The rise of prefabrication

1 July 2021

In the past 30 years, we’ve seen a significant rise in demand for prefabricated piping systems that can be easily transported on trucks, particularly within the construction, mining, civil services and water treatment industries, in Australia and abroad.

As Australia’s number one polyethylene (PE) pipe and fittings specialist, Advanced Piping Systems has been at the forefront of the trend toward prefabrication in Australia, developing a range of innovative prefabricated poly pipe solutions from our dedicated workshop in Beverly, South Australia.

“When APS started 30 years’ ago, we just sold boxed plumbing products, mainly for commercial plumbing projects,” said Advanced Piping Systems Director, Caleb Craig.

“We then introduced fabrication, and that side of the business started growing just as quickly as our boxed product.”

Advanced Piping Systems’ prefabrication workshop is run by a team of highly-skilled butt welders and electrofusion welders, qualified to complete plastic pipe and sheet prefabrication for any HDPE piping project.

Here, we explore what’s led to the rise of prefabrication, and recent innovations within HDPE pipe prefabrication — including from our very own workshop.

The increasing popularity of prefabrication

A range of factors have led to the increase in use of prefabrication, most notably, the introduction of more stringent occupational health and safety regulations for mine sites in Australia in the 1990s.

“The rise in demand for prefabricated pipe systems probably commenced in a small way 20 to 25 years ago, along with the tightening of on-site occupational health and safety (now WHS) across the country,” said Caleb.

“Back in the day some building sites had no fences even, but nowadays, as soon as you step onto a mine site, I seems you’ve got to undertake every test under the sun, as well as have all the right equipment etc.

“To weld onsite you need generators, you need fencing equipment, at least two contractors to undertake any welding — and there are a lot of hidden risks in having contractors on site.

“By prefabricating your piping system, you’re essentially cutting down on the number of onsite requirements, cutting down on costs and de risking the project, too.”

Trends in the construction industry, including shorter project schedules and workforce shortages, plus new technologies such as building information modelling (BIM) are also leading to the rise of prefabrication.

A study conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics to inform its Prefabrication and Modular Construction 2020 SmartMarket Report found that 62 per cent of respondents had used prefabricated single-trade assemblies (such as plumbing assemblies behind the wall in hospital rooms) in the last three years, and architects, engineers and contractors who had used prefabrication in the past, plan to significantly increase their use of prefabrication in the next three years.

The report also found that prefabrication is also expected to be used extensively for healthcare facilities, hotels and motels, and university buildings and colleges in the future.

The Australian Government is realising the benefits of prefabrication too, with the sector currently representing between three and five per cent of Australia’s $150 billion construction industry, with considerable potential for growth.

The Government has provided assistance to prefabrication projects, and is investing in related research, helping to establish the Australian Research Council Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing at the University of Melbourne.

Innovations in prefabrication

As a result of these factors, particularly increased occupational health and safety regulations, Australia has become an innovator in the pipe prefabrication market.

A significant innovation has been in fabrication machinery, allowing for bigger poly pipes to be welded into prefabricated piping systems.

“As the size of poly pipe has increased, there have been innovations in the equipment developed to undertake welding and prefabricate piping systems using this bigger pipe,” said Caleb.

“10 years ago, we were only welding poly pipe up to 630mm in diameter, now we’re welding poly pipe up to 1200mm in-house in our prefab workshop.

“Globally, there is now a fabrication machine that can weld pipes up to four meter in diameter,” he said.

Another significant innovation in pipe prefabrication has been in the manufacturing of fittings, and transition ends.

“In prefabrication, we can turn a pipe into a fitting by taking the pipe and cutting it at an angle, welding it, and making it into tees and bends, as well as compound angles.

“In our workshop, we’re currently creating prefabricated pipe systems with transition ends on them, which don’t require flanges, but instead, use Victaulic couplings.

“These Victaulic couplings allow you to join PE pipe directly to steel pipe.”

Advanced Piping Systems has also developed forged tees — where a spigot is forged out of a large diameter pipe to get a smaller size — manufactured in-house at our workshop.

“Our forged tees are something we’ve innovated over the last eight years, and we manufacture hundreds of these now,” said Caleb.

How prefabrication can benefit your project

At Advanced Piping Systems, our prefabrication team works with Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP) and can advise you on how to achieve the best results for every project.

“You tell us what you want, and we’ll make it exactly to your specifications, and when it gets to site, all you’ll need to do is simply bolt it in.

“All you need to do is provide us with a drawing that fits, and we’ll make it!”

Learn more about how Advanced Piping Systems’ prefabrication workshop can support your project by visiting our Prefabrication page or contacting us today.