Why the Slow Uptake in Australian Prefab - The Experts Rundown

Prefab is taking off internationally, but the Australia construction industry is lagging behind in the adoption of this revolutionary building method. In 2015, according to prefabAUS managing director, Warren McGregor, prefabricated building is only accountable for 3% of the marketplace.

What is so Beneficial about Prefab?

Professor John Smoulders FAIB NBPR-1 believes prefab improves safety and should be the rule rather than the exception in construction.

“You reduce your labour force on-site, you manufacture in a controlled factory environment, not the situation where you have got guys walking everywhere, inclement weather and site access, all the extra cribbing that you need to cater for the site crew, all the OH&S that is so strict on a construction site and all this sort of stuff. It just makes so much more sense,” says Professor Smoulders.

How to Benefit from Prefab?

Mr McGregor says the key to benefiting from prefab is knowing when it’s suitable to use. “Almost all large projects in any sector will have elements that are well suited to off-site elements. Identifying which prefabrication options make the most sense for a particular project and understanding how they are best incorporated into a project is what is required to capture the benefits on offer.”

Considerations?

David Chandler, CEO of Fletcher Construction Group’s Australian, NZ, Pacific & NA Operations is wary of the speed Australia should move at in implementing this technology on a wide scale. Mr Chandler concedes that though in theory off-site pre-fab would be less-expensive, he says it’s not so clear-cut in reality and recommends benchmarking be used to truly figure out whether this would be the case real-world.

What’s Holding Pre-Fab Back?

Professor Smoulders believes one speed-bump in the way of prefab uptake is (according to Smoulders) Australian builders are simply apathetic towards prefab as they are either resistant to change, or unsure of how to adapt to pre-fab building methods.

Mr McGregor agrees; “The single biggest challenge [in taking-up prefabrication] will be the change of mindset involved… this change needs to be widespread, including clients, contractors, architects and consultants, project managers and suppliers”.

Mr Chandler identifies a lack of information available as a hurdle instead. He says the sector is lacking compelling business plans which explain the prefabrication process. How it works? How all components operate as a system? And so on.

Why is it so Important Australia Adopts Prefab?

Professor Smoulders believes if Australia doesn’t get onto the prefabrication bandwagon and adopt new building technologies like other developed nations, then we will become uncompetitive internationally as overseas construction methods advance and innovate and we fall behind.

“If you do a trip to Europe, the bricklayers, the plasterers, all their sand and cement is mixed in a silo, the silo is delivered, put it in a wheelbarrow, press a few buttons, and you have a perfect mix…They press the button and they get it there and they only use what needs to be used with no waste, none whatsoever,” points out Mr Chandler.

“What happens in this country, a three tonne truck comes on the job, dumps it on the ground. You might use one and a half tonnes, two tonnes if you are lucky, the other tonne is wasted on the floor. Then another truck comes, then another…We are still doing that. We have a lot to learn”, he says.

Prefab Offers Opportunity for Manufacturing Workers

According to Dr Alviano, the Master Builders’ Sustainable Building Adviser, though gaining prefabrication up skilling can be daunting, it does offer an opportunity for manufacturing workers to gain employment once the car manufacturing industry closes its doors in Australia. 

“Prefabricated building seems to be coming to a head here as there’s this push from all different areas to kick-start the industry. As the Australian car industry collapses, prefabricated building may be an opportune alternative for those skilled, unemployed manufacturing workers”, says Dr Alviano.

So What Can We Draw From This?

Whether we want to innovate and advance or not, it’s clear the rest of the world is doing so and if we want our construction sector to remain competitive globally into the future then we must be brave and try new building methods and invest in new technologies.