At the recent James Hardie PrefabNZ Innovation Event held at BuildNZ, the presentations led us from macro economic outlook to micro products and systems. If we follow these presentation outlines, we can put the puzzle-pieces together and build a picture of what New Zealand’s prefab industry may look like in the not-too-distant future.

The macros:
  • New Zealand has a national economic need for high-value manufacturing – the country needs to transition from domestic production of commodity good to export of differentiated goods – lessons from the NZ Institute
  • The construction industry needs to improve productivity – learn more at www.buildingvalue.co.nz
  • Designers, specifiers and contractors can use the technology solution of offsite construction to tackle the impending skills shortage – all part of forecasting visions for the future by BRANZ

The tools:
  • There is potential to conduct research and development of products for export markets by grants through TechNZ, the Ministry for Science and Innovation (MSI) and Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development (ATEED)
  • Economical research and development opportunities are also available by collaborating with Universities – try getting in touch with the architecture schools at Victoria University of Wellington, University of Auckland or Unitec Auckland
  • The launch of an interactive PrefabNZ Toolkit to appraise cost-benefits of prefab and offsite construction for projects at in the initial design phases. A second stage of the Toolkit is being developed by BRANZ and will address sustainability and quality benefits

The micros:
  • Looking ahead and assessing technology needs to develop a strategy around digital fabrication machinery – ask the folks at Waka if you get stuck, AUT and Unitec did 
  • Re-imagine the future of construction by enabling people to ‘click’ their own sleep-outs together themselves, using personal fabrication systems such as Click-Raft, developed by architect Chris Moller
  • Or add a sprinkling of the latest off-the-shelf products into your traditional or prefab build – such as Reid’s Flexus bendable concrete flooring, STIC’s Expan pre-stressed timber portal frame system and James Hardie’s Secura and Stria panel products, at www.flexus.co.nz, www.expan.co.nz and www.jameshardie.co.nz respectively

Putting the pieces together:
The NZ Institute advises that innovation can be nurtured in these three ways:
  1. Helping firms overcomes the disadvantages of size and distance by sharing cost facilities, information and connections
  2. Nominate the sectors New Zealand will invest in, and specialise and build scale in these target sectors
  3. In each sector, establish specialised at-scale research and commercialisation institutions, clusters and colonies

PrefabNZ’s top three would read something like:

  1. Join PrefabNZ to make the most of informing, collaborating and marketing in the prefab industry
  2. Focus on high-value manufactured prefab components and panels – using the right materials for the right solution
  3. Make the most of marketing cluster opportunities facilitated by PrefabNZ – the Canterbury Innovation Park, the Cottage to Cutting-Edge Exhibition and Export Taskforce trips

What does the puzzle look like?

The NZ Institute lays down advice to firms to re-look at your innovation and export opportunities, develop your talent and establish a learning culture, get really good at marketing and operations, access high-quality strategy expertise, collaborate and build connections and learn how to make the most of Government help through Tech NZ, NZTE, IRL and universities. Oh, and target sector catalysts… like PrefabNZ



Chris Moller Fab-Lab






Waka CNC router