Iconic Ford Plant Retrofitted for Faster, Greener Prefab Building!

Cross Laminated Offsite Solutions is using cross-laminated timber to produce new housing in weeks!

Thu 22 Feb 24


Ford production workers, who for decades produced Falcons from its 90-year-plus manufacturing plant, are now producing prefabricated houses to address Australia’s long-time social and affordable housing shortage.

In October 2016, the plant, once home to 350 workers, went offline, ending an association with the city of Geelong dating back to 1925.

That was until June 2023, when, with the support of both the Australian and Victorian State Governments, Cross Laminated Offsite Solutions (otherwise known as CLOS) agreed to take up 20,000 square metres at the factory after previously outgrowing its home in Avalon.

Founded by John Fitzgibbon in 2017, it has grown dramatically, with Mr Fitzgibbon determined to build smarter, greener and quicker.

“I was involved in big construction for about 15 years, doing the same thing repeatedly, and recognised that we needed to do things differently and use sustainable materials,” Mr Fitzgibbon told the Geelong Times.

“Post-COVID challenges like inflation and a shortage of skilled trades accelerated the demand for modular homes, capable of being constructed in half the traditional time.”

Last month, CLOS staff toured the rebuilt factory leading up to the big opening in early February – footage courtesy of @clos_australia.

According to Mr Fitzgibbon, the factory floor “was like a Meccano set, where all the pieces are shaped and come together in a production line, with equipment “once used in car assembly has been repurposed.”

“We build anything from one-bedroom dwellings to stacking 10 or 15 of them together to build a multi-level residential building,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Earlier this month, Nine News interviewed one of the former Ford workers, Malcolm Stapleton – a 35-year-plus veteran of the production plant – who is now training new apprentices at CLOS.

“It’s exciting that they have repurposed the building for other industries,” said Mr Stapleton, 61, who started work at Ford as a 17-year-old in 1980.

Among workers include Dekoda West and Dootoor Monf, both first-year apprentices, “I like it; it’s good to be close to home,” they both said.

The company now employs 40 locals, with plans to increase that to 100 by the year’s end, each using glulam, manufactured onsite and ranging from $130,000 to $800,000 per dwelling.

“You wouldn’t want to see the place ripped apart; there is so much history, and now you have something else built in here,” Indy Mayo, an apprentice, told Nine News reporter Allan Raskall.

“We are excited about this new chapter in our company’s history and re-establishing manufacturing at the iconic Ford factory,” said John Fitzgibbon, CEO & Managing Director of CLOS, before adding that a new advanced timber processing machinery will have to improve its panel manufacturing process.

“The move to this new facility is a testament to our team’s hard work and dedication, as well as the support from our stakeholders and community,” he said ahead of the Open Day earlier this month.

CLOS acquired a new timber processing line in 2022

The expansion follows the acquisition of the Weinmann-Homag advanced timber processing line from the failed Impresa House announced in 2022.

John Fitzgibbon, the CEO and Managing Director, told Built Offsite in November 2022 that the old Avalon factory had a capacity of just 2,500 square metres, and a new facility was critical to helping the business scale up to meet future growth.

“Our factory is 2,500 sqm, but in February next year, we’re expanding it significantly to include a further 8,500 sqm.” According to Fitzgibbon, the acquisition “will improve our productivity by a factor of eight.”

The new facility will quadruple CLOS offsite manufacturing capacity

The new facility is inside the part of the factory – now owned by Melbourne developer Pelligra Group and known as Fortek Geelong.

It will eventually include a high-tech conveyor line to improve productivity.
CLOS is also using the existing overhead gantry cranes at the site and will eventually scale up to producing between 500 and 1,000 prefabricated homes a year.

To date, the company can construct a two-bedroom home in the factory in about eight weeks but aims to slash that to 28 days by later this year.

It uses a combination of glulam and cross-laminated timbers and, in May 2022, secured a Sustainability Victoria Grant to invest in manufacturing prefabricated housing components that are faster, cheaper, and cut waste.

“CLOS will show other construction companies how its offsite construction method reduces structural build time by 50 per cent, overall build time by 25 per cent and waste materials by an estimated 50 per cent, compared to traditional onsite methods.”

“Panels prefabricated in CLOS’s (current) Avalon factory will be used to construct 26 townhouses on Geelong’s waterfront as well as four units in Reservoir later this year.”

It is now working with the Victorian Government – using an equity finance model, and since December last year, the Federal Government has been delivering social and affordable housing to those in need.

“It’s a really impressive, innovative, Geelong business,” Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister for Australia, said last week.

“Given the need for housing around the country, it’s fantastic to see the innovation happening here,” he said, “this is developing the skills that we need and producing housing that is desperately needed.”

image 52
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles (second from right) and local MP Ella George (second from left) with John Fitzgibbon (far right) at the opening of the new factory. (Photo Credit: Richard Marles Office Facebook)
CLOS is focused on employing from the local Geelong community

Reflecting on the move, Mr Fitzgibbon is proud of what CLOS has achieved and what is left to achieve. He is “excited about this new chapter in our company’s history and re-establishing manufacturing at the iconic Ford factory.

CLOS says it will focus on employing team members from Geelong’s northern corridor, with Chief Engineer Bernard Waschi confirming that “what used to take months can now be done in a week.”

Pelligra Group bought the manufacturing facilities at Ford’s Geelong and Broadmeadows plants and invested an initial $500 million to develop the two sites.


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