BRISBANE TOWER BREAKING NEW GROUND
• QUANTUM LEAP FORWARD IN BUILDING SYSTEMS
• OFFSITE MANUFACTURING HELPS CUT COSTS
• RE-SHAPING CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
TALK ABOUT pushing boundaries .... the latest trends in building materials and building systems have taken a quantum leap forward in recent times. But, according to industry experts, that’s just the beginning!
The future of the timber construction industry presents some unique challenges but overall everything points to plenty of opportunity for those willing to learn, adapt and take some risks.
That was the over-arching message from Frame Australia 2017 (Timber Offsite Construction) Conference in Melbourne which attracted 270 delegates from the timber and prefabrication sector (57%), design and construction (26%) and CEOs from industry associations and housing sector bodies.
The two-day event covered architecture, specification, construction and manufacturing with specialist presenters outlining advances made in recent times. Site tours were also conducted.
The process of offsite manufacturing (prefab) continues to gain ground. Speakers stressed that through this process quality, quantity, safety were readily achievable and there was a resultant lessening of onsite wastage. Advancements in machining (offsite production) are paving the way for even quicker build times and, again, more control over the finished product.
With the change in building systems come different skills sets for workers, too.
On the flip side, during a workshop session one delegate suggested that while it was well and good to promote the use of timber and the innovative changes in building, he queried the continued availability of resources in Australia. Currently, several major organisations are leading the way in promoting and pursuing increased plantation investment in Australia (one example is the AFPA’s continued push for a hub system throughout Australia) and the recently-announced $110 million investment in plantation forests in Victoria is also a plus.
However, delegates are showing a measured confidence in the future and maintain “the potential is huge and we need to look at and take the opportunities”.
“Collaboration, learning from experience and taking some risks.
The numbers justify confidence in the future”.
Conference Director Kevin Ezard was understandably rapt with the success of the 19th event.
“I felt the speaker sessions and workshop topics being ‘bundled’ into the basic components of construction worked well with Architecture, Specification, Construction and Manufacturing being a very good basis to create topic areas that can be readily addressed, especially where timber construction requires greater understanding, and needs to be approached differently to traditional building material methods.
“This topic bundling also enabled a wide diversity of views to be expressed in the panel discussions, with a group of participants each from different business activities providing delegates with vital insight into the concepts and requirements for timber offsite construction,” he added.
“The event had more than 40 speakers and panel members, which was a lot of information being provided to delegates, but the flow of topics and discussion was sequential and by the event conclusion had embraced all the major aspects required.
“It was interesting to note the recognition by delegates that collaboration is a key element for success, and was frequently raised in discussion as some topics moved progressively through a number of sessions,” said Kevin.
Keeping pace with change
He said the next conference in 2018 would be further developed in many topics to keep pace with the constantly evolving marketplace changes and new developments that will continue to attract a broad base of professions and disciplines within the building design and construction sector, along with the supply chain of timber, engineered wood and prefabrication equipment.
“This will also be accelerated by the rapid uptake in timber construction currently emerging, and the number of developers and builders voicing their intention to ‘get involved’ and be in front of the market to reap the rewards of faster build times and lower cost construction.
“Exhibitors were pleased with the extended timeframe of two days, and with the category mix of delegates were able to engage with a wide range of potential customers,” said Kevin.
Innovation and passion
Tim Johnston (Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries [VAFI]) chaired the manufacturing session and said he was “blown away by the innovation, passion and dedication to the industry that was on display”.
“As the conference delegates heard about new technologies, automation, database integration, prefabrication and panelised production, among many other topics, one thing was abundantly clear: the appetite for timber is only growing.
“I chaired the workshop on manufacturing which followed earlier workshops on architecture, specification and construction. Lively discussions were held about the role timber plays in each of these processes, with ideas shared and knowledge transferred. This is when we are at our best - when we come together and collaborate as an industry.
“We are all fighting our own battles, each and every day, and there are times that we feel like we are out there on the front line by ourselves. We get caught up in our own world and the blinkers go on, but is this the best way to fight a battle, let alone win the war?
“Together we are stronger. We are an industry where every step along the supply chain is influenced by both the previous step and the next, and we cannot operate in silos.
“During the panel discussion at the
conference I was asked what is really a simple question: Are we going to have enough timber?
“My answer is just as simple: YES. I will continue to fight to ensure this is the case. My question to you is, are you going to fight alongside me?”
Phil Alviano (Sustainable Building Advisor, Master Builders Association) was another impressed at how the conference unfolded. “This year’s themed sessions focused on different stages of the construction process, which allowed the presentation of contextualised information from different speakers,” he said.
More focused discussions
“The panel session that followed allowed us to ask questions of the presenters, which is always helpful. This encouraged more focused discussions that delved deeper into the topics. Workshops on the second day meant that some of these topics could be explored further in order to ensure that the content delivered met the needs of the attendees.
“The quality and variety of speakers in offsite construction provided good practical advice while also exploring the benefits and possibilities of offsite construction,” Phil said.
For the first time, delegates had a selection of site tours:- Impresa House; On-site assembly of the Impresa House system; Building development site Mason Point; Medium density residential development Tullamore; The Library at the Dock; Melbourne University School of Design; The Garden Building ... and the general consensus of the site visits was “brilliant”.
Dr Perry Forsythe, Professor of Construction Management at the University of Technology Sydney and Chair of the Specification workshop, told delegates that in terms of construction materials, there is growing interest in timbers generally. Simpler process
Because timber is easy to machine, it works well with the concurrent trend in architecture and design for the use of Building Information Modelling and other 3D design modelling technologies.
The design file can be sent straight off to the fabricator, who can then fine-tune the conceptual design into a panelised model. Those digital files then go straight to the factory floor where they direct the CNC machining and other production lines, Perry explains.
“It’s now become a lot more possible,” he said.
Design for Manufacture and Assembly is another trend he finds exciting, and he believes more designers and project teams will be heading down that path.
“Previously construction was a very fragmented process,” he said.
Project managers would have to assign multiple small work packages to multiple trades.
The new timber-plus-tech approach streamlines the entire project management task, and leads to a faster build process and building delivery.
“It becomes a simpler process for the project manager because more things are handled in one place,” the Professor said.
Conference Director Kevin Ezard.
Phil Alviano (Sustainable Building Advisor, Master Builders Association).
Dr Perry Forsythe, Professor of Construction Management at the University of Technology Sydney.
Tim Johnston (Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries.