New Roadmap to Drive Australia’s Prefab & Smart Building Boom

The report, published by PrefabAus, is pushing to double the number of "smart buildings" by 2033 and increase the penetration of prefabrication to cover 80% of all new building elements.

Mon 25 Sep 23


Australia can unlock social, economic and environmental value by using prefabrication to build smart buildings.

A new report, presented at the Offsite 2023 conference, has provided a 10-year roadmap to guide the adoption of prefabrication over the next decade.

Sourceable reports that the roadmap outlines 19 targets driving take-up between now and 2033.

Key recommendations include doubling the number of “smart buildings” from 15% to 30% and increasing the penetration of prefabrication to cover 80% of all building elements in new construction.

It also stressed the need to demonstrate cost, time and embodied carbon savings and the push to produce 10-start energy-rated buildings “through smart building and prefabrication.”

Launched by Damien Crough, director of PrefabAus, and Lance Worrall, a leading analyst, it reports that Australia suffers from a low level of industrialisation, which Mr Worrall says “leaves us dependent on resource extraction and locked into commodities – some for which use will decline as international economies move toward decarbonisation.”

Directors of PrefabAus answered questions at the Offsite 2023 conference last month in Melbourne. (Photo Credit: Supplied by PrefabAus)

Mr Worrall said Australia has “the opportunity to reindustrialise, linked to both renewable energy resources and the metals and minerals needed for a new economy.”

Moreover, Mr Worrall said Australia is taking steps towards reindustrialisation through the National Reconstruction Fund.

Whilst smart buildings are not referred to in the fund by name, several sectors that have been a priority in the fund have connections with prefabrication. They include the forest and fibre with up to $500m available for ‘value adding’ in forestry and fibre, along with agriculture, fisheries and food.

Australia, according to the report, “has the right conditions to increase uptake in all these areas.”

These include an unmet supply of construction demand, a limited supply of skilled labour and a growing cohort of innovative businesses supplying quality solutions to the market.

The bill passed the Australian Senate in Match. It provides exciting opportunities for Australian forest products, including those sourced from sustainably managed native forests. Footage courtesy of @SkyNewsAustralia.

This includes Australian hardware giant Bunnings, which is now investing $75m into offsite prefabrication, representing a significant shake-up for the timber frame and truss market.

As reported by the Australian Financial Review, Bunnings has 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.

However, they allege uptake has been hindered “by an industry model which is still geared toward on-site construction, “with just 5% of residential construction projects across Australia using prefabrication. 

The report introduces a concept called “smart building value chains”, – which includes seven critical links, including:

Planning and design; selection of inputs and materials; procurement and supply; production/manufacturing, on-site assembly; through life support systems and end-market conditions such as public procurement policies, building regulations, and industry standards.

According to Mr Worrall, Australia has deficiencies across several areas: “When it comes to production, manufacturing and assembly, Australia’s efforts are fragmented, lacking in scale and digital take-up.”

Also fragmented, the authors said, is the country’s efforts in supporting smart buildings in operation. 

It also lacks the support of strategic public procurement, which can provide financial support and confidence to invest in prefabrication.

“This is important as a robust system of advanced public procurement would help to drive scale, coordination and alignment among each of the links in the value chain.”

Whilst these challenges are significant, Worrall and Crough say the benefits of greater prefab and smart building uptake outweigh the negatives.

These include higher productivity, better quality, more affordable housing, lower carbon emissions, greater opportunities to deliver accessible building design and greater climate resilience.

To capitalise on these opportunities, it now calls for action on twelve recommendations, including:

  • It recognises the importance of smart building in government industrial policies. This includes embedding smart building goals in initiatives such as the National Reconstruction Fund and National Housing Policy.
  • Creating a portfolio of projects will enable the prefabrication and smart building industry to build scale and increase capacity. This should be done through advanced public procurement processes. These could include a presumption favouring prefab on selected projects or targets/mandates on designated projects.
  • Intensive application of smart building on specific large-scale projects such as the National Housing Accord and the Brisbane Olympics.
  • Embedding Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) into projects.
  • Use of advanced public procurement to improve the flow of funds for prefabrication
  • Building consistent nationwide standards and better regulation.
  • Creation of a national program to accelerate the digital adoption of smart buildings to be delivered through a network of future factories that would form a national prefabrication hub.
  • Promotion of business model innovation for the accelerated development of smart buildings.
  • Working with unions, industry and training providers to build a future workforce to handle digital offsite factory production. This would involve a trade certificate for prefabrication that would include digital skills.
  • Building an ecosystem including research hubs and smart building industry clusters.
  • Creation of flagship projects along with baselines and benchmarks through which benefits of smart buildings can be demonstrated. Specifically, this would include designating ten smart building national flagship projects.
  • Shifting perceptions and creating an image of better outcomes through prefabrication regarding performance, quality, safety and social and environmental effects.

The roadmap was developed following multiple rounds of workshops, industry engagement, and research projects.

“If implemented as an integrated strategy, these measures will create a virtuous cycle of industry growth with benefits recognised across Australia’s economy, society and environment,” Mr Worrall said.

And Mr Crough agrees, “Australia’s smart building revolution will see the transformation of our sector (prefabrication) over the decade,” he said.

“Our ambitious targets, recommendations, and directions for concerted action all reflect this major change.”

“Smart buildings will deliver immense buildings for Australia’s economy, society and environment if we apply leadership, focus, planning, partnerships and strategy to the task”

“This is a direction-setting document for the decade to 2033 to develop a whole new value-adding industry for Australia.”

“We will take this message on the road to the key decision makers and players – governments, industry, unions, the research and education sector and communities across Australia – whose active involvement and support will be critical for our success.”

“We intend that Building the Future We Want (the roadmap title) will have a major impact upon policy and programs for developing an Australian smart building sector.”


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