First there was mechanisation, then mass production, then automation and now: the fourth industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’. Enmeshing digital data with physical output and underpinned by the internet, 4.0 thinking is already seeing construction aligning with digitally developed industries, demonstrated most clearly by the use of building information modelling (BIM).
Offering an invaluable central repository for digital information about all aspects of a project, BIM’s uptake is well underway, but, as the prefabAUS 2017 Conference’s International Keynote Speaker Mark Farmer said, BIM alone is not enough. The entire system of construction delivery needs to be overhauled; meaning both opportunities and immense challenges for the offsite sector, (see our conference wrap starting p. 13).
Clearly the issue of skills plays into this. Farmer talked of new career families and opportunities; arguably these are already emerging. At the conference, one presentation was from an architectural firm in which every practitioner is also a coder (Sydney based AR-MA). And a discussion about radically re-thinking the industry of tomorrow included, not a moment too soon, how to attract and retain more women into the new, digitally driven construction space.
Our feature on skilling up for an offsite workforce (starting p. 19) represents an initial look at this brave new world. Numerous challenges in determining and meeting skills requirements remain, but some players are already onto it. Master Builders has done valuable work with the auto sector to identify transferable skills for the construction industry. And companies such as Strongbuild and Impresa House are already proactively training their own staff, indicating that, much like other innovations throughout history, much of the change at hand will be propelled from within.■
Managing Editor Built Offsite
Opening the PrefabAUS conference in Melbourne in September, I recalled the Hype Cycle devised by Gartner consultants to describe the development phases of new technologies. It goes something like this: after a period of ‘inflated expectations’ there comes a ‘trough of disillusionment’ before the technology reaches the ‘slope of enlightenment’. Thereafter the outcomes scatter; from successful delivery of the promised productivity gains to failure via a variety of proven techniques, or somewhere in between.
How might we cast offsite construction in relation to this almost magical pathway, I asked?
My view is that we sit (figuratively speaking as the pace of change is brisk) at an inflection point for the construction industry. Specifically, offsite construction represents an opportunity to forge a modern industry that embraces innovation and productivity. Assisting our members in that endeavour is what PrefabAUS is all about.
With 250 delegates and speakers from across Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, Poland, the Czech Republic, as well as a delegation from Chile, the conference sparked a vibrant exchange of ideas and some invaluable networking.
International Keynote Mark Farmer, author of the UK Government-commissioned Farmer Review of the UK construction industry, boldly titled ‘Modernise or Die: Time to decide the industry’s future’, set out a vision for a construction industry in urgent need of transformation.
Low productivity, outmoded delivery models and a lack of technological innovation are some of the pressing problems Farmer identifies; and he believes the solution lies in ‘one big idea’ that governments, clients and the construction industry can collectively drive. Significantly, that idea is the move by global construction industries towards offsite construction.
Guided by it, and with a new board of directors and membership system, PrefabAUS’ members will be even better served going forward with study tours and an active events program around the country.■