$4M research grant to innovate prefabricated housing industry

12 June 2015

Last month a significant $4 million research grant was awarded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) to establish a training centre over the next four years, which will unlock the enormous potential of Australia's prefabricated housing industry.

The collaborative project will involve a team of leading researchers from four Australian universities including the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, Curtin and Monash universities. It is one of five prestigious research training grants awarded each year within the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Program.

Working in tandem with nine industry partners, the proposed ARC Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing will prepare the next generation of industry professionals and researchers to develop the design thinking, materials and systems that will reshape Australia's advanced manufacturing future.

The Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning's Associate Professor Mathew Aitchison and Dr Francesco Fiorito, together with the Faculty of Engineering & IT's Professor Kim Rasmussen and Associate Professor Gianluca Ranzi, are part of the multidisciplinary University of Sydney research team.

Associate Professor Mathew Aitchison says that the focus on prefabricated and modular housing reflects the growing global interest in transforming the construction industry towards a more industrialised, smart and sustainable manufacturing industry.

"Whilst cultivating a new, highly-skilled workforce in Australia, the Centre will be driven by market place and customer needs, and will identify innovation in sustainable materials, smart design for manufacturing, and efficient production methods.

"The Centre aims to secure Australia's competitive advantage in manufacturing both locally and internationally. It poses enormous opportunity for export markets in prefabricated products and services, rebuilding the local job market in manufacturing, and making housing more affordable in this country," said Associate Professor Mathew Aitchison.

Currently the prefabricated building market in Australia makes up a modest three per cent share of the $150 billion construction industry. The ten year outlook anticipates this share to rise to 10 per cent, with demand for low to mid rise residential buildings, project homes and public housing driving the market.

Working together with industry partners Richard Kirk from Kirk architects and Rob Colquhoun from Prebuilt, Associate Professor Mathew Aitchison said: "There is great potential for high-quality, well-designed prefabricated modular systems that are produced faster and at a comparable cost to traditional housing.

"The Centre will enable a new generation of engineers and architects who will have the skills to apply advanced manufacturing principles to prefabricated modular buildings."

Aitchison, who joined the University of Sydney at the start of 2015, heads up the Innovation in Applied Design Lab within the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, where he leads two other major research projects on prefabricated and modular housing.