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AUS­TRALIA’S PLANNED new Pre­fab Hous­ing Cen­tre should se­cure the Aus­tralian in­dus­try’s com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in the pre­fab build­ing global value chain lead­ing to lo­cal em­ploy­ment growth and in­creased ex­ports of fin­ished prod­ucts, com­po­nen­try and ex­per­tise, ac­cord­ing to Warren McGre­gor, CEO of Pre­fabAUS .

The Federal Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing, Christo­pher Pyne, an­nounced that $4m in fund­ing over four years would be made avail­able to es­tab­lish the ARC Train­ing Cen­tre for Ad­vanced Man­u­fac­tur­ing of Pre­fab­ri­cated Hous­ing ad­min­is­tered by the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne. Pre­fabAUS is one of the key part­ners of the Cen­tre which is a highly col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture in­volv­ing four Uni­ver­si­ties (The Univer­sity of Mel­bourne, The Univer­sity of Syd­ney, Curtin Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy and Monash Univer­sity) and nine in­dus­try part­ners.

This pro­gram is part of the al­most $40 mil­lion in new re­search fund­ing that will forge stronger re­search and in­dus­try connections awarded un­der the Aus­tralian Re­search Coun­cil’s (ARC) In­dus­trial Trans­for­ma­tion Re­search Pro­gram, which will see nine new re­search hubs and train­ing centres com­mence vi­tal re­search pro­grams in pri­or­ity re­search ar­eas.

“The Pre­fab Hous­ing Cen­tre aims to un­lock the po­ten­tial growth of Aus­tralia’s pre­fab build­ing in­dus­try by creat­ing a sus­tain­able ecosys­tem be­tween in­dus­try and Aus­tralian Uni­ver­si­ties that will pre­pare the next gen­er­a­tion of en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists to ap­ply ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing prin­ci­ples to pre­fab mod­u­lar build­ings,” Warren said.

He said this highly trained work­force driven by the needs of the cus­tomer would iden­tify in­no­va­tions in the use of ad­vanced ma­te­ri­als, de­sign for di­rect man­u­fac­tur­ing and assem­bly and au­to­mated man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“This cus­tomer-fo­cused in­no­va­tion will se­cure the Aus­tralian in­dus­try’s com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in the pre­fab build­ing global value chain lead­ing to lo­cal em­ploy­ment growth and in­creased ex­ports of fin­ished prod­ucts, com­po­nen­try and ex­per­tise.

Dr Tuan Ngo from the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne said: “This Cen­tre aims to pro­vide new knowl­edge, meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies, as well as highly skilled PhD and post­doc­toral re­searchers, to sup­port the re­search and de­vel­op­ment needed to pro­pel the pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing sec­tor well be­yond the cur­rent 3% share of the con­struc­tion mar­ket.

“The Cen­tre will train the next gen­er­a­tion of in­dus­try-ready Aus­tralian en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists through creat­ing a sus­tain­able re­search part­ner­ship be­tween univer­sity-based re­searchers and the Aus­tralian pre­fab­ri­cated build­ing in­dus­try and com­pos­ite ma­te­rial man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

This will en­able the de­vel­op­ment of sus­tain­able, re­us­able, smart, and af­ford­able build­ing sys­tems and con­trib­ute to creat­ing a glob­ally com­pet­i­tive pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try in Aus­tralia.

The Aus­tralian con­struc­tion in­dus­try has faced se­vere chal­lenges over the past two decades. Spi­ralling costs of build­ing ma­te­ri­als and con­struc­tion have made hous­ing less af­ford­able. Sus­tain­abil­ity, health and well-be­ing, and safety im­per­a­tives to­gether with the mar­ketwide ex­pec­ta­tion for high-qual­ity de­sign have fur­ther chal­lenged tra­di­tional con­struc­tion. Ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing of pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing is a vi­able al­ter­na­tive. Lead­ing fig­ures in the Aus­tralian in­dus­try have recog­nised the pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency gains that ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques can of­fer. In par­tic­u­lar, en­abling tech­nolo­gies such as com­pos­ite lightweight ma­te­ri­als and sys­tems, au­to­mated off-site man­u­fac­tur­ing, mass cus­tomi­sa­tion and com­plex sys­tems think­ing are es­sen­tial com­po­nents of pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing.

Pow­er­ful global trends have seen a re­nais­sance in hous­ing pre­fab­ri­ca­tion and mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion in Europe, the US and Ja­pan.

By com­par­i­son the Aus­tralian in­dus­try is in its for­ma­tive stages but has great po­ten­tial for growth in rev­enue, em­ploy­ment and ex­ports. In­no­va­tive de­sign, lightweight and high per­for­mance ma­te­ri­als, and new man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques have the po­ten­tial to en­able high-qual­ity pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing tai­lored to cus­tomers’ needs that is eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able, re­us­able, smart and af­ford­able.

New think­ing is re­quired to chart the suc­cess­ful work flow from de­sign through to sup­ply, man­u­fac­tur­ing and de­liv­ery – work­flows more akin to au­to­mo­tive, ship and aero­nau­ti­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing than tra­di­tional de­sign and build­ing method­olo­gies.

Damien Crough, Chair­man of Pre­fabAUS said: “The cur­rent pre­fab­ri­cated build­ing mar­ket in Aus­tralia is a mod­est $4.5bn of the to­tal $150bn con­struc­tion in­dus­try. Pro­jec­tions for the 10-year out­look in­di­cate a po­ten­tial mar­ket share growth to 10% or $15bn if cur­rent chal­lenges can be over­come.”

The global mar­ket in 2014 was es­ti­mated at $96 bn. In Aus­tralia, de­mand for low-to mid-rise res­i­den­tial build­ings, project homes and pub­lic hous­ing are key drivers of de­mand in pre­fab­ri­cated con­struc­tion.

Warren McGre­gor, CEO of Pre­fabAUS.

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