The Australian commercial construction industry has been slow to adopt prefabricated building products in their projects.

SBS Group, a leading manufacturer and supplier of prefabricated and prefinished frames and engineered facades for the construction sector, predicts what the future holds for prefabricated building products.

Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, Senior Principal Scientist at CSIRO says prefabricated building products account for a mere 3% of the Australian construction industry’s annual spend. Industry pundits expect manufacturing in the construction industry to grow at 5% a year to 2023, ably supported by the new peak industry body for modular/prefab building, PrefabAus.

However, Hajkowicz believes an ‘external shock’ is needed to lift the growth rate.

Building Capacity

Five years ago, the integrated construction company, Hickory Group set up a factory to make multi-storeyed buildings the modular way. Employing more than 150 people, the factory produces over 500 apartments annually.

Curtin University researchers Jemma Green and Peter Newman explain that the company has ‘engineered a system that can achieve architecturally diverse high-rise buildings’.

Using lean construction techniques to construct many parts of a building at the same time, Hickory’s factory also employs Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Hickory’s patented building systems deliver high-rise construction projects up to 60% quicker than standard systems. At their La Trobe Tower in Melbourne, the tallest prefab building in Australia, Hickory was able to reduce construction time by a third using integrated structural prefabrication, a proprietary facade system and bathroom pods.

Major property developer/builder/investor Lendlease has pumped $1B into manufacturing prefab components including cross-laminated timber framework. Their DesignMake factory, operating from a 15,800 sqm Western Sydney site, is a separate business manufacturing cost-effective and sustainable forms of construction for a global portfolio of projects. They’re investing in smart design and high-tech manufacturing processes to create prefab building components for their customers.

The external shock

SBS Group believes 3D printing will be the ‘external shock’. A trending technology across most sectors, 3D printing holds significant promise for personalised building design and mass production, says Hajkowicz. As the software improves and augmented and virtual reality allows architects and developers to get a better ‘feel’ for their completed design, there’re opportunities to really fine-tune the computer image before hitting the 3D print button.

Bring out the robots

The future of prefabrication as envisaged by Dr George Quezada from CSIRO’s Data61 is quite fascinating. He believes Australia has the potential to become a ‘global construction innovation’ hub with advanced prefabrication facilities attracting lucrative foreign investment and boosting new high-tech jobs. Tradies will become building assembling technicians overseeing robotic systems with virtual reality and 3D laser mapping tools.

Jobs growth

With more construction industry players embracing prefabrication as a smarter way of building, there will be increased demand for a different range of skills for roles such as virtual/augmented reality trainers, building drone operators and robot resource managers.

Who to watch?

For more updates on futurescaping the construction industry, keep a watch on The Farsight Project – a world-first project looking at how technological and social changes will impact the industry’s workforce over the next two decades. Driven by CSIRO and Construction Skills Queensland, an independent industry-funded body, the project kicked off in July 2016.

So, how is SBS Group embracing new technology?

One of the leading prefab companies in Australia, SBS Group has invested in new state-of-the-art technology, and is now reaping the benefits of their investment in the form of savings in design and costs passed onto their clients.

SBS uses advanced CAD detailing software that integrates with the technology, allowing them to build their lightweight framing sections for far greater design flexibility. With this technology, SBS is further revolutionising the construction industry with smarter prefabricated building systems.

Image courtesy of The Urban Developer