Prefabrication in Australia – what’s to learn and what’s next?
Ahead of his appearance as part of the DesignBUILD 2022 Speaker Series, we sat down with Damien Crough, Founding Director & Executive Chairman of PrefabAUS, to chat all things prefabrication and it's progression into the BIM space, what's next in prefab technology and how Australia can learn from our global counterparts.
1. How is prefabrication working with BIM to achieve lower construction waste and how much more can the industry achieve in this area?
Construction waste is typically measured in terms of the materials that are sent to landfill. Prefabrication and BIM reduces this waste significantly (up to 90%) through manufacturing components to precise dimensions and tolerances as well as procuring materials from the BIM which enables assembly processes similar automotive manufacturing where the parts fit perfectly therefore eliminating the need for cutting materials. What is not discussed is the waste reduction in supervision and coordination of a construction project. Many hours are spent in communication to deliver a project, we have seen examples of up to 70% reduction in scheduling, phone calls, emails, meetings and inspections for a prefabricated project utilising BIM.
2. How can prefabrication assist with housing affordability given the rise and rise of construction materials?
Prefabrication can provide solutions to housing affordability through scale and volume. We need to identify the types of housing that are required and then develop a prefabricated solution to meet that need. The industry can then respond through high volume manufacturing for a cost efffective outcome.
3. Can prefabrication reduce the risk of construction errors such as flammable cladding issues due to the potential for testing prior to deployment?
Yes prefabrication by its nature must be fully designed and prototyped before going into production. This allows for all elements to be thoroughly scrutinised and signed off at the front end of the project.
4. What can Australia learn from countries like Sweden who prefabricate much more?
There are different drivers around the world that lead to the percentage use of prefabrication. In Australia we don’t yet have the extremes in climate that only allow a small window of construction each year. Our drivers are materials and labour/skills shortages which is seeing a greater uptake of prefabrication, which will only continue to grow.
5. Is there still resistance to prefabricated construction from the industry? Will we see the workforce move from onsite to factory?
There is a general lack of understanding and knowledge in the industry, not resistance. We wont see a big shift from onsite to factory, what we will see is greater use of manufactured components in buildings, leading to more productive and efficient construction sites. We still need skilled trades to put our buildings together but their knowledge will expand and include the coordination, logistics and installation of major components.
6. Your work on Little Hero with Nonda Kastilidis showed how prefabrication can assist with tricky sites. Are there any sites on your wish list you would like to develop?
The Little Hero site was undeveloped for 50 years because no one could work out what to do with it in a conventional development model. I think any opportunity where we can unlock or overcome the challenging site constraints to deliver a positive built environment outcome that would otherwise not have been realised.
7. What’s next in prefab technology?
In the immediate term the use of hybrid systems will become more common. This is combining the best attributes of particular materials and techniques. We are seeing CLT and concrete as composite prefabricated floor system for example or whole wall panels that have a steel post tensioned structural column with timber and glass elements attached. Longer term 3D printing will play a big role, we are exploring what that means but we already have a prefabAUS member in that space.
8. What can we expect from your session?
The Prefab Innovation Hub session will provide an update on the 6 industry significant projects that are currently being undertaken by members of the Hub. We will hear about prefab funding, DfMA, Regulations, Bushfire design and sustainability. The prefab 101 session will look at the fundamentals of prefab and get our audience up to speed with best practice.