Mark Farmer is the author of the boldly titled Modernise or Die: The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model. The report, now formally endorsed by the UK government, sets out a comprehensive vision for a construction industry at a critical juncture and in need of widespread transformation.

Low productivity, outmoded delivery models and a lack of technological innovation are just some of the pressing problems Farmer diagnoses.

According to Farmer, “The challenges which face the UK construction industry are not unique to Great Britain.” He sees numerous parallels with the Australian market and will be here in September exploring these as the international keynote speaker at the prefabAUS 2017 Conference – convened by the peak body for Australia’s prefabricated building industry.

“The fact is that there are some very generic problems with the construction industry’s basic delivery model that span the globe,” Farmer said.

prefabAUS CEO Warren McGregor reckons Farmer’s keynote presentation will be a highlight of the conference.

“Charged by the UK government to examine the UK construction industry and its ability to deliver what that economy will need in the future, Mark Farmer draws on his extensive construction pedigree to set out his compelling argument for change. Tellingly, the key challenges being confronted in construction are not unique to the UK but resonate around the globe.”

“We know that Australia’s construction workforce is ageing. Couple that with the low tech, low appeal way it is perceived by the workforce of the future, and the reality of our own situation comes into sharp focus. That’s why I am convinced that Mark’s insights also have much relevance in the Australian context.” McGregor said.

For his part, Farmer believes prefab just might be the “one big idea” the industry needs to turn itself around.

“My belief is that the solution to these problems lies in overhauling the basic design and construction process and finding ‘one big idea’ that governments, clients and the construction industry can collectively get behind, creating a real change agent. Past attempts to reform construction by concentrating on contracts, collaboration and behaviours have not worked; we need something that is much more hardwired to business models and physical delivery reform,” Farmer said.

“I believe that the ‘one big idea’ is the strategic move by construction industries across the globe towards greater levels of offsite or prefabricated construction.”

“Mark Farmer has articulated the link between prefabrication and much-needed efficiency gains. Prefabrication also paves the way for what Mark sees as the need for better cooperation between all the key players in the construction process,” McGregor said.

Prefabrication is one of the strongest areas of opportunity for transforming the construction industry. It can decrease construction time frames and construction waste while increasing quality, productivity and affordability.

“The Modernise or Die report is provocative and insightful – it’s a massive opportunity for those in the Australian prefab sector to hear Mark share his ideas,” says McGregor. Australia can become a world leader in prefabrication, Farmer says.

“The maximisation of pre-manufacturing’s potential is through Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) thinking and it is clear in this regard that Australia is leading the world in grasping this concept through the promotion of its Modular Construction Code Board Handbook.”

The Modular Construction Code Board is a partner for the prefabAUS 2017 conference.

Farmer believes that the construction industry’s clients, both private and governmental, need to play a role in making the transformation to more contemporary delivery models and underpinning the investment in researching technologically intensive, but more productive and efficient, means of prefabrication and construction.

“The move to a greater level of pre-manufacturing in most construction sectors is dependent on the need for a client-demand-led transformation. It is always more difficult for the industry to transform itself from within when the risk of investment in different technologies and models looks too high without clients specifically demanding this different approach,” says Farmer.

One of Farmer’s more radical proposals is that governments should be in the role of mandating innovation through progressive regulations that encourage the use of prefabrication. In Farmer’s search for best practices, his case study in the Modernise or Die report is drawn from the Asia-Pacific region. Singapore’s Building & Construction Authority works with industry to raise construction productivity and fundamentally change the design and construction processes, encouraging the adoption of DfMA and, in particular, the use of Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC). From late 2014 these techniques became mandatory for selected strata-titled residential Government Land Sale (GLS) sites as per the Singaporean Government’s Code of Practice on Buildability 2015.

“You only need to look at Singapore to see the influence of interventionist policy in setting a path towards industry change and improvement,” Farmer says.

prefabAUS CEO Warren McGregor says Farmer’s keynote address is sure to be a highlight of the 2017 conference.

“We’re really looking forward to hearing the provocative and timely ideas Mark will bring to the table. He will be joined at the conference by many leaders of the Australian prefab building industry. I fully expect Mark’s interaction with these leaders on our panel following the keynote will be a great opportunity to spin out these ideas for the local context. It’s bound to be stimulating and productive,” McGregor says.

Warren McGregor is a business advisor and the CEO of prefabAUS – Australia’s key industry body for offsite construction.

PrefabAUS is focused on representing and advancing modern building prefabrication in Australia through collaborating with and educating a wide audience of architects, engineers and project managers regarding the benefits within the property sector.

In addition to his prefabAUS role, Warren is engaged as part of the advisory team at project management consultancy Turner & Townsend Thinc and Payton Capital.

TUD: You have a diverse professional background. How has this influenced your interest in the property sector, particularly in prefabricated construction?

WM: My qualifications in economics, accounting and applied finance provided the foundation for what has turned out to be quite a varied career path. Prior to working in prefabricated construction, I worked in management consulting with KPMG, investment banking, project development, property advisory and finance.

An unexpected outcome from a holiday was that it turned into a 10-year management consulting stint in South-East Asia, where I gained exposure to many industries, often dictated by the sectors that were growing most rapidly and where local skills development was in catch-up mode. I returned to Australia in 2006 and have had a property focus since then, providing research and advice across many property asset classes ranging from office, retail, residential, industrial and infrastructure to aged care and retirement living for institutional, government, private and not-for-profit organisations.

My interest in prefabricated construction dates back to 2010 when I first considered modular options for an apartment development I was involved in. Unfortunately, our project was already too far advanced to seriously consider a modular solution. This issue remains a challenge today, and I would encourage anyone considering prefab solutions to do so right at the start of the project as that is when the potential benefits can best be captured. It is remarkable to reflect on the advances that have been made in the offsite construction industry over the last seven years.

TUD: How is building prefabrication advancing both nationally and internationally?

WM: The industry is growing in Australia as the offsite construction sector continues to make impressive advances across a range of materials, processes and systems. However, in contrast to Sweden, where around 80% of homes incorporate factory-built elements, offsite construction remains at the early stages of living up to its potential here, at just 3% of the construction market in Australia. But offsite or prefab is growing at roughly twice the rate of the rest of Australian construction industry – what we are seeing is a catch-up game where people are not only recognising the benefits in our local context, but are now able to effectively incorporate offsite methodologies into their projects. In turn, this has led to more players committing to automation technologies that take construction into the realm of manufacturing processes and systems, whether that be modules, panels, bathroom pods, façade systems, modular wiring or other elements. In Australia, Strongbuild and Impresa House are just two examples of companies making significant capital investment in automation.

But it is not only construction industry firms that are taking up offsite construction. Some “disruptors” from outside the industry are also wading in. Founded in 2015 by the former CEO of a contract electronics manufacturer, American firm Katerra says it is now one of the top 25 US general contractors involved in multi-residential projects. Advances in materials are also having a big impact as demonstrated by the suite of CLT (cross-laminated timber) projects being undertaken in Australia, with more in the pipeline. And CLT itself is just one of the new and exciting ‘engineered timber’ solutions, along with glulam (glue-laminated timber) and LVL (laminated veneer lumber).

Prefabrication offers shorter project programs, more certainty for the client and it benefits the environment, with less waste, less onsite construction resources and a safer, quieter and cleaner overall build site. prefabAUS is passionate about the role of prefabrication in transforming our built environment, such as decreasing construction time frames and construction waste while increasing quality, productivity and affordability.

TUD: How has building prefabrication altered with advances in technology?

WM: The possibilities are expanding exponentially. Previously, much of the offsite construction effort focused on alternative ways to deliver the same kinds of buildings. Now however, attention is increasingly being directed to achieving superior built form outcomes. For example, the session on “The future and innovation” in this year’s conference features speakers from Germany, Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as leading exponents in Australia and New Zealand. These are practitioners who are pushing the boundaries of prefab architecture and construction.

TUD: What can we expect at the prefabAUS 2017 conference?

WM: Our theme for this year’s prefabAUS conference is “Growing. Innovating. Revolutionising.” We will be looking to the future trends that are likely to shape both prefabricated building and the construction industry more widely. Our keynote international speaker is Mark Farmer, author of the hard-hitting report Modernise or Die, which addresses the shortcomings of the UK construction industry and sets out a compelling argument for change that has already been adopted by the UK government. Mark’s analysis resonates globally, though, and has much relevance in the Australian context.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Talented Queenslanders off to make their mark in China.

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business The Honourable Leeanne Enoch

Eight Queenslanders – including the inventor of an earthquake-resistant prefabricated building system – will travel to China under a special Palaszczuk Government funding program.

Speaking at a special reception today (Wednesday) at Parliament House for a high-level health and business Torch delegation from China, Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said the eight recipients received funding under the first round of the government’s $480,000 Commercialisation Partnership Program (CPP).

Ms Enoch said the CPP is part of the Advance Queensland Global Partnership Awards, which aim to capitalise on outcomes from Queensland’s considerable science, technology and innovation expertise.

“We have some enormous talent in Queensland and these eight recipients are clear examples of Queensland technological ingenuity and very smart business acumen,” Ms Enoch said.

“The CPP is the product of our very strong relationship with China’s prestigious Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) – which leads and funds science and technology development in China through the Torch High Technology Industry Development program.

“The eight successful recipients each receive up to $20,000 for placement of up to three months in Torch incubators in China.

“They will have access to world-class facilities, mentors and local business links, and receive valuable insight in the Chinese market as well as the potential to secure capital to refine their concepts, develop their technology and grow their business.”

Surfers Paradise-based Go Evolve is an architectural firm developing the Universal Module Building System (UMBS), which bolts together to form ‘green homes and commercial buildings’.

The Universal Modular Building System (UMBS) is ideal for earthquake-prone regions. A UMBS multi-storey building (up to 22 storeys, depending on design) can be built in six months and should last up to 100 years.

Go Evolve Director and award-winning architect Magnus Bjornsson, who is the inventor of the system, said the three-month placement in Guangdong’s High-Tech Industrial Park will open doors for his small company.

“China is likely to be a strong market for this innovation,” Mr Bjornsson said.

“The Advance Queensland grant will enable us to go to market sooner. Through this placement, we will learn more about Chinese commercialisation, source reputable local staff and build local business networks.”

Mr David Inderias from Brisbane-based Applied Matter Systems is travelling to southern China’s Guangzhou Industrial Business Incubator.

He said his company is exporting novel methods of doing business in e-commerce using advanced manufacturing techniques.

“Access to the world’s largest single country economy is a dream come true,” he said. “This is an opportunity to commercialise on a scale we only previously imagined. We are applying technology honed in Queensland on the world stage in China.”

Ms Enoch said the 26-member Chinese delegation visiting Queensland this week were from the Torch High Technology Industry Development Centre, a highly successful entrepreneurial program helping to kick-start Chinese high-tech innovation and startups.

The resident businesses within the Torch precincts produced 11.9 per cent of Chinese GDP in 2015 and accounted for 18.5 per cent of Chinese exports to other markets.

Advance Queensland is the Palaszczuk Government's $405 million whole-of-government initiative focusing on harnessing innovation and fostering new industries.


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Wednesday, May 24, 2017
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