Australia’s commercial construction industry has been pretty slow on the uptake of pre-fabricated building products. But will that be the case in 2026? We’re doing a bit of informed crystal ball gazing to get a feel for what the future holds for prefab’s role in 10 years.
Prefab’s a slow burner, but we’re expecting the drive for economies of scale, bespoke yet cost efficient solutions to drive a stronger flame of interest in the coming years.
So, what’s on offer now?
Pre-fabricated building products account for a mere 3% of what Australia’s construction industry spends a year, according to Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, Senior Principal Scientist at the CSIRO. Industry pundits expect manufacturing in the construction industry will grow at 5% a year to 2023 at least. What will no doubt help move that growth along is the new peak industry body for modular/prefab building, PrefabAus.
But Hajkowicz says there needs to be an “external shock” to lift that take up rate.
When the big guns get behind pre-fabrication, you know there’s a future in it.
Five years ago, the integrated construction company, Hickory Group, set up their factory to make multi-storey buildings the modular way. The factory employs more than 150 people and produces more than 500 apartments annually. They have “engineered a system that can achieve architecturally diverse high-rise buildings”, says Curtin University researchers Jemma Green and Peter Newman in The Conversation.
Hickory’s factory uses lean construction techniques to construct many parts of a building at the same time. It also uses Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). The result? Hickory’s patented building systems deliver high-rise construction projects up to 60% quicker than standard systems. Check out Hickory’s La Trobe Tower in Melbourne, which is the tallest prefab building in Australia. They cut construction time by a third using integrated structural pre-fabrication, a proprietary facade system and bathroom pods. We’re looking at the future now.
Images courtesy of The Urban Developer
Major property developer/builder/investor Lendlease has pumped $1B into its move to manufacture prefab components including cross-laminated timber framework. Their DesignMake factory, operating from a 15,800 sqm Western Sydney site since earlier this year, is a separate business manufacturing cost-effective and sustainable forms of construction for a global portfolio of projects. They’re investing in smart design and high-tech manufacturing processes to create prefab building components for their customers.
The move makes sense when you consider the Australian construction needs to start preparing for an increasingly competitive global environment, says Brett Schimming, CEO of Construction Skills Queensland. Under the spotlight for the industry’s expansion are 2D and 3D prefabrication.
What will be that external shock?
We’ve got our money on 3D printing. While it is the latest fad across most sectors, 3D printing has significant promise for personalised building design and mass production, says Hajkowicz. As the software improves and augmented and virtual reality allow architects and developers to get a better ‘feel’ for their completed design, there’s opportunities there to really finesse the computer image before hitting the 3D print button.
Bring out the robots
There’s a fascinating scenario for the future of pre-fabrication painted by Dr George Quezada from CSIRO’s Data61. He talks about Australia as possibly becoming a “global construction innovation” hub with advanced pre-fabrication facilities attracting lucrative foreign investment and boosting high-tech new jobs. Tradies become building assembling technicians overseeing robotic systems with virtual reality and 3D laser mapping tools.
As more construction industry players embrace pre-fabrication as a smarter way of building, you’ll see demand lift for a different range of skills. Get ready for roles such as virtual/augmented reality trainers, building drone operators and robot resource manager.
Is there a downside?
Do nothing, plan nothing, and Australia risks seeing China and other emergency industrial nations take to prefab manufacturing with gusto. That’s not a nice scenario for Australia with an expected permanent loss of jobs and skills.
Who to watch?
For more updates on futurescaping the construction industry, keep a watch on The Farsight Project. It’s a world-first project looking at how technological and social changes will impact the industry’s workforce over the next two decades. The project kicked off in July 2016 and driving it is CSIRO and Construction Skills Queensland, an independent industry-funded body.
According to Schimming, ‘“If other countries embrace new building technologies and Australia doesn’t we could be left behind…We don’t need to fear the rise of technology in our industry. We should embrace it.”
So, how is SBS Group embracing new technology?
As one of the leading prefab companies in Australia, we recently took the decision to invest in new state of the art technology. In the months that have passed, we have proved the benefits – savings in design and costs passed onto our clients.
With a superior cad detailing software that integrates with the technology, it has allowed us to build our lightweight framing sections for far greater design flexibility. With this technology, SBS is further revolutionising the construction industry with smarter pre-fabricated building systems.
Here at SBS Group, we don’t back down from a challenge – if it can be drawn and designed, we will find a smarter, faster, and easier way to pre-fabricate it.