In this issue, we grapple with the thorny question of quality and safety in terms of built outcomes (see main feature page 15). This topic has been given extra edge recently as the market, in particular the end-user, increasingly feels the sharp end of safety and quality shortcomings, either real or perceived. In our own market, the NSW Commissioner David Chandler warns that while offsite construction has the capacity to offer a superior alternative, it’s also potentially subject to pitfalls that might tarnish its standing. As this issue goes to press, news from the UK confirms the appointment of Mark Farmer as an independent champion for Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). In an interview with Infrastructure Intelligence, Farmer spoke of his new role in the context of “an urgent need to rethink how we build homes, delivering better quality, improved safety [and] carbon reduction.” This kind of overarching re-think of construction delivery is arguably what the industry needs and clear guidelines and codes that are specific to offsite will have a part to play. On a related note, The Victorian Chief Engineer and Office of Projects Victoria (OPV) have announced that the The Victorian Offsite and Modular Construction Guide is in development and will be available in early 2020. According to OPV, it will initially target Victorian Government project and asset stakeholders, is designed to communicate the principles of offsite construction and has been informed by global and local best practice.
This issue our ‘Speaks’ column (David Haller – Mirvac, page 14) and ‘Offsite Insight’ interview (Jason Reints – Bliss and Reels, page 27) chart, in different ways, the potential opportunities for offsite going forward. Collaboration, a much used term in our market, is cited by Mirvac’s David Haller as not simply beneficial, but critical given the peculiar constraints of the Australian market. Meanwhile Jason Reint’s unique perspective on the machinery market offers insight into how builders and developers might use solutions optimised for manufacturing to capitalise on offsite.■
Managing Editor Built Offsite
Australia’s construction industry is under scrutiny on multiple fronts: construction standards, non-conforming building products, and professional indemnity insurance are examples. Added to this are market pressures to deliver more complex, more intelligent buildings – often with little additional budget.
The “safety question” exemplified by the recent Mascot Tower and Opal Tower evacuations has caused hardship to owners and residents and eroded public confidence in the construction industry, which prompts the question: can offsite construction offer a safer, better alternative to traditional builds?
The optimal vision for the prefabricated building sector is one of highly controlled manufacturing facilities and specialised skilled workers. Current norms in the construction industry, such as the existence of the defects rectification regime, are examples of a legacy approach to quality control that is in many cases failing to ensure safe, quality buildings.
Offsite construction offers the potential for new norms to be adopted. Adopting an approach akin to best practice in manufacturing, offsite (done right) is much more conducive to the rigours of quality control and extensive adoption of digitalisation than the traditional construction space. The offsite sector has an opportunity right now to play an important role in demonstrating its own solutions to the quality assurance challenge.
This issue’s main feature (page 15) explores the safety and quality question in detail. However that question also points to a wider re-set. Much of the discussion around offsite construction has been as an alternative way to deliver essentially the same buildings. But that almost misses the point. We have only begun exploring a more interesting dimension: what else can we do in a factory controlled environment that we can’t do on a construction site? And how can this extended capability be harnessed to deliver buildings that are superior to conventionally constructed ones?
On another note, I have advised the prefabAUS Board that after almost five years as CEO it’s time, from a personal perspective, for me to move on. My involvement with prefabAUS will wind down over the next few months as the organisation identifies new leadership and enters the next chapter. I found my time as CEO highly rewarding, and I wish the industry well going forward.■