The future is prefabricated
Commonly used in much of Europe, prefabrication is a more environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial way to build, and it’s taking off in Australia too.
The collapse of Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry has been devastating, with up to 40,000 workers estimated to ultimately lose their jobs.
Yet with a rapidly growing population and cranes dotting our city skylines, a new manufacturing industry is on the cusp of a boom: prefabricated construction.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne are looking at how this burgeoning industry can provide safe, affordable and sustainable housing, while also offering the opportunity for former automotive manufacturing workers to transfer their skills.
The Melbourne School of Engineering is leading a new push to grow the prefabricated sector’s market share within the construction industry from 5 per cent to 15 per cent by 2025, contributing to around 20,000 new jobs and $30 billion of growth. They are supporting this research with large scale testing and training facilities at their recently announced new campus, to be built at Fishermans Bend.
Professor Tuan Ngo, Research Director of the Australian Research Council Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing in Prefabricated Housing and the Asia-Pacific Research Network for Resilient and Affordable Housing, leads much of this work.
He says Australia has a lot to learn from European countries like Sweden, where prefabricated modular housing makes up 70 per cent of the construction industry.
Extreme weather, in particular long cold winters, can make building outside difficult there, so prefabricated components are created in manufacturing plants instead.
WHY PREFAB IN AUSTRALIA?
Professor Ngo says supply is unable to meet increasing demand in the traditional Australian construction sector. Meanwhile, costs are rising, contributing to the housing affordability crisis affecting many Australians struggling to buy their first homes.
“We are seeing huge demand in the building industry for new techniques that will allow for the development of faster and cheaper construction. The only way to reduce costs is to reduce the cost of manufacturing,” he says.
“The future is going to be prefabricated in terms of infrastructure, so that is why we’re doing a lot of work at the moment to develop our capability in this area.”
Banner image: Pre-fabricated house in Maldonado, Uruguay, Leonardo Finotti/Archdaily