Friday, 16 September 2016

The other robot revolution: Prefabrication 2.0

Australia’s tallest prefab tower tops out at double speed

This recent headline in The Fifth Estate suddenly brought into the spotlight a quiet development in the Australian construction scene.  I first posted about the Hickory Group's  One9 apartment tower in Melbourne, utilising their so-called Unitised Building (UB) System in Too good to be true? back in 2014.

Developed and championed by Australian architect Nonda Katsalidis, the UB system relies on factory-based modular construction with high levels of external and internal finishes and fit out, making for fast on-site assembly.  It claims, and with ongoing development, clearly delivers the big advantages of modular prefabricated construction.  Chief among them are the improved safety and working conditions for the skilled workers who put together the modules in a factory rather than on site.

Less easily accessed is information on the new balance between manual production line work for those human workers, and work performed by the robots inherited along with the defunct car manufacturing facility, in which the new building manufacture is located.

I don't pretend to have reliable inside knowledge, so I can't actually answer my own question.  But I suspect that it's not all gloom and doom.....that there is a considerable range of positives to this change.

What lends more support to my views this time around is that the changes are occurring across a number of related fronts.  Also in The Fifth Estate, within the same week, was an article World’s tallest timber building tops out ahead of schedule.  It celebrates a major advance in the use of cross-laminated timber wall and floor components and gluelam columns, in an 18 storey building under construction in Vancouver, Canada. 
Because the very idea of timber high rise construction is so newsworthy for anyone who still thinks all timber is a fire risk, little is said about the fact that this construction method by its very nature relies intensely on pre-fabrication.

I am reminded that I am old enough to remember the post-WW2 attempts to turn aircraft production facilities into building prefabrication.  Arguably, those were a failure because the complex social dimensions of the initiative were not really given time to emerge.  I am hopeful that this time around, the approach and the technology mature gracefully, to become the promised solution to our need to build more, more affordably and more sustainably.

World’s tallest timber building tops out ahead of schedule

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