their popularity is only on the rise. According to Professor Newman, modular construction was estimated to be a $90 billion global industry in 2012, and in Australia it is estimated that the industry will grow to 10 per cent by 2020.

The key reasons for this growth includes a faster build time, with modular buildings able to be erected 30 to 40 per cent faster than conventional buildings. This translates to lower costs and more affordable housing, with the latter expected to really drive demand.

“With demand for affordable housing on the increase in Australia and elsewhere, investing in developing the modular building industry makes sense so we can meet that demand,” says Professor Newman.

“Modular building also means less waste and lower carbon emissions, so we really want a piece of this pie.”

Despite the benefits of modular builds, Australia has been a laggard in adapting to this new method of construction. Professor Newman, however, notes that his research team has found good reason for Australia to move quickly:

“Our team has found that there are off shore building manufacturing plants that are well ahead of us by importing Australian electrical and plumbing components to ensure that standards and codes are met when shipping to Australian customers.

“If we do not seize this building manufacturing opportunity now, foreign companies will certainly continue to bring them to market which could ultimately lead to job losses in the building sector and its supply chain.”

Together with the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc), the CRC for Low Carbon Living has launched two videos, Modular Manufactured Building and Carbon Structural Adjustment, which outline the team’s low carbon research and strategies for housing sustainability.

The former, which also features a full written report, is about a project seeking to develop and test the frameworks that will provide guidance to housing supply agents to effectively improve sector productivity. It consists of two sub-projects, one of which will evaluate the opportunities and benefits of manufactured housing as an alternative to traditional ‘stick-build’ industry approaches.

Watch the videos here: