Richstone Group provides plumbing installation services to primarily large construction projects. The business focuses on sustainable plumbing and has pioneered the development and manufacture of standardised pre-fabricated components to improve installation, quality and efficiency of plumbing products.
Conventional plumbing design and installation methods are labour intensive and highly dependent on the installer's skills. With shortened construction schedules and customised plumbing installation driving building site costs, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a high standard of built quality against construction costs. To overcome this issue, Richstone Group has explored the Design for Manufacture Assembly (DfMA) approach. This looked at shifting plumbing activities from conventional purpose-built on-site assembly to off-site prefabrication of construction components such as concrete floor slabs, structural columns and beams.
Innovation Connections Facilitator Joe Dodd from CSIRO's SME Connect team worked alongside Richstone Group to identify their requirements and facilitated a research project with the University of Melbourne (UoM) as part of the Australian Government's Entrepreneurs' Programme Innovation Connections service, an initiative which is funded and supported by the Australian Government. Construction and building specialists Dr Paulo Vaz Serra and Dr Toong-Khuan Chan from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at UoM provided full technical assistance, workshop and supervision to the Richstone Group on DfMA concepts.
The team successfully designed and developed two prototypes to demonstrate the viability of prefabricated walls with plumbing fixtures pre-installed. The prototypes were installed at two locations: a bathroom mock-up at the Richstone Group factory, and in a bathroom at a multi-storey residential project in Melbourne.
The project's use of innovative common assemblies' design combined with DfMA concepts resulted in a 19 per cent reduction in installation time and improved labour productivity. UoM was able to verify and validate these results as part of the project.
Due to the benefits delivered by the project, the product concept for integrating wall structure and plumbing systems led to the creation of intellectual property.
This project has the potential to transform the plumbing sector - creating an advanced manufacturing industry, increasing labour productivity and significantly improved quality. The project outcomes could also lead to new markets, additional employment and increased turnover.