Modular construction builds future

Monash University engineers are examining how modern prefabricated building materials can slash costs and improve efficiency of new developments, while providing a solution to the Australia-wide challenge of housing affordability.

Dr Mehrdad Arashpour from Monash University’s Department of Civil Engineering is working on a collaborative project to minimise risk, optimise production and improve the on-site installation of prefabricated buildings, including homes.

Prefabrication refers to the process of manufacturing building elements at off-site in a factory rather than the final installation location.

Strong, lightweight and affordable, Dr Arashpour said these constructions could benefit everyone – from first-homebuyers looking to enter the housing market, to retirees looking for more customised residential options, and small business owners wanting greater design flexibility.

Dr Arashpour, who has worked on more than 80 prefabricated high-rise commercial buildings, said prefabrication can streamline Australia’s construction operations by creating more high quality, cost-effective buildings faster while embracing new energy-efficient technology.

“Off-site prefabrication is the fastest growing sub-sector of the construction industry. It has significant potential to solve problems in traditional construction such as time and budget overruns, and quality assurance,” Dr Arashpour said.

“There are misconceptions in the public that prefabrication means inferior quality. This is simply not the case. Many inner-city apartments in Melbourne and across the world feature entirely prefabricated kitchens and bathrooms which are built using luxury, high quality materials.”

The University of Wolverhampton’s 25-story Victoria Hall building is entirely prefabricated and was completed in 27-weeks. In Melbourne, the nine-storey One9 apartment complex was constructed in just five days.

According to Dr Arashpour, one of the biggest advantages of prefabricated buildings is that they can be assembled and disassembled quickly. “This means that they can be used as an alternative to current forms of temporary housing in remote areas, and can be used as an immediate response to natural disasters across the world,” he said.

Monash engineers have been instrumental in establishing the world’s first Code for the design of modular structures in collaboration with PrefabAus, which was recently launched in the United Kingdom. Researchers are also collaborating with industry to develop new construction materials, such as fibre-reinforced polymer, which can incorporate solar panels to create a fully sustainable building design.

Monash University is also applying this cutting-edge approach to education by offering state-of-art training in this specialised area of civil engineering to tomorrow’s industry leaders. As an example, “Through the online Master of Infrastructure Engineering and Management at Monash University, students are taught the latest insights in prefabrication, information management, robotics and automation, and visualisation – putting them at the forefront of exciting new developments in construction engineering,” Dr Arashpour said.

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