27/07/2020 - 13:47

Stacey ready to build on opportunity

27/07/2020 - 13:47

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A Wembley Downs-based not for profit is seeking funds for what it believes is an effective solution to the provision of crisis housing.

Stacey ready to build on opportunity
Blake Stacey says the factory’s portability is a key part of crisis blocks’ appeal. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

A Wembley Downs-based not for profit is seeking funds for what it believes is an effective solution to the provision of crisis housing.

Mobile Crisis Construction managing director Blake Stacey said local and overseas aid agencies, philanthropic entities, and government representatives had expressed interest in its product, called ‘crisis blocks’.

In Western Australia, Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation was investigating the functionality of MCC’s crisis blocks in remote indigenous communities, he said.

Primarily aimed at providing housing for communities affected by natural disasters, the blocks are comprised almost totally of local materials, sourced on site, and then produced in a mobile factory, a prototype of which has been completed.

“Crisis blocks are made from cement and local materials such as sand, clay and crushed rubble,” Mr Stacey said.

“Recycled and local materials can comprise more than 90 per cent of each block, making it a very environmentally friendly solution, with cement being the only material that needs to be externally sourced.”

Having worked in brick design for Bristile, Austral and FBR (Fastbrick Robotics), Mr Stacey spent the past couple of years designing the mobile factory, which can take rubble and turn it into interlocking blocks for construction.

The portability of the factory is a key part of the crisis blocks’ appeal. The factory prototype has been designed to be transportable via three shipping containers.

The first contains a generator and workshop, the second has two crushers, while the third houses the mixer and hydraulic brick press.

Once set up, the mobile factory is capable of making 400 small relief-type homes per year, or 200 larger freestanding houses. 

“The press can produce around 1,000 crisis blocks per hour,” Mr Stacey said.

“Each block is 240mm long, 120mm wide and 60mm high. These modular blocks have interlocking sections so they can be laid without mortar. They are stacked in place and locked together with rebar.

“Interlocking blocks are perfect for crisis construction; the walls are cyclone, earthquake and fire resistant and perfect for rebuilding housing and infrastructure that is more durable than before.”

Mr Stacey said his goal at the outset had been to design a mobile production facility that was relatively easy to operate and environmentally friendly.

“I enjoyed my work designing blocks at FBR,” he said.

“However, I came to realise that robotics cannot be used easily in remote or crisis situations.

“Our aim is to engage with the local people and empower them to rebuild their own community buildings and homes.

“We believe training locals to make crisis blocks and use them to rebuild their own homes will not only give them a sense of ownership and engagement, but will give them life skills that could be useful for future employment opportunities.”

Mr Stacey said the design process had been challenging, particularly in terms of the product’s adaptability for different locales.

“The largest obstacle has been housing design and finding solutions to finish the buildings, such as roofing and flooring, as these are unique to the relevant location,” he said. 

“We have been working with a local structural engineer, David Wills, who has been instrumental in assisting us with building design and certification of structures for local conditions in cyclone or earthquake prone areas.”

Depending on market interest, Mr Stacey said the intention was to manufacture the mobile block factories 100 per cent locally.

Funding to get to the next level was another immediate concern.

“Our next stage is to raise $250,000 to build and test the first machine here in Perth,” Mr Stacey said.

“Our plan is for the test unit to form part of a larger project, such as building or rebuilding infrastructure in a remote indigenous community, or in an area that has been affected by the recent bushfires.” 

He said the business was seeking private sector funding to further develop the product, given the absence of a clear federal government grant structure in this space.

“We consider most major aid agencies will need to see a proven product and a building, before engaging with us,” Mr Stacey said.

“We are very eager to find major donors to help us build the first test unit and help us press the ‘activate’ button”

“We also need to team up with builders and suppliers that are experienced in other areas of construction, such as roofing and flooring to assist with building design and costing.”

Mr Stacey expected once funding was finalised, the first mobile block factory could be delivered in four months.

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