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Pre-fab factory

Pre-fabrication and Modular Construction Set to Disrupt Painting Industry

Daniel Wurm | 14 Apr 2018

Within the next 10 years the move to modular and pre-fabricated construction will result in 10% of all new Australian homes being built and assembled off-site. How will this affect the painting industry?

A large percentage of the painting industry will become part of a home manufacturing industry, instead of the building industry. This is a fundamental shift in the way we build.

Think about the vehicle industry. In the early 1900s cars were assembled and built by hand, often custom-made. Henry Ford introduced the assembly-line concept in the 1920s, greatly reducing the cost of building cars, and ensuring a consistent quality at a mass-produced scale. Trades people were replaced by assembly-line workers, who would often do the same repetitive work every day. Pre-fabricated construction uses the same concept but applies it to buildings.

So what can we expect will occur when a large percentage of homes are built in factories instead of in-situ? I recently attended the Modular Construction and Pre-fabrication Conference to meet the industry players and find out.

Phil Alviano from the Master Builders Association Victoria says that the Victorian government is supporting the establishment of a modular construction industry in Victoria, and several companies have already set up house 'factories' in Victoria. The government is looking at the modular construction industry as a way to reduce the cost of housing. The buildings being produced are not simply 'mining dongas'. They are highly energy efficient buildings with high levels of finish.

"These pre-fab building sites need multi-skilled workers; there is no sharp definition between the trades. They need carpenters who can hang plasterboard and do tiling, and plumbers who can also install electrical wiring. There will be a dramatic switch towards multi-skilled trades people. Entire bathroom pods complete with tiling and plumbing are being mass-produced and dropped straight into a modular building."

After speaking to several manufacturers, it seems that many components are now being factory finished, instead of painted in situ. For example, standard doors and windows are being sprayed in virtual 'factories' and then simply installed in standardised modules. Even walls are being factory finished by spray.

Nigel Goreman from Aussie Painters Network says that the unions won't allow unlicensed workers to do work that needs a license in Queensland, such as painting. "The government won't support it, and the industry associations will oppose it. It won't be allowed to happen'.

However, right now entire homes are being built and assembled in China, and shipped to Queensland to be assembled on-site. The quality of the workmanship is very high, because the homes are being built in controlled conditions. Even the components and materials installed have been checked to ensure they meet Australian Standards.

The Modular Construction industry in Australia has even developed a new Modular Construction Code to address the need for new standards and parameters as this form of construction becomes more and more popular.

One thing is certain, the construction industry is changing, and smart operators need to be aware of trends that will affect their industry, and workforce. For a painter it might mean brushing up on your spray-painting skills, or becoming multi-skilled so that you are attractive to potential future employers. Contractors who stick to maintenance painting won't be affected as much, as all buildings require painting maintenance, whether they are built using traditional or modern building methods.

What do you think? Please comment below.


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