George Konstandakos, General Manager of TBS (Timber Building Systems), says taking control of the costs and the time involved in transport and logistics is vital.
Konstandakos comes to modular building from the transport industry where he was CEO of the National Transport Authority, and also via the construction company Hickory Group, which is known for innovations in multi-story projects.
“Everything we do, we try to fit within the normal transport systems,” Konstandakos says.
“To be efficient with transport, you need to optimise the size of the modules. Too small and you are using too much crane time. Too large and you have an oversize load and you then require special permits and a pilot and escort and your costs go way up. That gets very expensive.”
TBS transports components as flat-pack, seeing this method as being more flexible, more efficient and much more economic than transporting volumetric sections. “With volumetric, you are paying to transport air. It eats away at the margins,” he says.
The company is starting out with an innovative approach to cutting handling during manufacture and transport. TBS and logistics company LIFT Holdings devised a collapsible A-frame system that streamlines procedures from the beginning of assembly right through until the end of the project.
“Our transport racks are also our production racks. They are used on the production line. When production is complete, the racks are loaded and delivered to the site in the sequence in which the components will be installed.
“After unloading, the racks fold down and can be stacked on one or two trucks for the return trip to the factory.

The building we are doing now will be loaded on 12 trucks for the trip to Sydney, but the racks will come back on two trucks.
“There can be efficiencies all the way through the process,” he says. “Assembly is something that takes place in the factory and on site. The assembly line ends on the site.”
TBS opened a factory in the outer Melbourne suburb of Dandenong in September. The company’s post tensioned, pre-manufactured building system is geared for commercial buildings and it is aiming to produce apartment blocks, hotels, student accommodation, and aged-care housing and office buildings. Production tables, machinery and transport is designed for a commercial grid of nine by nine metres and the system can be used for buildings up to eight storeys.
The entire philosophy of TBS is based on the principles of lean manufacturing and DFMA and on the continual quest for efficiencies throughout every aspect of the build.
The TBS project engineer and design manager both worked at General Motors and Konstandakos says the production methods of the automotive assembly line suit modular building.
“With the demise of General Motors and Toyota, Victoria has a lot of workers available whose skills would apply to the prefab industry and to lean manufacturing.”
John Higgs, director of LIFT Holdings, a logistics company based in Western Australia and Victoria, has been working in logistics for 35 years and modular for three. He worked on developing the transport racks and sees them as being instrumental in opening up markets for Australian manufacturers.

“To be efficient with transport, you need to optimise the size of the modules. Too small and you are using too much crane time. Too large and you have an oversize load and you then require special permits and a pilot and escort and your costs go way up. That gets very expensive.”
George Konstandakos – TBS

The racks make it economic for manufacturers in the eastern states, for example, to send buildings to Western Australia. Instead of being trucked across the vast expanse of the country, they would be sent by ship.
“A loaded trailer from Melbourne to Perth is $8000 or $9000. A container on a boat is $1500.
“With these flat bases, the modules can be lifted with assets readily available in the supply chain,” says Higgs.
He says markets in PNG, for example, and further afield, becomes accessible with a transport system as economic as this. “Freight rates out of Australia are so cheap. Everything comes in; nothing goes out. This could open up a whole new market.”
LIFT Holdings prides itself on design-led logistics and innovative thinking to solve problems and save time, cost and risk. Out-of-gauge and non-standard work is LIFT’s bread and butter.
“Ninety per cent of the work is planning,” says Higgs. “Get that wrong and you are stuffed.
“You hire us to remove the time costs and risks from your movement models,” he says.
TBS is building its first commissioned project in the new factory. The 1000 square metre, two-storey office building will be assembled in Penrith, New South Wales.
A proof-of-concept project saw a two-storey office building erected in St Mary’s, which will become the headquarters of Meyer Timber, TBS’ parent company, in New South Wales. Site assembly took less than three days.
It will take five days to put the Penrith building together on site, Konstandakos says.
“In the factory, we do the electrical rough-in. We run the electrical conduits in the walls, do the power point openings. The electricians say that they prefer to do the actual wiring on site. If it’s pre-wired, they have to put in a lot of junction boxes.
Konstandakos is a member of the Modular Construction Code Board and has written on transport for the draft Model Code for the Design of Modular Structures, which is currently being peer-reviewed.
Bill McCorkell, director of Melbourne architecture and modular practice Archiblox, believes that client education leads to a more efficient and holistic build right through the process.
“When it comes to transport, the fewer modules you have, the less expensive the transport is going to be.
“You can reduce the number of modules required for a house by educating the clients that what they need is good design, not huge amounts of space.
“You can create efficiencies through smart spatial arrangements, clever interior design.”
The impact of materials on the efficiency of a job continues after the project leaves the factory. “As soon as a crane is required, then you start to consider weight. Then it comes down to materials. Less weight, and a smaller crane requirement, equates to less cost,” he says. ■

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