The Sync modular approach to bathrooms is making life a joy for builders.
Hickory Group has a vision for the construction industry: to do things differently and to challenge the status quo. After 28 years in the industry, it is still well and truly part of the Group’s DNA. Today, it is one of Australia’s largest multi-unit builders, and one of the most innovative building firms in the industry.
Inventive, adventurous, and quality driven, Sync bathroom pod solutions were born out of the need to develop an efficient cost-effective construction solution for bathrooms. Sync creates superior quality bathrooms that reduce the number of trades required on site and simplifies the installation and construction process.
The bathroom is one of the most complex rooms to build, requiring the coordination of multiple trades, a goodly amount of hourly labour spread across a number of different subcontractors, and lots of opportunities for cost overruns.
Until Sync, avoiding these complexities was impossible. Take it from Eddie Pallotta, Director of Operations for Sync Building Systems, who worked with the Argyrou brothers to bring the Sync concept to life.
“A bathroom is a very complicated, small space with a lot of activity going on inside of it. There are tilers, waterproofers, joiners, electricians, plumbers, and other tradespeople, and there are lot of waterproofing issues in the conventional construction processes and systems of these rooms,” he told VENTURE.
“We've taken away all of those risks from construction sites with our patented technology. We wanted the opportunity to decouple the bathroom build from the rest of the structure so we could start prebuilding bathrooms while the building is still a just a hole in the ground. When the structure is built, we bring the bathrooms in through a loading deck or a window opening. We take all those bathrooms off the critical path of construction.”
The Sync approach is one of flexibility, stylish design and customised to client specifications. Sync bathrooms are made to fit any large-scale design and build project and are designed for virtually any floor plan. Sync clients work with the company’s design and engineering teams to integrate specific requirements or choose from a host of pre-existing designs to make fresh and inviting bath concepts.
“We have a range of set pod designs that can be customised to suit clients requirements,” Pallotta explained. “We use a lot of standard, validated design details that we can change up: different colour schemes, tiles, and design trends. There are some fundamental packaging and spatial requirements we need to maintain, but we are very much mass customised and can deal with pretty much any finish.”
From student housing to healthcare, hotel, and retail spaces, Sync bathrooms fit just about anywhere. The Holiday Inn Express hotel project in Southbank utilises SYNC’s first a double-based bathroom pod; 330 pods were installed in the 23-storey structure, which features 345 guest rooms, fast tracking the overall construction program. The modern, sleek bathroom design is indistinguishable from a traditionally constructed bathroom from floor to ceiling.
“The builders like them because the bathrooms turn up on the back of a truck just in time. It's a structured sequence of lifts,” Pallotta said. “We reduce a lot of management of trades on-site, and we also reduce their overall construction time. They can build faster. We've estimated from 25 to 30 per cent faster turnaround because of our bathrooms.”
Then there is the significant convenience of shedding dozens of points of contact to a single one with a single product, warranty, and invoice, dramatically lowering the cost of onsite labour and supervision, material waste and removal, and other spends.
“Plumbers can spend their time doing work that they get paid better to do, like laying metre to metre corridors,” Pallotta added. “It's actually far more efficient for them. They can work on all the core plumbing issues, the service path to the apartments, water metres, and so forth.”
When Pallotta joined Hickory in 2011, fresh from his role as a specialist engineer for General Motors, he and George Argyrou put their heads together to find a new way to tackle bath builds. “We set up a whiteboard and were brainstorming ideas and concepts. He was a pure builder and I was a pure manufacturing person. In eight years, we've come a massively long way.”
To accomplish their goal of creating flexible prefabricated systems, they realised they needed a new kind of skilled workforce and set out to create it. “It was through developing a hybrid work up in manufacturing. We took the best skills of manufacturing and the best skills of construction and developed the modular construction employee within our own business by taking what George knew and what I knew in the best of both worlds and putting it together. People are our most important asset. It sounds clichéd, but it's true.”
Today, Sync has a stable of loyal repeat clients, but it took another fresh approach to entice them to consider changing their minds about bathroom construction. “We really had to educate our clients about this new way of building and it took time to get them to think differently,” he recalled.
“There aren’t really any limitations to the way we build our bathroom pods, but the decision-making process needs to happen a lot earlier than it does in a conventional bathroom build.
“That was a big shift for some of the builders because they needed to start using other tools like BIM to coordinate their activities; otherwise, they weren’t going to get the benefits of bathroom pods.”
For Sync, sustainability is a critically important consideration in everything they do. “It starts at the design phase. We work with the architects to rationalise the design. They might have a bathroom that is almost identical but varies by a few millimetres and we will try to get them to rationalise it to one size. What that will do is reduce waste in terms of design time. We try to design efficiency into the architects’ design.
“From there, we gain efficiency by using manufacturing principles that enable us to achieve economies of scale by standardising where we can in terms of bathroom types. There might be up to 25 different bathrooms for a building, so we reduce that where we can.
“We use CAD modelling to design our framing systems, tune the size of the bathrooms to eliminate tile cuts, and we also manufacture our own wall frames from flat steel strip. We don't buy stock standard lengths of wall stud and cut it to length because that would result in waste every time. We roll it from a flat strip of steel, which means that you're not throwing away anything. The holes in the frame are pre-punched, so that saves time for a plumbing because they know exactly where the pipes need to run, which means they can pre-cut and pre-order their plumbing pipe as well.”
Sync bathrooms are produced as predesigned, premanufactured kits, eliminating the waste, and hassle of over ordering. “Everything is sub-assembled and we leave it to the production line so that we don't waste materials. We optimise everything during the design phase to reduce wasting material on the factory floor, like pre-kitting and creating parts kits. That's the design process.”
The manufacturing facility is powered by solar energy, and Sync’s recycling efforts are a source of great pride. “We use water-based products, tile glues, and membranes, which are more environmentally friendly. We've really minimised our footprint on the environment by not ordering and wasting material up front, and then recycling packaging goods and reducing our plastics usage.
“The environment is so precious. It’s about leaving a legacy.” And what a legacy it is: thoughtful design for everyone involved, true innovation, smart manufacturing, and environmental stewardship. Now that’s being in Sync with a more caring world.