Modular, pre-fabricated buildings built by robots is a construction trend that is "probably unstoppable", an expert told about 350 Kiwi property experts in Melbourne this morning.

Simon Miller, a partner at The Boston Consulting Group, told the NZ Property Council national conference how the construction sector lagged many other industries but was about to undergo massive change.

"The industry is safer than it was 100 years ago but it's certainly not more productive," he said, telling how a building job that took five days in the 1960s now takes six days.

The sector was blighted by a low adoption of new technology, lacked an innovative culture, and had complex business models that impeded scalability, Miller said.

Yet 200,000 people moved to global cities every day so the sector faced big challenges.

Miller's address was titled "Construction industry at crisis point?" He said it was ripe for disruption and for materials and tools to transform it.

Miller said building information modelling was one key to change and he showed a video of a robot laying bricks at eight times the speed of a person.

"Modular pre-fabricated buildings built by robots is probably unstoppable," Miller said.
Drones, robots, automated design and other trends would lead the digital transformation of the construction sector, he said.

A skill shortage and ageing workforce meant change was necessary in the sector and he cited examples of new construction techniques used on Dubai's Burj Khalifa and Stockholm's new Karolinska Hospital.

But change would only happen if project owners insisted on it. New technologies, materials and higher productivity could open up new business models, he predicted. 
He encouraged delegates to take advantage of change.

Real estate agents, developers, leasing specialists, engineers, infrastructure specialists, iwi executives, bankers, lawyers, builders, syndicator, accountants, investors and consultants are at the conference, which opened this morning.