L-R: Belinda Smart (Built Offsite), Harry Nicholas (Hayball), Jamie Coe (Hutchinson Builders), Pam Bell (PrefabNZ), Tuan Ngo (CAMPH) and Nick Strongman (Sensum).
BELINDA: At the end of Day One of the prefabAUS Conference, I’d like to hear from the panel about your key takeaways from the presentations. Harry?
HARRY: I think we’re potentially at the crux – making a transition between volumetric and panelised solutions. I think that there’s opportunity for us to improve upon what we deliver by providing both a traditional volumetric box approach and componentry that is clever and intelligent.
JAMIE: Collaboration was a key takeaway for me. I also think in terms of how offsite is perceived in the marketplace, perceptions are starting to shift. There’s a chronic shortage of buildings at the moment. There’s the potential and the capability to find solutions collectively and to better educate the market.
PAM: I have a few quick points. In particular, it’s great that we’re moving into that ‘How?’ conversation and we’ve moved past the ‘Why prefabrication/’ conversation. And a really important element was around the opportunities to collaborate. In New Zealand we now have this wonderful carrot that New Zealand government’s dangling around the KiwiBuild Program. It’s this grand vision of 10 years, 100,000 houses, which we’ll be the first to admit, we can’t do on our own.
“In particular, it’s great that we’re moving into that ‘How?’ conversation and we’ve moved past the ‘Why prefabrication/’ conversation. And a really important element was around the opportunities to collaborate.”
Pamela Bell, CEO, PrefabNZ.
TUAN: I really enjoyed the discussion about the five year journey of prefabAUS. When we started at Melbourne University with the research project – people got together with 10 manufacturers, but from that point we grew to a member organisation of more than 300-400 people now.
NICK: It’s really exciting we’re seeing the conversation change now. Previously, it had been about what’s possible and what we could potentially do and now we’re seeing completed projects; some of the buildings that validate those beliefs. I think it’s very exciting to be here now.
BELINDA: Some of the development we’ve seen in recent months seems to be spearheaded by the education infrastructure sector. Would you agree with that? Harry?
HARRY: Somewhat. I think what’s really exciting about that is that we’ve taken action and we’re now in a position where we can observe and re-orient ourselves as to where we might move, both from a material or a product point of view and also as a delivery model.
We’ve been very fortunate to have just finished working on Mount Waverley Heights Primary School in Melbourne. From our point of view, that was a great experience to see how it morphed and changed from where it would have originally gone.
I think one of the key benefits there for the school, which was really a performance indicator, was the lack of disturbance that the school experienced as a result of the procurement method.
BELINDA: On moving from the ‘Why?’ to the ‘How?’ could I ask the panel, what are the sticking points or barriers you’d like to see removed in terms of making offsite uptake easier?
PAM: We survey our members every year and the three top areas that they complain about are procurement at scale, bank finance, and the building consent/building permitting system. What I would add in there also is skills.
In terms of specific skills I think what we’re seeing is, our (NZ) building and manufacturing training organisations start talking together about a micro credentials program where you have stackable credits, so you can get a little bit of painting, little bit of carpentry, little bit of all these skills across the factory floor without having a deep dive into just a singular area.
TUAN: I think that we see an opportunity to use less skilled people to work under the supervision of experienced people in the factory. We saw that in the US on the 2018 prefabAUS tour.
JAMIE: That’s an important factor in keeping the cost down. In particular the shift from volumetric to panelised systems can include more unskilled labour; it becomes more of a manufacturing production line.
PAM: In terms of moving from the why to the how, what we’re talking about here is also a more educated client. Part of that is about re-educating them about what quality is, that offsite can be beautiful, it can be high quality; it can be permanent.
NICK: I think it’s a lot easier now that you have clients walk through those buildings and actually see that it is of higher quality and comparable to traditional builds.
BELINDA: Touching on skills, and also collaboration, Harry as an architect, can you talk to us a little bit about your journey into modular and how you’ve had to rethink your paradigms?
HARRY: My journey started with the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Package which was launched by the then Rudd and Gillard Government around a decade ago. Hayball was one of the joint venture partners under the Department of Education as lead consultants. We’re responsible for producing 39 distinct templates, 27 core templates and another series of 12 subsequent to that with major variations.
What was special about that program was that there was a distinction to be made there about modular versus prefabricated. In that particular instance, the buildings were template buildings, but they were delivered traditionally onsite.
The one piece of smart thinking in that project was that all the templates went out to one team of shop drawers in Victoria because it was understood that if we cut time out from repetitively redrawing structural steel at the very least, we’d end up with massive program benefits. It really was about time.
BELINDA: There’s been quite a lot of talk at the conference about this idea – ECI or early contractor involvement. It’s accepted in the UK and the US. Has its time come in Australia?
JAMIE: It’s just really important to get everyone across it. That’s where you hit the efficiencies.
PAM: I think it’s really encouraging that we’re talking about collaborative ways of working. Regardless of what we call it, we’re really just talking about getting everyone on board.
JAMIE: I think is an education process in terms of changing the thinking. We don’t charge for our time, but (ECI) gives us more time to make the design more efficient which ultimately provides a time saving.
BELINDA: And how long are you involved in that process typically?
JAMIE: Maybe 12 weeks. We find that if you can educate the client towards early engagement, it’s a much better product. The good thing with early engagement, once the decision’s made and the design’s locked in, we build it early, there’s no changing it. It’s terrific for the type of (education) buildings we’re talking about. If we’re talking about units where you’ve got buyer upgrades, it can be more difficult.
NICK: In terms of speed of delivery, the staff at Mount Waverley Heights Primary School… I do recall hearing that they were hearing parents at drop off and pickup getting nervous as to ‘Why isn’t there any building happening onsite’? Everything was happening in the factory.
PAM: Yes in terms of the speed of delivery, I think we still have an opportunity to capture some of that magic or theatre in terms of educating the community about offsite.
An extended video of this forum is available in the digital version of this edition of Built Offsite.
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