Construction industry builds towards major disruption

October 18, 2019

L-R: McNab construction manager Mark Jewell, National Director of Industry Policy at Master Builders Australia Alex Waldren, and Senior cost planner at Lendlease Tony Avsec

The Australian construction industry still relies on centuries-old technology that makes it ripe for disruption in everything from bridge-building to robotic brick-laying, an industry forum has been told.

Construction heavyweights gathered at Bond University on Wednesday, October 15 for a Research Week forum on productivity challenges and opportunities.

Professor of Construction and Quantity Surveying at Bond University, Alan Patching, said China and Japan led the word in innovations such as 3D-printed concrete homes.

“The Chinese are incredibly innovative, especially in infrastructure,” Prof Patching said.

“Where they have had to build a bridge over an intersection, they can’t stop the traffic so they will build it in two halves on turntables and one night each side joins up and all of a sudden they have a bridge.

“There is innovation happening in Australia, we're just not seeing a lot of it except in building materials technology.”

McNab construction manager Mark Jewell said modular bathrooms were often cited as a new innovation but had been around since the 1960s.

“The robotics part of creating those modular units is where it's going to take off,” he said.

“At the moment it's actually cheaper for us to do it on site.”

Senior cost planner at Lendlease, Tony Avsec, said the company had successfully built bathroom pods offsite for 8000 apartments but the process was not perfected.

“My brother did his trade in aerospace and laughs when he goes into the sheds. He says, ‘You’re not treating it as a manufacturing exercise, you’re building it. And that's what really needs to change.

“If you’re taking (construction) offsite you need to be thinking like a manufacturer and there’s a massive opportunity in this country with all these closed automotive manufacturing plants with robotics to disrupt our industry quite quickly.”

Alex Waldren, the National Director of Industry Policy at Master Builders Australia, said there were examples of the industry catching up to its Asian counterparts.

“The robotic brick-laying is happening in WA and modular product manufacturing is happening out of western Sydney,” she said.

“We can learn from the mining industry and their use of automated vehicles and remote operation centres using virtual reality. It's still ‘watch this space’.”