In February 2018 the Melbourne School of Design partnered with the Richstone group to develop a prototype for a flat-pack pre-fabricated wall system which includes complete plumbing fixtures. The partnership was funded under the Innovations Connections grant awarded by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
Melbourne School of Design Senior Lecturers in Construction Management Dr Paulo Vaz Serra and Dr Toong-Khuan Chan comprised the research team on the project. “We were approached by Richstone Group to help them implement a Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) methodology to the prefabrication process; enabling them to improve ease of assembly, reduce the number of components in the assembly and thus reduce cost” explains Dr Chan. DfMA is a term used to describe the dual methodology of designing for both ease of manufacture and ease of assembly.
Both Dr Chan and Dr Vaz Serra were already familiar with the Richstone Group as they had collaborated through teaching previously, in keeping with the strong emphasis on industry links within the Master of Construction management program. Students had participated in site-visits to Richstone’s offices, studied their management systems and learnt from their staff via guest lectures as a way of accessing real-life industry exposure and perspectives.
“Through this project, Dr Chan and I saw a research opportunity which could result in the streamlining of a normally costly and time-heavy component of the construction process, especially in large-scale high-rise developments” says Vaz Serra.
We could actually see the future plumbing sector transform into an advanced manufacturing industry.
“Whilst there is a pre-fabricated plumbing ‘pod’ on the market, its application is much more restricted; you need to design specifically with the pod in mind. What’s unique about our prototype is that it has an extremely flexible application and can be added to almost any building.”
Dr Chan and Dr Vaz Serra developed DfMA guidelines which recognised the relationship between design choices, manufacturing processes and the ease of assembly. These guidelines informed the work of the prefab wall designers and ensured a better quality and more efficient final product overall. Dr Chan and Dr Vaz Serra then coded these guidelines into a DfMA toolkit that will be used for future improvements to the wall prototypes.
The potential for this project to positively impact businesses financially is really exciting.
Richstone Group successfully built two wall prototypes – one was installed in a mock-up bathroom at their factory, and another was installed in a level 27 apartment in the Swanston Central development by Multiplex Construction.
The project confirmed that prefabricating the wall, complete with plumbing fixtures, significantly reduced the assembly time at a project site.
“The shift from site work to a factory improved labour productivity by a factor of two (double the productivity)” says Dr Chan. The assembly work in the factory environment was more efficient, and the amount of idle and waiting time prevalent on a high-rise building site was reduced significantly. Overall, the prototype wall resulted in a substantial 19% saving over the in-situ wall.
“Other benefits include better quality assurance, less waste, shorter installation schedules, and the requirement for less coordination on site”, adds Dr Chan,
“this shift from site assembly to offsite manufacturing also allows Richstone Group to provide increased employment opportunities for manufacturing workers.
“The potential for this project to positively impact businesses financially is really exciting. We are really happy with the results this collaboration has yielded, especially given the entire venture from proposal to outcome took only six months. We could actually see the future plumbing sector transform into an advanced manufacturing industry.”
The shift from site work to a factory improved labour productivity by a factor of two (double the productivity)
If you are interested in collaborating with our staff and researchers please contact the Faculty’s Senior Business Development Manager Lynette Gillman.
Images: Toong-Khuan Chan and Paulo Vaz-Serra