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20 March 2016

Precision German House Manufacturing in NZ

There's nothing like seeing a building take shape inside another building. Ten million dollars of German precision manufacturing equipment under the roof of a 5,500m² purpose-built factory on New Zealand's largest post-tensioned concrete floor. The gentle hum of a handful of skilled employees producing a house in a day, inside. Watching the 132m² house drive out of the factory on a single truck…

This is not the future. This is Christchurch's Concision factory — a joint venture between Mike Greer Homes and Spanbild Group; two companies leading the way in creating a collaborative entity to deliver more affordable housing for New Zealanders.

Huber Sohn panel production
Huber & Sohn panelised production in Germany — panelised technology as used by Concision in Christchurch (Source: PrefabNZ).

Last week PrefabNZ joined the Beacon 'Housing Matters' Offsite Tour to visit some projects by our members. The Concision factory tour was the second stop after a visit to the Rex St Apartments built using Metrapanel by Laing Properties and designed by Architex, as well as a hearty breakfast at the nearby Café Izone. At Concision, Peter Freeman of Mike Greer Homes recounted the set-up story and the process of fine-tuning to get the housing product just right — a manufacturing story, set apart from construction at site.

Concision produce closed-panels complete with wall lining, framing, cladding, windows (those speedy Fletcher Window and Door Systems 'smartfit' ones) and conduit for fast electrical installation at site. The structural timber is a mix of high-grade and engineered to ensure dimensional stability as the tolerance of even the longest wall (12m x 3.2m) is a mere 1.5mm. Over 70% of timber was rejected during the initial research and development prototyping process.

Speed of house assembly at site is impressive — just seven hours. Compressed timber fibre Metrapanel ceilings enable this fast assembly at site and provide a safe working platform for the traditional roof assembly of trusses and cladding, while also saving on netting costs.

This is a precision operation, with flexibility. The machinery can be programmed in just 23 hours from consent plans, and it is a mere 'push-button' operation between differing housing designs — a living, breathing example of mass-customisation. They are booked up into mid-year with housing projects, all for their own supply. A larger distribution model to the rest of the industry is not available yet.

A larger site is being sought in Pokeno, Auckland, for a sister factory to produce 1,100 — 1,200 houses per year. Engineering improvements mean that they will soon produce two-storey housing models and multi-unit medium-density homes. This will be good news for Auckland which needs 15,000 — 20,000 homes to meet its housing shortfall today.

New Zealand is forecast to need 100,000 additional homes above supply by 2030. The New Zealand Initiative is calling this housing situation 'our greatest crisis'. We do not yet know the full extent of the detrimental implications caused by unaffordable housing, overstretched dual-income families, and massive daily commutes on children and society at large.

Global urbanisation is set to double by 2050 with over seven billion people living in our city centres. Estimates are that we will need to build between 10 and 30 million more new apartment buildings. The numbers are staggering.

The early adopters of innovative and internationally proven construction technology are worthy of our support. They hold one of the keys to unlocking the affordable housing crisis — thumbs up to Concision.

Written by Pamela Bell, founder of PrefabNZ.
Pamela is a consultant for innovation in the built environment. For more information, visit her website.

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