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Prefabricated and Modular Construction are Making a Big Comeback


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It wasn’t long ago that the words “prefabricated” or “modular” carried with them a certain negative connotation in the building and construction world. But advances in design, materials and processes have resulted in architects, engineers and other construction industry professionals taking a serious second look at prefabricated construction.

A major contributor to the re-emergence of prefabrication is the proliferation of building information modeling (BIM). BIM offers high-resolution digital modeling that enables everyone involved in a construction project to access the same editable, multidimensional model of the structure in progress and collaborate in real time. BIM even includes internal systems like plumbing and HVAC, giving a vastly superior overlook to 2D paper and pencil sketches of the past. This enables professionals make changes on the fly to a comprehensive structure model to see how they affect every other aspect of the project in a simulated environment before dedicating the time and resources to the real-world structure.

One benefit of BIM, according to a McGraw-Hill Construction report, is the increased use of prefabrication and modularization, which the report says, “improves worksite productivity and overall project ROI.” Contractors believe, (77 per cent of those surveyed in the report), that the use of BIM would pave the way to larger, more complex modularization and prefabrication construction projects.

"One benefit of BIM is the increased use of prefabrication and modularization which improves worksite productivity and overall project ROI.” 

Another factor making modularization and prefabrication attractive options to construction professionals are the continued challenges in finding qualified labor. Construction industry consulting firm FMI notes that although construction has rebounded significantly since the Great Recession, the number of workers remains about 20 per cent lower today than at pre-recession peaks in 2006 (8 million vs. 6.5 million today). Further exacerbating the problem is the two-pronged issue of baby boomers retiring in massive numbers with fewer and fewer millennials entering the construction industry to replace them.

This has resulted in construction companies looking for efficiencies to make up for the worker shortfall. In many cases, this means fabricating parts of structures off-site and transporting them in pieces to their final destination to be fit together to save time and money. The McGraw-Hill Construction report says 85 per cent of construction industry professionals are using some form of modularity or prefabrication on some projects.

And it is not just homes these days being assembled from prefabricated pieces. The report says that a host of commercial building projects today are using prefabrication/modular processes. According to the report respondents, 49 per cent say they are using it on health care facilities, 42 per cent for college buildings and dormitories, and 42 per cent on manufacturing buildings. 

Hotels have gotten into the modularity game as well. Mariott International has recently announced it would incorporate modularly constructed bathrooms or guestrooms on 50 Select Brand Hotel deals in North America this year. Eric Jacobs, Marriott International’s Chief Development Officer of Select Brands, North America, sang praises to the modular construction’s at the hotel giant’s CONNECT conference. “By working with our pre-approved modular partners, owners can open hotels faster, put associates to work earlier, and generate revenues sooner. It’s another example of Marriott’s focus on optimizing our partners’ return on investment.”

“By working with our pre-approved modular partners, owners can open hotels faster, put associates to work earlier, and generate revenues sooner." 

Marriott has already opened one of its modular hotels, a 97-room Folsom Fairfield Inn & Suites in Folsom, California. The project was completed two months ahead of schedule, according to Construction Dive.

The IKEA-ization of construction might not be such a bad thing. It has been shown to reduce the number of trained construction professionals needed to finish each job, save on labor costs, and shorten the length of projects, from homes to schools to hotels and everything in between.

If you liked this article, here are a few more you may enjoy: 

3 Strategies for More Effective Prefabrication

10 Things Construction Companies Must Do to Succeed

Why Off-Site Construction is On the Rise

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