Bunnings is investing $75 million in new plants to manufacture timber wall frames and roof trusses in a significant shake-up for the Australian timber frame and truss industry.
As reported by the Australian Financial Review, Bunnings has just started production on a 31,000 square metre just-in-time plant in Truganina in Melbourne’s west, which, when fully operational, will produce 2,800 trusses a year.
The investment comes after Bunnings opened a manufacturing plant in western Sydney in July and precedes a third to open in south-western Brisbane’s Wacol early next year.
Wood Central understands that the new facilities will use robots to assemble and nail-plate the A-frame trusses, which IndustryEdge Managing Director Tim Woods said represents a “massive rationalisation” in the residential construction industry.
“The largest participants in the market are making the next logical step, and it could be that some of their thinking is getting ahead of a global trend toward entire houses being built inside factories,” Mr Woods said.
It will, for the first time, place Bunnings alongside Dahlsens Building Centres, Bowdens and Independent Hardware Group as the leading producers of trusses and frames.
It also marks a significant pivot for the Wesfarmers-backed hardware giant looking to build its commercial business.
Bunnings accounts for almost half of Wesfarmers AU $45.6 billion revenue and, under a new five-year plan, is looking to grow its commercial business to combat weakening consumer spending in its retail business.
Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Bunnings Chief Operating Officer Ben McIntosh said, “There was always a trade or commercial part of the business, but it was never the focus.”
However, three years into the plan, Mr McIntosh is confident that the business can “do two things at once.”
According to the Frame & Truss Manufacturers Association of Australia, there are 287 plants of varying capacity across the country, which process about 2.5 million cubic metres of sawn framing timber annually.
The Bunnings strategy behind selling trusses and frames is that they make up about 15% of the cost of a home.
Establishing a supply relationship with the builder at the start of the construction lifecycle can upsell other products through the typical nine-month construction process.
“We want our building customers to turn to us for solutions across the whole of their build, starting with high-quality frame and truss systems that are manufactured safely, efficiently and at value,” Mr McIntosh said.
Is prefabrication the future of residential construction?
Australian delegates attending the Wood Solutions and Timber Development Association study in Europe saw first-hand how robots are manufactured at the Randek AB facility in Snickaregatan, Sweden. The fully automated Randek Zero Labor Robotic can automate the total prefabrication process for house construction.
BoKlok, a joint venture between IKEA and Swedish development company Skanska, uses the system. BoKlok has delivered 14,000 affordable houses in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and the UK.
According to Forbes, the latest take on modular housing is volumetric modular manufacturing (VMM) … creating many residential units at an offsite facility.
Many houses are shipped directly from the factory up to 95%, with windows, flooring, painted drywall, plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures, doors, and kitchen cabinets with countertops.
The critical advantage of prefabrication is that it allows manufacturers to construct houses cost-effectively and at speed.
Last month, Japan’s largest residential builder, Daiwa House, which owns Sydney-based Rawson Group, told The Australian Financial Review it saw Australia as “a big target” for growth and cited its ability to build homes quickly as a competitive advantage.
Daiwa rival Sumitomo Forestry owns home builders Henley Properties, Wisdom Properties and Scott Park Group.
Asahi Kasei Homes owns Newcastle-based NXT Building Group and acquired Melbourne-based Arden Homes this year.
Bowens managing director John Bowen said a lack of skilled labour had encouraged the development of prefabricated components.
However, the conditions that prompted greater levels of prefabrication and modular construction – as in many European countries – did not exist in Australia.
“When you think about next-stage design or pre-clad panels, it’s a very different conversation,” Mr Bowen told the Financial Review.
“We’re playing with that to find the best mix for what works in Australia. I don’t think what works overseas necessarily is appropriate for the Australian market.”
Mr McIntosh said efficiency was key for the home-building industry to achieve the federal government’s target of 1.2 million new homes over five years.
“The winners of the industry, whether it’s builders or suppliers – such as us – to the industry will be the ones that run at the most efficient levels, the ones that concentrate on working out that it’s not just about price, but it’s not just about anything. You’ve got to get all elements right.”
Modular Building will be discussed as part of Timber Offsite Construction
Next week, prefabrication and modular construction will form the basis of discussion at the Timber Offsite Construction conference in Melbourne next week.
According to Andrew Dunn, the conference organiser, “the primary focus is on commercial-ready applications of timber technology.”
“The program and speakers are the most impressive of all previous conferences,” he said.
“We anticipate an even larger turnout than past years, attracting industry leaders and professionals eager to explore the potential of timber building construction, both from Australia and overseas.”
According to Mr Dunn, speakers will cover a diverse range of topics such as why to consider timber, selecting appropriate timber systems, avoiding common problems, and innovative construction methods.