Modulexc building new future for manufacturing in Brisbane
Summary: FORMER auto industry engineer Oliver Mitrovski knows what it’s like to be in a dying industry.....
But in a 7000 square metre factory at Rocklea in Brisbane’s industrial heartland, the ex-General Motors executive is helping build a potentially lucrative new manufacturing industry.
Inside the factory, rows of prefabricated buildings that will form three-storey student accommodation blocks are being built by Mr Mitrovski’s company, Modulexc, as part of a $20 million contract for Charles Sturt University’s new Port Macquarie campus.
Modular buildings, which used to be largely restricted to mining and construction sites, are now increasingly being used around the world as hospitals, hotels and offices.
In the US, the modular building sector is already worth $8 billion. Ibisworld research forecasts that in Australia, prefabricated buildings will find a home in medium density housing estates and retirement communities.
“Manufacturing is increasingly dead in Australia, but you only have to look at what is happening in the modular sector to see there is a bright spot,” Mr Mitrovski said.
Modulexc’s student accommodation buildings will be shrink-wrapped, loaded onto semi-trailers and transported to Port Macquarie where they will be stacked on top of each other to complete the finished development.
Mr Mitrovksi and business partner Wayne O’Brien are already planning an expansion into New Zealand for the one-year-old company.
Mr Mitrovski said growth in modular building was being driven by a lack of skilled labour, time demands and concern about the environmental cost of traditional building methods.
“At the moment, Australia is 15 years behind Europe and the US where hotels and other commercial buildings are being built using the modular method,” said Mr Mitrovski. “Because modular buildings are built in a factory, less skilled labour is needed.
“With fewer apprentices going into the building trade there will be a significant shortage of skilled labour in five to 10 years. That means there will be no alternative but to use modular buildings methods.”
He said because modular buildings were constructed off-site, there was less of an environmental impact in terms of noise and other pollution.
“We have received good feedback from residents near the Port Macquarie campus about the impact,” he said. “The only noise is basically from the cranes lifting the buildings into place.”
Mr Mitrovski said another major advantage of modular building was the speed of construction. The Port Macquarie student village has been built in a third of the time of traditional on-site methods, with the company able to build 112 bedroom units in five months.
“Modular building is more akin to manufacturing than construction in that it de-risks the process by introducing a production-line methodology focused on fast delivery and quality control,” he said, adding it was a little like putting together a Lego set.
At Modulexc’s Rocklea factory, plans and product schedules are on prominent display, flagging to workers what needs to be done and when. A stack of new ovens awaits by the side of one of the buildings, awaiting to be installed along with lights and floor coverings.
But Mr Mitrovski cautions that market perceptions of modular buildings needed to change in order for the sector to fulfil its potential in Australia.
“At the moment, the large modular companies are just concentrating on buildings for mining and other remote communities,” he said. “This is high volume, low margin work. There needs to be a re-education of the market. In the US, Marriott is using modular buildings for its hotels.”