Quirky things about the Australian construction industry

The construction sector gets a bad wrap when it comes to innovation – it’s usually in the bottom three innovative industries in Australia. But some of its players are embracing new tech and trailblazing in other ways. Here my snippets of what’s worth sharing from my deep-dive writing on construction projects across Australia since May 2016.


Subbies and supervisors wielding smart tablets a thing of the future? Actually, it’s happening already. Queensland infrastructure, engineering and construction company, Seymour Whyte, are doing it already and won an Australian Business Award for creating mobile systems to allow staff to work smarter. Their approach eliminated paper processes so staff record info in the field rather than at a desk. They use three construction-management solutions: Daily Dairy, iForms and Swifty Mobile, to increase efficiency and productivity. Meanwhile, Orion Mechanical has been using Aconex, a construction management software, to share project drawings and info via an iPad that their savvy foreman uses on site.

Virtual reality for construction? We’ve heard about it for residential real estate sales, but company BIMSERVE has been really ramping up the tech. It can show clients projects onto a large screen as a 3D and 360-degree explorable image of a development. It allows key players to check out a project 18 months’ ahead of time and pinpoint design issues to save a motza and reduce surprises. With the Prince of Wales Hospital (NSW) revamp, it was put to good use as they found services clashing and were able to resolve those issues before breaking ground.

Just to set you straight, BIM isn’t a single piece of software from a particular company. It’s actually a concept that draws together design, manufacturing and installation in a collaborative environment. The Prince of Wales Hospital project was pretty full on as Matt Dalley Demolition had to remove 5,000 tonnes of concrete, most of it over six weeks. The old radiological department had reinforced concrete walls that were 1.5m thick with a brick skin. A hydraulic splitter and concrete pulveriser did the job with surprisingly little disruption to the hospital, which continued operating during construction works.

Making the cut

Plasma’s just about TVs? Actually, it’s a technology to cut steel using pressurised gas rather than a flame. The result is more precise and quicker and better for small plate widths than oxy cutting, according to Total Steel. This NSW-based specialist supplied steel road plates for the Richmond Road project.

Floors for the century

This one will raise one of your eyebrows. A high-end residential development in Perth, the Aria Swanbourne, used enough solid French Oak flooring to cover about five soccer fields. Whereas engineered timber has become the norm, the client wanted solid wood. The exported wood is very stable so expected to last a century, according to supplier Woodpecker Flooring. The boards were 1800mm wide and up to 3.5m long – almost double the standard maximum.

Looking to the skies

 Ever been under a huge glass canopy and wonder how it, well, stays up there? Steelvision, a subbie for Melbourne’s Bouverie Street Apartments, explains how they got the 14m by 12 m canopy flanking a steel structure linking two buildings. The structure comprises individual portals – effectively welded steel boxes. Each portal weights a hefty 10 tonnes. Each form was made in segments with spigot and socket connections, so to speak. The fixings were countersunk, covered and the base was bogged and groundsmooth. The result? It looks like a single seamless piece with no visible joins. All for a cool $1.7M.

Stopping the march of ants

 Darwin, being north of the Tropic of Capricorn, has extra building code conditions for preventing termites, so NT Pest & Weed Control is often called upon to set up a system to manage pests on developments. They work with concreters, doing a hand spray with chemicals under the slabs, putting in pipes for the reticulation system then spraying again around concrete joins. The company pumps a pesticide at a single point of the system because valves help keep it pressurised. Guaranteed to stay pest-free for four years.

Formwork developments

Award-winning company AGI Formwork have been using their Airodek system for about three years to more than halve the time needed to lay a concrete slab. Their system uses timber, plywood and aluminium tables and saves time in stripping, cleaning and denailing the wood as well as moving the jacks. The system weighs 30% less and has 40% fewer parts from conventional props and timber.

Tree stage

 Talking about timber, Grocon were known for their tree-topped construction sites. Following suit more recently has been builder Hickory Group. For the Parque Apartments in Melbourne, they heaved an olive tree, hibiscus tree and eucalypt onto the roof, signifying their Greek roots, their client S P Setia’s Malaysian heritage and Hickory’s Australian base. But to really top it off, global home-builder Sekisui House has planted 11 million trees around the world since 2000 as part of its environmental commitment.

Building over a freeway

M&L Hospitality had to tackle installing 78 concrete elements weighing up to 30 tonnes to form the foundation for a new conference centre in Sydney’s CBD. We’re talking suspending those beams over the Western Distributor Freeway and continuing works while an adjacent multi-storey hotel stays operational. Two of the world’s largest tower cranes had to go on the hotel’s roof to make that happen.

Take a seat

An Aussie seat designer and manufacturer has patented designs, which are used throughout the world. Camatic even supplied stadium seating for the Atlanta Olympic Games, Malaysian National Stadium and the Sydney Opera House. The innovative, ergonomic seats are made at Camatic’s Melbourne factory.

On a closing note, an insight into the jargon

The term ‘sky branding’ didn’t make much sense to when I first heard it, but Signcraft explained. It’s the signage branding on the top of skyscrapers. The company engineered, manufactured and installed signs up to 11.5m by 4m on the Tower 2 Collins Square development in Melbourne.

So, bar chairs and bar stools are the same thing? Nope, not when we’re talking construction. Concrete reinforcing bar chairs are usually made of steel, but Mela Bar Chairs has been installing plastic ones, which they say are easier to handle and reduce the risk of concrete cancer, too.

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