Karlie Collis - College of Structural Engineers (Chair), Engineers Australia.
In March of 1939, Henry Watson made the arduous trip to Australia with his family. What was notable about this in those days not uncommon move to our far away land? Henry brought a house with him. In kit form.
Offsite construction is not new, but has been used in its many various forms for many years. This begs the question: “Why has it not already become the norm”?
The answer comes down to market pressures, which are today much different to those in years gone by. Now more than ever time is money. Time as a commodity is seemingly worth more today as there is pressure to be more efficient to compete in a global market. Construction programmes must be adhered to, with bonuses often attributed to earlier completion dates.
And there is an ever-increasing awareness and focus on the environment in today’s world. Stakeholders are conscious of whole of life cycle for their developments and are usually steering projects towards a smaller carbon footprint.
By now the reduction in the quantity of skilled tradespeople in Australia is common knowledge, as it its effect in terms of increasing the price of onsite construction, while offsite construction can utilise a more efficiently managed skilled and unskilled workforce.
“By now the reduction in the quantity of skilled tradespeople in Australia is common knowledge, as it its effect in terms of increasing the price of onsite construction, while offsite construction can utilise a more efficiently managed skilled and unskilled workforce.”
Karlie Collis – Structural College Board Chair
And of course there is an appetite for reducing risk during construction (risk of increased construction costs etc). The cost to clients for weather delays to program is a common sore point.
Is it time to challenge the status quo?
The role of consulting engineers in the design of prefabricated or off-site structures often requires a shift in thinking and a re-assessment of design criteria. A standard “bricks and mortar” approach may exclude a number of key adjustments required to the design. Immense savings may be found in the reassessment of temporary structures including design return intervals, performance expectations and design life. Conversely, off-site structures require an understanding of the means of transportation, such as shipping, trucking, lifting and so on.
It must be recognised that there is much value in the knowledge gained by allowing innovation with the assurance of future attempts being possible. It is a perfect storm for innovative, engineering-minded problem solvers and will always result in incredible outcomes.■