An industry gamechanger: the future of prefab

An industry gamechanger: the future of prefab add

A tangible expression of innovation in action, prefabrication (or prefab) has reinvented itself time and time again over the course of history. With that said, the same governing efficiencies endure - excellent quality and design, timeliness of build, sustainability, competitive cost, increased productivity, and improved health and safety.

Made up of any material, from timber to concrete, metal, plastic, or a combination, prefab - representing any part of a building made away from the final building site - complements traditional construction and is a valuable part of the built environment.

Used since pre-colonial times, there are many examples of successful prefab initiatives. Raupō - an easily recognised wetland plant, and the traditional material used for covering poi - was once bundled into wall panels at the edges of wetlands.

Fast forward to 1917, and Thomas Edison, unbeknownst to many, invented and patented a single pour concrete construction system. Heralded in by the millennium, a number of modern businesses and very familiar names today - Lockwood, for example - have capitalised on the kitset concept and are helping to revolutionise the construction landscape one prefab home at a time.

This fascinating history rolls off the tongue of prefab expert and PrefabNZ Chief Executive Pamela Bell with ease and passion. Ahead of her ‘Innovative Construction - the Future with Prefab’ discussion to be held at the 2017 ADNZ Conference, we spoke to Bell - an author, Olympic level sports woman, and masters degree qualified bona fide expert in prefab, about this construction gamechanger.

“In Germany and Austria, 15 percent of homes are made using panels and volumes. In the UK, they are mandating innovative construction, which is reflected in the UK’s fast-moving social housing. The Government’s latest Legal & General Retirement fund has become involved in direct provision of prefab through setting up a housing factory and investing in their own cross-laminated timber volumetric system.

“Singapore’s mandate is that bathrooms must come to sites as pods. Japan is good at educating its customers on making informed decisions and the quality involved with offsite construction.”

Bell says one example of larger scale prefab on home soil can be found at the University of Auckland where 468 prefab timber room pods were built offsite and then assembled within the main structure. Additionally, PrefabNZ Home Innovation Village, known as HIVE, is a collaborative effort between 28 sponsoring partners to showcase prefab to New Zealand.

With construction representing the fifth largest sector in New Zealand, and with 30,000 new houses needed over the next five years, Bell also says that shattering the glass ceiling within the construction industry is imperative to ensure demand can be met.

To that end, PrefabNZ is front-footing the resource demand with a doco-style series ‘Logs4Jobs’ featuring “four women involved in prefab, from log cutting through to designing a house. It’s a growing industry that has long been male dominated. This was a fun think piece to put out there.

“We’re quite aware that many in the construction industry are not looking much beyond the next few months in their planning, but if we are going to engage technology literate people for the industry, then we all need to do the work to help make it more attractive.

“Along with needing more advocacy and regulations for the industry and more of an interest in what’s at the cutting-edge, we need more people. If you have no one to make your designs, you’re going to strike problems.”

Pamela Bell will be presenting in Wellington at the ADNZ National Conference 'Thriving in the Future' on Prefab - Innovative Construction. You can register to attend the conference by clicking here.