THE GRENFELL TOWER IN LONDON AND LOCAL CRISES EMBODIED BY EVENTS AT THE OPAL AND MASCOT TOWERS HAVE LED TO AN EROSION OF TRUST IN THE BUILDING SECTOR. IT EVEN HAS A NAME; AN ARTICLE IN THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW IN LATE OCTOBER DESCRIBED HOW ‘THE OPAL TOWER EFFECT’ HAS SEEN SYDNEY HIGH-RISE SITE SALES CRASH BY 50 PER CENT. CAN OFFSITE + MODERN METHODS OF CONSTRUCTION (MMC) HELP RESTORE CONFIDENCE IN THE BUILDING SECTOR? BELINDA SMART REPORTS.
As news coverage of widespread safety and quality issues erodes market sentiment, the question over what offsite + MMC can offer presents an opportunity to build an alternative story about good outcomes for construction. It’s a conversation that’s happening globally, as shown by the June 2019 McKinsey report ‘Modular construction: From projects to products.’
“Moving building activities into an enclosed, sheltered, and carefully controlled environment where closer scrutiny is possible will directly improve the quality of the structures being produced. Robotics will further improve precision.”
THE LOCAL PERSPECTIVE
CSR INCLOSE – AN ALTERNATIVE TO COMBUSTIBLE CLADDING
The development of CSR Inclose, a unitised rainscreen facade system designed to meet or exceed building codes for fire, thermal, acoustic and weather performance, was largely driven by developed to address critical issues, such as combustible cladding and water tightness, affecting facades.
CSR Inclose Business Manager Rob Ferrari says offsite construction specialists have an opportunity to position themselves as purveyors of safer, better buildings. “Offsite manufacture allows a high degree of QA to happen in the factory, and of course all the design is completed in the early stages of a project with offsite, which allows for defects to be almost completely eradicated at the site.” However, he indicates that fears over non-compliance or the repercussions of unsafe buildings are leading to a certification regime with the potential to stifle innovation.
“Our Inclose Facade System is fully and independently tested, but we are seeing a trend to only accept a ‘deemed to satisfy’ facade solution due to concerns around combustibility. We have heard that this is driven by insurers. There’s an opportunity for more education about the stringent testing and quality outcomes that can be delivered through offsite manufacturing, such as systems like Inclose. Better education would benefit all stakeholders involved from design to construction. The challenge is how to achieve that and with what resources?”
“There’s an opportunity for more education about the stringent testing and quality outcomes that can be delivered through offsite manufacturing, such as systems like Inclose. Better education would benefit all stakeholders involved from design to construction. The challenge is how to achieve that and with what resources?”Rob Ferrari, Business Manager, CSR Inclose.
THE BENEFITS OF PIPELINE: HANSEN YUNCKEN
Nick Luzar, State Manager – NSW/ACT – Hansen Yuncken, told Built Offsite the company’s experience in the corrections sector has offered some key learnings in terms of optimising quality.
“In that market, the government is the client and the New South Wales Government has shown a high level of leadership in terms of setting the standards before engaging a number of manufacturers to deliver prefabricated prison cells. We were involved a prefab prison cell project as part of the expansion of Bathurst Correctional Centre.”
The Government’s proactive involvement in specifying the correctional cells, which Luzar likens to bathroom pods in terms of how they’re designed and delivered, has created pipeline certainty for manufacturers but also necessitated detailed upfront design, leading, over time, to a high degree of consistency in terms of quality outcomes.
“Prefab is an area in which we’ve found that we’ve been able to refine our methodologies over time, in a way that’s not possible with traditional builds, where you don’t always have the opportunity to implement the lessons learned on subsequent projects. A high degree of communication with builders and other supply chain participants leads to better outcomes. Each time you do a project, the quality improves and the speed of construction comes down.”
QA AT HICKORY BUILDING SYSTEMS | SYNC
George Abraham, Managing Director, Hickory Group, says the company’s prefabricated solution for high rise buildings, Hickory Building Systems (HBS), offers tangible built safety and quality outcomes. The system integrates the core, shear walls, bathrooms and facade of a building into a unified structure which is built offsite in parallel with onsite works. Hickory’s prefabricated Sync bathroom pods also set the bar high on built safety and quality, with a benchmark of zero defects, made achievable through high levels of quality control, with all bathrooms tested in factory. Sync build in proactive QA at each stage of the process, starting with design and is a shared responsibility amongst the team. Quality checks include electrician testing and commissioning of all electricals; and plumbers to pressure test and leak test of all fixtures in the pod. A subsequent QA individual ensures that all drains are facing the right way and joints are crimped. Sync also performs full QA of membraning and a final QA test of the overall internal and external fixtures and fittings.
“The key benefit of prefabrication is that it encourages the client, the design team and the builder to think in detail up front. Utilising BIM technology achieves a high level of accuracy in design, which enables design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA). This prevents quality issues that arise from late design information that can result in building defects. As we do most of the design development up front, there’s less likelihood of problems and issues during construction.”
“The key benefit of prefabrication is that it encourages the client, the design team and the builder to think in detail up front. Utilising BIM technology achieves a high level of accuracy in design, which enables design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA). This prevents quality issues that arise from late design information that can result in building defects.”George Abraham, Managing Director, Hickory Group.
Prefab also offers another layer of quality because the manufacture of each component has critical quality control checkpoints. “Meeting predetermined criteria at every phase enables us to meet quality standards and to establish standard operating procedures that we know lead to effective outcomes.”
To support Hickory Group’s safety and quality commitment, Hickory Builder’s Assurance (HBA), which is applicable across both prefabricated and traditionally built buildings, is designed to help owners properly care for their apartments, through scheduled maintenance alerts and detailed annual service inspections, resulting in detailed reports around the condition of fixtures, fittings and finishes and maintenance recommendations.
NSW BUILDING COMMISSIONER’S 360 DEGREE VIEW
NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler OAM’s insights on the industry, gathered over two decades, underpin his radical proposals for solving its challenges.
CONSTRUCTION GAIN VS. CONSUMER LOSS
Chandler says an issue for the industry is its lack of a charter on the rights of consumers or end-users. He told Built Offsite a systemic challenge in evaluating quality in buildings is that the construction industry has typically been “measurement-resistant” and “self-facing” as opposed to customer-facing.
The impact of defective buildings, perceived or actual, could be described as ranging “from moderate to extreme,” he says, with “extreme” entailing a serious market threat.
“Moderate may mean a 15 per cent loss of value; extreme may mean total loss. Increasingly insurance companies are electing to exclude excepted conditions in building cover. An owner or group of owners (strata scheme) may think they have a comprehensive building replacement cover, but frequently these covers now exclude risks relating to ground conditions, footings, structure and risky elements like cladding. I expect waterproofing may be next and, in some instances, retrofitting failing prefabricated elements like bathroom pods. These exclusions pose a big risk for banks that provide purchasers’ mortgages for these properties. They require a comprehensive cover as a loan condition. When such cover does not exist, a technical breach of the loan may occur.”
The longer term risk, he says, is that uninsurable or conditioned buildings become unmerchantable. The Insurance Council of Australia has initiated a series of working groups in this area; and an important focus is building resilience to consider how buildings fail in extreme climate events.
A CAUTION FOR OFFSITE
While traditionally constructed buildings are currently attracting bad press, Chandler warns that the contagion threatens to affect the offsite sector.
“My starting position on all modern construction conversations is that modern construction’s customers should not be modern construction’s guinea pigs. If prefab were to become judged as a risky additive to making buildings, the whole of the sector would suffer.”
“My starting position on all modern construction conversations is that modern construction’s customers should not be modern construction’s guinea pigs. If prefab were to become judged as a risky additive to making buildings, the whole of the sector would suffer.”David Chandler OAM, NSW Building Commissioner.
“The Australian offsite industry remains in its embryonic phase, albeit we have been anticipating its potential for nearly 20 years. Offsite lacks a shared intent that its disparate parts should come together to deliver a single point of assurance that whole buildings are functional, fit-for-purpose and durable.”
He warns against a culture “that seems content with just dropping the parts off at the jobsite, with no integration, no aspiration to excite the customer and most importantly a negligible approach to accountability.”
“Beyond this is fragility across the many start-ups that have come and gone in recent years. They have lacked a viable business and execution plan. They have mostly focused on a self-serving fad or product substitution. When their demise occurs, they leave damaging fall-out, monies owed, work incomplete, questionable compliance for the experiments performed and, most concerning, brand damage to a sector yet to find its way.”
THE COMMISSIONER’S PRESCRIPTION
The NSW Building Commissioner is introducing measures that will start to address the construction industry’s challenges.
“We will survey new strata purchasers to map their experiences. We will work with the Owners Corporation Network in NSW to prepare a questionnaire to be given to new owners when they first move in, then every two years for six years to gather specific quantifiable data to share with the industry. We will use this to motivate change.”
A total of 20 case studies of projects under construction will be conducted as part of the first study of its type to assess a number of criteria:
DRIVERS FOR CHANGE: LEVERS VS. LEGISLATION
“It’s worth emphasising the importance of new customer-facing legislation as part of the ‘Building Strong Foundations’ discussion paper, written in response to the Shergold Weir Building Confidence Report, to restore confidence for residential customers in NSW,” says Chandler. “This package of new obligations to create compliant designs mirrored by compliant as-built documentation, will enable residential customers and first responder emergency workers to conveniently access essential, assured information. It will take a little time for industry to adapt to these requirements.”
However, legislation alone will not change industry culture, he says. One example of a “lever” lies in the Commissioner’s recently commenced discussions with insurers, ratings agencies, financiers and industry associations to develop a risk ratings system that could apply to different levels of effectiveness, or what he terms “business maturity.”
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Organisations like prefabAUS have a leadership role to play in establishing an ethical framework for the industry, he says.
“As a starting point, leadership in quantifying the ‘prefab value proposition’ is critical. Clients are at sea as to the meaning of ‘better, faster, safer, smarter, cheaper and more assured. The existence of quality, locally relevant quantified research will be critical to advancing the case for Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).”
Well executed offsite manufacture has the potential to call for dysfunctional design and engineering inputs to be resolved well ahead of manufacture and planned assembly onsite, Chandler says.
“The mission of ‘everyone goes home safe tonight’ will be centre-stage of all decision making and work systems offsite and onsite. The same will apply to measurably lowering the waste that traditional construction practices produce. Quality should be a free good in this process, just as other industries embed reliability and customer focus in what they do.”
“The potential to lift quality, deliver more housing faster and to substantially lower on-site generated construction waste has never been more opportune or potentially environmentally beneficial. Google’s Sidewalk Labs is showing the way in blending urban design, building design, the provision of shared infrastructure, manufacturing, on-site assembly, smart buildings (IoT), operations, adaptability and customer satisfaction.”■
STANDARDS AUSTRALIA ENGAGES WITH OFFSITE
Standards Australia is working to better understand how standards and related documents can support offsite construction.
The organisation has confirmed it would like to hear from those working in prefabrication and offsite to understand how standards can help build the connection between offsite manufacturing and construction sites. Previous discussions indicate the need for further guidance in regulations and standards could help fill this gap. For the time being there are already a range of standards with the content to support manufactured building materials. Some examples include:
AS/NZS 4600:2018 Cold-Formed Steel Structures
AS 3600:2018 Concrete structures
AS 3850 series on Prefabricated concrete elements
“While these standards are at work across the industry, there is opportunity for Standards Australia to do even more. One way to achieve this is for the sector to make use of Standards Australia Technical Specifications.”
“These documents don’t have to go through the same complex processes that standards do, meaning the guidelines can be accessed sooner rather than later. This solution, if utilised in offsite manufacturing, could assist in achieving speed to market, accelerate innovation, provide an agreed good practice solution for the industry and importantly, help build trust for consumers.”
Industry stakeholders with ideas or suggestions should contact Alison Scotland at SEM@standards.org.au