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LEAN MANUFACTURING’S INROADS INTO CONSTRUCTION

LEAN CONSTRUCTION IS NOT A NEW CONCEPT, BUT AS WE SEE MORE AND MORE BUILDINGS BEING MANUFACTURED OFFSITE, IT IS BECOMING MORE PREVALENT IN THE DISCUSSION AROUND HOW WE IMPROVE OFFSITE CONSTRUCTION METHODS, WRITE CAMPH’S TUAN NGO AND FRASER PAXTON.

In Australia we are witnessing an uptake in offsite construction, with a number of companies offering solutions based on manufacturing principles, in a direct move away from typical construction techniques. This is helped somewhat, by the fall of automotive manufacturing locally, and a shift of these workers and their skills into the offsite construction sector.

Lean itself, is a theoretical method for the removal of or the removal of waste from the construction process from the construction process. Lean comes from manufacturing, after World War Two, Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno at the Toyota Motor Company in Japan pioneered the concept of lean production. It was a government decision in the late 1950s in Japan that meant that the Toyota Motorcar factory was unable to get rid of any employees. This left Ohno with some 900 workers, most of whom were highly skilled, but without orders, had nothing to do. In a nutshell, he set about interviewing each and every one of them about how they thought things could be done better, and out of that developed the Lean method as we know it today. Whilst on a Toyota car factory visit to Aichi last year, it was noted that in a 12 month period, the company still gets about 10,000 suggestions from their employees on how even the smallest process could be improved. A car comes off the line approximately every 87 seconds, with a total build time of approximately 13 hours, depending on the model.

If we consider this, we might start to see where we can improve processes in manufacturing of houses. This differs from country to country. In Japan they invented it, and ingrained in their culture is a pride and perfection in their work. Their market for prefab sits at around 23% which seems to fluctuate depending on sources.

In Sweden, factory observations highlighted the beginnings of a lean implementation, but unrefined as it is not well implemented or understood. That said, their market for prefab homes is roughly 84% as reported by Statistics Sweden.

This is largely due to climate as it is not possible to build when it is -18 degrees outside. In Australia, offsite construction represents approximately 4% of the market. It also often replicates traditional construction techniques under a factory roof and does not always take into consideration advances that have been made in manufacturing processes through the past century, however this is starting to change, for the better.

If we consider what lean can offer in a reduction in waste, there is huge potential for the adoption and implementation of lean into prefab processes. Looking at the factory environment, this might be in the order of processes, understanding this from the point of design so that we can design for manufacture and assemble buildings more efficiently.

“If we consider what lean can offer in a reduction in waste, there is huge potential for the adoption and implementation of lean into prefab processes. Looking at the factory environment, this might be in the order of processes, understanding this from the point of design so that we can design for manufacture and assemble buildings more efficiently.” Tuan Ngo and Fraser Paxton – CAMPH.

A lean factory will be clean and ordered. Tools will be in the correct place, and returned to it once used. Parts will arrive just in time to the work station, where they are required so that the person installing them is not waiting, and the sequence of processes is ordered in a way that optimises the entire process of building to achieve maximum efficiency. In addition, there will be visual communication tools like LCD screens displaying current number of parts made and work remaining for the day or shift, so that as a team, every worker on the factory floor is aware of how they are performing.

Sounds ideal doesn’t it? This is exactly how some of the Japanese house factories were operating when we observed them in mid-2017 on the ZEMCH tour or Japan, where in some cases they manufacture a fully customised house in just two shifts, with close to passivhaus performance and constructed using steel to be earthquake-proof.

“In Australia, building manufacture is still embryonic, which in some ways is an advantage. If we keep our eyes abroad we can learn from some of the more advanced manufacturing techniques used in the production of prefabricated housing.” Tuan Ngo and Fraser Paxton – CAMPH.

Japanese prefab homes are renowned for their high quality finish and sustainability outcomes.
Japanese prefab homes are renowned for their high quality finish and sustainability outcomes.
Japanese prefab homes are renowned for their high quality finish and sustainability outcomes.
Japanese prefab homes are renowned for their high quality finish and sustainability outcomes.
Swedish housing manufacturing in action.
Swedish housing manufacturing in action.

 

There is room for improvement to current offsite construction practices in Australia. The Japanese factories are advanced, but then they have been doing this a lot longer than we have. The fact they are manufacturing and also allowing a customisation in the system is something that we can learn from. The Swedish methods are still advanced, and in their own way making some fast and impressive inroads to building manufacture, but in some ways, are still working with an offsite construction mindset, as opposed to manufacturing. In Australia, building manufacture is still embryonic, which in some ways is an advantage. If we keep our eyes abroad we can learn from some of the more advanced manufacturing techniques used in the production of prefabricated housing. ■

Fraser Paxton is currently a PhD
candidate researching the ‘Design for
lean manufacture of low cost housing’
at CAMP-H – Melbourne University.
His self-named architecture practice
specialises in all forms of modular
design and construction.

Professor Tuan Ngo
Research Director of the
ARC Centre for Advanced
Manufacturing of
Prefabricated Housing


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