With a spectrum of presentations and ideas in play, if there was a unifying theme for the prefabAUS 2019 Conference from 10- 11 September 2019 at the International Convention Centre Sydney, it was a need to further the discussion of how to ensure continued traction for the sector, in light of current challenges such as building quality and safety, housing affordability and sustainablity.
John Eastwood, Head of Marketing & Business Development – ANZ at XLam, set the tone for the conference by delineating a widespread need for change in approaches to procurement and delivery.
“In our view the industry standard drivers of our procurement and commercial negotiation processes and practices are incongruent with methodologies such as DfMA, EMI and offsite construction.”
“In our view the industry standard drivers of our procurement and commercial negotiation processes and practices are incongruent with methodologies such as DfMA, EMI and offsite construction.” John Eastwood, Head of Marketing & Business Development – ANZ, XLam.
Dr Jens Goennemann, Managing Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), which has been tasked with the feasibility study for the recently announced Prefab Innovation Hub, provided an update on the centre’s activities on that front (for more detail see news page 7). He also outlined the opportunities for prefabrication, particularly against a backdrop of the impetus to foster Australian manufacturing capability. His presentation outlined Australia’s unique but problematic place in the world as a high wage, highly developed country overly dependent on primary industries such as mining, while under-performing in innovative, value-adding industries.
“A country that cannot make complex things has lost the plot on the world stage.”
Goennemann shared an overview of the kind of projects the AMGC has worked on to date. One example was its work with Ozwall; a project that seeks to validate a prototype system for installing structural concrete columns in multi-storey commercial buildings.
International Keynote Speaker Kasper Guldager Jensen, Senior Partner at Danish architecture company 3XN and the Director of 3XN’s innovation company, GXN, presented on the circular economy in relation to architecture and construction. Highlights of his presentation included the Sydney Fish Market scheme, where a modular approach aligns with sustainability and high end aesthetic outcomes. The north facing side of each roof module reflects direct sunlight and is shaped to generate a negative pressure on the underside of the roof when the wind blows, using the wind to provide a passive conditioning effect. South facing sides are either glazed or protected by a permeable screen allowing reflected light to illuminate the floor below.
David Chandler OAM, the newly-appointed NSW Building Commissioner, took to the stage with a brief but compelling call to action. He outlined his vision to make NSW the state of construction by 2025. Among the changes he wanted to see, were a new accreditation playing field by 2020; and a customer-facing industry and smarter risk rating scheme for buildings by 2025. “The customer assurance bus is coming,” he said. Observing that the failure rate of offsite construction companies is unsustainable, he indicated a number of urgently needed outcomes to take the industry forward. The importance of educating clients about the offsite process and the benefits of offsite was critical, he said. Chandler posited the development of a “construction delivery and performance platform” that would entail the development of a trustworthy chain of stewardship with more emphasis on customer experience. Taking the wider view, his talk also warned that a faltering offsite sector posed a risk of losing the opportunity to boost Australia’s “sovereign capacity” that would keep skills, resources and infrastructure onshore.
Simon Walsh, Partner at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, presented on the legal changes to construction contracts necessary to support offsite construction.
“Traditional contracting does not align interests or optimise value for money. It motivates business as usual, not innovation. The risk allocation encourages finger-pointing rather than problem-solving. It is less conducive to early contractor involvement.”
“Traditional contracting does not align interests or optimise value for money. It motivates business as usual, not innovation. The risk allocation encourages finger-pointing rather than problem-solving. It is less conducive to early contractor involvement.” Simon Walsh, Partner, HWL Ebsworth Lawyers.
“Increasingly, industry is recognising the time, cost, quality, whole-of-life, sustainability, safety and other benefits of innovation. But, optimising those benefits contractually requires careful consideration of the changed risk profile under innovative construction methodologies/collaborative procurement; being cognisant of the spectrum of collaborative delivery models out there; selecting and tailoring the delivery model and contract and allocating risk accordingly; administering the contract consistently with the intent [of the project].”
International Keynote Speaker, Kasper Guldager Jensen, offering an alternative view of a minimal waste construction sector.
Dr Jens Goennemann makes the case for prefab in a broader Australian manufacturing context.
Re-thinking the construction eco-system - Tom Durick, Business Development Manager at CSIRO’s Data61 data innovation group.
Call to action: NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler OAM takes the stage.
Kristin Brookfield, Chief Executive - Industry Policy - HIA.
The Sustainability Panel: L-R - Brendan Pope, Head of Innovation + Marketing, Fleetwood Australia; Alexia Lidas, Managing Director, DesignIntelligence Australia; Heather Bolt, Engineer, ARUP; International Keynote Speaker Kasper Guldager Jensen, Senior Partner, 3XN.
Professor Andrew Harris, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at The University of Sydney. Harris looked at disruptive technologies around the world including the use of robotics. One example he cited was from Google, who unearthed ground breaking technologies after realising the cost would be exorbitant for building its new headquarters in Silicon Valley.
“Google has the innovation lab where they look at disruptive technology. And they come up a ‘crabot’ – half crane half robot. They prototyped it and tested it, patented it. They have committed to use it to do the internal fit outs installations that they’re building – No. Tier 1 contractor required. That is what disruption looks like for me.”
He wrapped up with his lessons for innovation including one comprising what he described as “the seven most expensive words in the English language. “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Kristin Brookfield, Chief Executive – Industry Policy at the Housing Industry Association, shared her thoughts on why greater change hadn’t yet come to the construction market, but why on was on its way.
A key factor stymying more rapid uptake was the “business as usual” attitude, she said, particularly in terms of codifying offsite construction appropriately.
“A few years ago, I attended a meeting of the International Housing Association and heard about prefab home building in Norway, the US, Japan and Canada. It seemed obvious to me then that each of these countries, which have a more mature and significant prefab home building industry, have a specific building code that addresses the unique issues of factory building. A unique section in the existing regime would allow these subtle differences to be addressed and to offer the marketplace with a deemed to satisfy solution, improving the ability of builders and certifiers to verify compliance.”
“A few years ago, I attended a meeting of the International Housing Association and heard about prefab home building in Norway, the US, Japan and Canada. It seemed obvious to me then that each of these countries, which have a more mature and significant prefab home building industry, have a specific building code that addresses the unique issues of factory building.” Kristin Brookfield, Chief Executive – Industry Policy, Housing Industry Association.
Jeremy Tompson, Senior Project Manager, Lendlease, presented a case study of Damaru House – Lendlease’s second CLT office building at Barangaroo in Sydney. Lessons learned during the project include that changes to the grid could improve services reticulation and tenant flexibility. Increased beam load made connections more costly, while tolerance in timber construction remained a problem that was slowing down installation rates. Lessons learned on sister project International House included the opportunity to minimise beam penetrations through better orientation of the structure and the increase of the grid size to decrease the number of lifts per floor.
Dr Ehsan Gharaie, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Property Construction and Project Management at RMIT University, presented research findings that drew on house building data to analyse ballooning completion times for single dwelling homes between 2002 and 2009. Likening the industry to “a huge factory”, he identified capacity constraints as a key factor behind extended completion times, indicating that correctly identifying the scale of the industry’s capacity constraint might represent a “lever” or an opportunity to disrupt the industry. He identified a key issue with relevance to the offsite sector as being a potential disconnect between supply and demand. “We are manufacturing roof trusses for example because we can, not because that’s where the bottleneck resides.”
Tom Durick, Business Development Manager at CSIRO’s Data61 data innovation group, presented on the work Data 61 is doing in the fourth industrial revolution around supply chains, blockchain and modern construction space. He said re-thinking the construction eco-system required a data-driven, platform-based approach in which technologies such as blockchain and BIM would operate in concert, creating a system of “digital trust for the construction supply chain.” “Trust is the new currency,” he said.■