A relatively late entrant to the Australian building sector, prefabrication is currently poised to play an increasingly significant role. According to the CSIRO, “while the current prefabricated building market in Australia is still comparatively small, with only A$4.5 billion of the total A$150 billion construction industry, it is expected to contribute to more affordable housing stock and to take a much greater share of creating multi-storey buildings.”
Considering the current push to grow the prefabrication sector’s market share within the construction industry from five per cent to 15 per cent by 2025, contributing to around 20,000 new jobs and $30 billion of growth, significant capital investment will be required to bring this to fruition.
The biggest threat however, will be from those in the engineering and construction sectors who see the easiest and cheapest option as being the importation of prefabricated building components into Australia.
One Australian engineering firm notes, “Offshore factory prefabrication is extremely cost effective due to lower labour and material costs and is becoming increasingly prevalent with Australian developers.”
Unfortunately, the lower material cost invariably comes with significant contamination.
The obvious implications are in relation to quality assurance. In the absence of robust inspection regimes, there is a risk of poor quality or non-compliant materials being incorporated into the final as-built product. Rather than driving down quality, a vibrant Australian prefabrication industry should enable the construction of more economically and environmentally effective buildings with greater quality and perhaps fewer defects. The key will be having an Australian industry that can deliver quality products in a timely manner, at a competitive price.
The Chief Executive of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe, has previously noted that it is “now impossible to guarantee the safety of tradies, builders and home renovators using any prefabricated building material imported directly from China. It’s no longer good enough to say you’ve got a piece of paper from a Chinese manufacturer guaranteeing that there is no asbestos in the product,” he said. “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”
That said, new Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) and Glulam manufacturing plants coming online, in Australia, are providing increased capacity for prefabrication onshore.
“In the absence of robust inspection regimes, there is a risk of poor quality or non-compliant materials being incorporated into the final asbuilt product. Rather than driving down quality, a vibrant Australian prefabrication industry should enable the construction of more economically and environmentally effective buildings with greater quality and perhaps fewer defects. The key will be having an Australian industry that can deliver quality products in a timely manner, at a competitive price.”
Grant Warner – CEO AIQS.
Governments and industry (including both the construction industry and those looking to establish prefabrication systems in Australia) need to be working more collaboratively to develop and promote local cost-effective prefabrication industries for Australia’s long-term benefit. Increased prefabrication will likely impact how trades have traditionally been engaged on building sites, with an increase in prefabrication assembly specialists.
It is possible for a significant prefabrication industry to further develop in Australia, as long as there is a level playing field in terms of cost, quality and compliance with the National Construction Code. Ultimately, it will be up to all those in the development and construction sector, from consultants, contractors, unions and employer groups, through to governments and the prefabrication industry who will determine the success, or otherwise, of building prefabrication in the Australia.■
Grant Warner – CEO, Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (AIQS)