There are numerous exciting advances taking place in the growth of the off-site construction market, but there is one key factor that pushes off-site into “niche” rather than allowing it to develop into being the “norm”. This factor is the often prohibitive manner of financing developments.
We know that off-site construction requires the majority of design in the early stages of construction, but it also requires financing at the front end prior to delivery to site. This is at odds with the standard construction loans on offer that usually link funding to milestones that are grossly inappropriate to off-site construction. The laying of foundations, the erection of framing, the completion of lock-up, and completion of fit-out – all of these stages are largely irrelevant for the off-site build.
Europe and North America appear to handle this well, with tailored lending packages to suit. There is a great deal of scope for Australians to generate greater discussion with lenders in addressing this issue.
It is understandable that financiers have a dilemma of acquiring cumulative security on a build that is located off-site. What must also be understood are the benefits such increased protection against weather, vandalism etc during fabrication within secure yard.
In an effort to improve the economic viability of off-site construction, engineers are encouraged to look at innovative technologies. Green technologies, innovative materials, energy saving or energy producing technologies can all contribute to the economic viability of the off-site build. Engineers working in this space should always be exploring the incentives and opportunities made available to innovators including government grants, sponsorship, partnerships and so on.
Structural engineers can best serve their clients by keeping abreast of the latest developments in materials and techniques in construction. Engineers Australia provides regular technical CPD to our members, including case studies that outline new practices and techniques. Meanwhile the Australasian Structural Engineering Conference (ASEC) is a great opportunity for the off-site construction industry to come together and share ideas as it is a great melting pot of international academic and practicing engineers.
ASEC2018 will be held in Adelaide with details released shortly. Members of the off-site industry are encouraged to consider the preparation of papers for the conference and to participate in the discussion about the future of engineering. The call for papers will be advertised in coming months. ■