JOYCE FERNG IS ANZ MODULAR LEAD AT AECOM, WHERE HER DESIGN AND RESEARCH SKILL SET DRIVES OPPORTUNITIES TO COLLABORATE WITH UNIVERSITIES AND INDUSTRY PARTNERS IN RESEARCH INNOVATION PROJECTS.
Can you give us a snapshot of how your career path led you into offsite?
I’ve been delivering complex projects across Australia, UK and Singapore for more than 20 years as a chartered professional engineer, in collaboration with international architects and on projects such as London Olympic 2012, from Masterplan to legacy delivery.
My current role is about leading AECOM modular initiatives, working closely with digital disruptors to integrate technologies from Industry 4.0 with lean methodologies in the prefabrication space. One of the reasons I became an engineer is the fascination of figuring out how to put complex things together in the simplest way. Earlier on in my career I worked on the Masdar UAE project which entailed specific location and environmental constraints, meaning I had my first exposure of viewing design through the lens of maximising offsite construction. From there on, I was hooked. The question became: ‘How are we going to design to be built offsite?’ instead of just ‘How are we going to design?’
What issues currently inform your work?
A familiar hurdle for many is the misconception that surrounds modular projects. In fact, offsite builds can match or surpass their onsite counterparts. Lack of industry cost benchmarking is also an obstacle, in providing precedence for a realistic cost budgeting for an offsite project. Prefabrication is dismissed quickly without proper evaluation of its benefit in its entirety. Gaps within the supply chain represent another challenge, with the result that you either go all modular or not at all. At present there aren’t many in-between options.
At AECOM we believe the trick is to be the missing piece in the puzzle. We provide clients alternative solutions in design. We advocate modular and prefabrication where appropriate and not for the sake of making it modular. We provide a platform for our clients to make an informed decision and we educate them in the process.
What are some of your recent ‘wins’ in the offsite space?
Changing our current design process has been critical to the success of modular projects. The conventional mindset of designing the building shell and then the components within to suit – designing from outside in – is in contradiction to componentisation and standardisation. Modular building requires the designer to break down the elements into units from within, thereby designing the building from inside out, the ‘out’ being the parameter constraints imposed by logistics and transportation. At AECOM we call this our Systemisation Technology.
“Modular building requires the designer to break down the elements into regular units from within, thereby designing the building from inside out, the ‘out’ being the parameter constraints imposed by logistics and transportation. At AECOM we call this our Systemisation Technology.”Joyce Ferng, Associate Director – ANZ Modular Lead, AECOM.
Where would you like to see the industry in five years’ time and how do we get there?
My five year plan would be to see prefabrication becoming mainstream and immersed in Industry 4.0 technology. In five years’ time I’d hope we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, because it would be the new norm. In terms of how we get there, the many issues that need addressing include how to plug gaps within such a fragmented linear design and construction process without overhauling the entire industry; thinking through all aspects from the early design phase; and of course, untangling the complex contractual arrangements that support offsite manufacturing.
Can you share your thoughts on opportunities for greater diversity in a future industry?
The fact that millennials have grown up with Industry 4.0 technology provides a level playing field in ability and therefore greater opportunity, particularly in gender diversity and especially in digitally embedded construction methodologies.
Joyce Ferng is Associate Director – ANZ Modular Lead at AECOM. She is also an Adjunct Industry Fellow with Swinburne University, an Industry Technical Advisor to Melbourne University and on the board of directors for PrefabAUS.■