Industrialised Building and the education of future professionals

Sustainability. Affordability. Quality. Demand. These are just some of the challenges facing today’s construction industry, and some of the things that need to change for the industry to succeed in the future.

But, in seeking to change the construction industry, it is difficult to change one piece at a time. Instead, many things need to change in parallel, which is partly why large-scale change has largely eluded the building industry.

Industrialised building takes a whole-of-industry approach to change, promoting collaboration across logistics, manufacturing, design and assembly through to stakeholder management, to make the construction industry more integrated, effective and efficient. It provides a shared platform through which to connect, where new thinking, change, and innovation can be shared. It also offers continuity of knowledge, experience, and relationships.

Prefabrication is one aspect of industrialised building, driven by concepts such as wall panels, floor cassettes, and modular building. These solutions allow for safer construction sites and building products that are of higher quality, more sustainable, delivered in less time, and at times more cost-effective than traditional approaches. Increasingly, technology is assisting to make these products more customer responsive through digital design tools focused on customisation, and linking design with production.

When underpinned by an industrialised mindset, such an approach results in a very complex process with many, many moving parts. Yet, this complexity is paired with great opportunity – so long as the people behind these new ventures are open to fresh and balanced thinking, and the industry is capable of learning valuable lessons from the past.

“Prefabrication is not the destination; it’s the pathway,” says Mathew Aitchison, CEO of Building 4.0 CRC. “It must be regarded as the means to the end, and not the end itself. To achieve the transformation of the building industry, we must have the means and ends in sync”.

This statement implies a changed mindset in construction; one where the industry needs to start thinking about the processes behind getting to the end product.

Industrialised building shows a path to an integrated construction process, complete with integrated and rationalised supply chains that, if implemented, promises fewer (and higher) margins, repeatable projects, rapid scalability, and innovation driven both internally to individual companies, and externally by the market and the wider sector.

To achieve such outcomes, a new, more holistic approach to R&D must be taken and businesses need to start thinking differently about how they’re doing things. This is precisely the purpose of Building 4.0 CRC; to bring industry and research together to deliver better buildings and new efficiencies through technology and collaboration.

An example of things to come, comes in the shape of a sophisticated product platform from Building 4.0 CRC partner, Lendlease. Lendlease Podium is a property lifecycle platform, incorporating digital products and services, and harnessing 60 years of industry experience.

“The platform creates a powerful solution providing the industry with insights, clarity and performance never experienced before,” said Daryl Patterson, Chief Product Officer & Head of Design, Lendlease. “Our product portfolio has been designed to support the built world, from the identification and development of land, the assembly and management of a building, and the provision of multi utility services to owners and tenants. It is, effectively, the enabler of the autonomous building of tomorrow.”

Change in this direction can begin today. Important, however, is that the wider sector and the industry’s future professionals start the journey as well. This is why Building 4.0 CRC has invested heavily in education and training.

Just one example of this investment comes from Monash University’s Industrialised Building unit. The course has been devised by Building 4.0 CRC’s Professor Mathew Aitchison and Monash University’s Dr Duncan Maxwell, and is taught through Monash’s Future Building Initiative (FBI), a cross-faculty initiative between Monash Art, Design and Architecture (MADA) and Monash Engineering.

Using design research tools, students taking part in the Industrialised Building course produce a report that documents and critically examines existing industrialised building companies as case studies, before proposing and modelling design-based solutions that respond to specific issues that these companies face. Through a series of lectures and tutorials running parallel to “live” research projects within Monash’s FBI, students have contact with professionals and researchers active in the industry.

“Some of our Building 4.0 CRC partners have contributed to the course in this way: Lendlease, Ynomia, Fleetwood, prefabAUS, uTecture, and Coresteel Buildings, to name a few,” said Dr Duncan Maxwell, Research Fellow at Monash University and Building 4.0 CRC Program Leader.

“We are enabling our students to analyse the products, processes, and business models of real, complex case studies, introducing them to the benefits and limitations of industrialised building so that they may find the blockages and uncover solutions.

“The students really benefit from the industry engagement. It is rare for undergraduates to receive such an applied focus in undergraduate and graduate education,” he added.

Professor Aitchison further adds to this the importance of understanding the whole industry, and the skills and technology that are needed to deliver the desired outcomes along the way.

“Change is a process, a journey. Building 4.0 CRC is creating pathways for future employees to develop new, tech-focused skills through a deep understanding of the industry’s needs and culture,” he said.

If the future of the building and construction industry is to change, breaking our undergraduate students out of traditional mindsets and steering them towards the change is necessary is an important and necessary step. They are, after all, the future of the industry.

Photo courtesy of Fleetwood Building Solutions.