Dude, Where’s my Lego? Part 2
Pondering Prefab – Part 2
In Part 1 of this this two-part insight article, Christian Skou, Director of CSArchitects, looked back at the origins of Prefabricated Construction and traced its development through Europe the US & Canada.
In Dude, Where’s my Lego? Part 2, Christian considers the future of prefabricated construction; it’s evolution and potential to improve the Australian building industry.
Why Prefab Construction?
Prefab and Modular technologies are squarely positioned to increase future construction market share as they offer real solutions to current building industry problems of low productivity and high construction costs. Prefab Construction technologies deliver combined efficiencies in time, cost, quality and sustainability.
Affordable housing is once again, in short supply, with Australia alone facing a shortage of approximately 640,200 affordable dwellings by 2030.
Yet Australia’s share of the prefab modular construction market is still small when compared with the rest of the world. Domestically, prefabricated buildings represent about 3% of the residential housing market, whereas prefabrication delivers 80% of residential housing in Sweden.
However, the Australian industry is growing, with a target of achieving 10% of the national market by 2020.
Regardless of which prefabricated system is selected for a specific site or development, the building components are manufactured at a place other than its final location. They are delivered to site, sometimes fully fitted out and installed as either a stand-alone structure or an addition to an existing building. These installed prefab components are all intended to remain as in-situ for the duration of their expected life meeting the requirements of the local building regulations.
How fab is Prefab?
Manufacturing building components offsite effectively allows for more construction tasks to be completed concurrently. Site establishment, earth work and foundations can be in progress on site, and at the same time, modules for podium and upper floors can be manufactured in the factory. Module delivery can be scheduled to coincide with the completion of all ground work. Installation of prefabricated components is much faster than traditional construction methods, allowing projects to be completed earlier than traditional construction. Because construction teams are able to work in controlled environments using repetitive techniques and convenient equipment based on automated or semi-automated technology, modular construction results in faster build times. The risk of weather delays are substantially mitigated when modular components are produced off-site avoids setbacks that are common to on-site construction.
Pre-fab modular construction produces much less waste than conventional construction. Research shows that we could see up to a 90% reduction in materials wastage. The reduced site time and disturbance delivers a tighter construction programme and less impact on the local environment.
Incorporating BIM (Building Information Model) technology and precision manufacturing techniques mean that issues that were once resolved on site – taking up additional time and materials – are now resolved before construction begins. The reduction in both time and materials, will deliver not only substantial cost savings, but a more environmentally friendly project.
Considering the time and material savings that prefabricated construction methods offer, project budgets can achieve substantial cost savings, particularly through reductions in site time, material waste and labour.
In general, due to their increased site time and risk, traditional construction projects have a reputation for running over time and budget. Not only is modular construction faster due to simultaneous site and in-factory prefabrication, more efficient use of time and materials offer more accurate price assurance.
Prefabricated construction methods offer significant advantages in product quality and consistency. Quality assurance does not solely rely on signed off drawings or a model, but offers the advantage of producing a prototype for inspection, testing, sign off or for further development. Once a prototype is signed off, quality control moves to a factory floor, where environmental, mechanical and quality are all closely controlled, and continues throughout the site installation.
Prefabricated methods are ideal for construction in extreme environments or remote areas. Buildings can be planned and delivered much more efficiently, in locations which would have previously been logistically near impossible or or too expensive. Instead of delivering raw building materials, prefabricated components are delivered nearly finished and ready for a simple install. Components can be volumetric, a near-complete modules; or even panelised ‘Flat Packed’ which offers improved transport efficiencies.
Modular buildings are built with the same materials, to the same building codes and architectural specifications as traditional construction. Once assembled, they are virtually indistinguishable from conventionally built developments.
Health and safety hazards, particularly for workers, is much more easily controlled in a factory than on a construction site. Manufacturing building components in a controlled environment, on a factory floor delivers improved hazard controls and therefore significantly reduces the risks of workers’ injuries, accidents and related liabilities. For example, processes can be designed so that most tasks can be conducted at waist height; equipment and tools can be using for lifting and moving heavy items, eliminating the need for workers to lift, reach and twist.
Prefabricating the future
Modular construction methods have been refined and incorporated into the various Building Codes and grown rapidly in Europe, Canada and USA; Australia is gradually coming around too. Architects and developers have started to understand and appreciate the opportunities that modular delivery methods offer. Beautiful, functional and well designed modular buildings are being completed all over the world and in now Australia as well. Melbourne has some excellent examples of buildings delivered using these methods.
Some examples of completed pre-fab modular developments: 323 La Trobe Street, Melbourne. Little Hero Apartments, Melbourne. One9 Apartments, Melbourne. Wright College at UNE, Armidale and Peppers Kings Square, Perth.
While prefabricated construction or offsite construction is unlikely to completely replace the more conventional construction approaches, but it will, without doubt take a much greater share of the world market, particularly for multi-level buildings where we experience a great deal of repetition.
It is so important that Australia understand the challenges ahead in meeting future demands for affordable dwellings.
If we can understand modular technologies and methods, and advocate to our clients, the benefits of alternative design and construction methods, will be seeing more and more developments completed using refined building systems. The future is all about evolution and innovation and we have much to look forward to within this exciting industry.