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By John Biggs
November 26, 2018
As the global population approaches eight billion people, on pace to reach 10 billion around 2050, dense urban centers have gotten even denser. People are now moving to cities in droves.
This influx has put a strain on construction firms which have seen a steady increase of demand on their time and labor resources as booming cities are clamoring for more housing, schools, hospitals and infrastructure improvements. This means an ever growing need for bigger projects.
These converging forces have driven the industry to zoom out a little and consider every step of their workflow. From design, supply chain and manufacturing to materials acquisition and transportation, no stone has been left unturned in the industry’s hunt for efficiencies. One of the emerging methods giving firms a fighting chance to meet the demand is industrialized construction.
In essence, industrialized construction meets at the intersection of manufacturing and assembly. The process takes some of the pressure off construction firms by enabling the manufacturing and assembly of building components offsite, typically in a specialized factory. Those parts are then transported to their final destination and pieced together. McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that adopting such a manufacturing system could yield a five-to-ten-time productivity boost to certain sectors of the construction industry.
Terms like “modular” or “prefab” have been used to describe these methods in the past, but they’re most typically associated with mass production units and limited design choices, created more for efficiency than elegance. Industrialized construction takes the concept to the next level, offering a level of quality and customization that wasn’t possible with previous prefabrication methods.
Many owners today want customization options for their projects, so the old way of mass-producing a small assortment of uniform parts that are always assembled in the same way wasn’t cutting it. There is still some standardization in industrialized construction, but even setting up a factory to produce a few dozen standardized components provides architects and owners with hundreds of thousands of design options for how those components can be combined. This ensures the customizability clients are looking for while also enabling the firm to deliver work more quickly and efficiently.
The efficiency realizing power of automation is becoming a mainstay for many industrialized construction factories, with robotics being deployed to precast concrete or produce modular wood frame structures. This cuts down considerably on the assembly time at the factory as well as at the jobsite. As robotics technology improves, automation will be relied upon to perform more complex aspects of the offsite manufacturing process, which will improve efficiency and reduce labor costs.
Another benefit of industrialized construction is the reduction in waste stemming from more precise ordering and production of components. Construction produces approximately 40% of the 251 million tons of consumer waste created in the U.S. each year, according to Earth 911. Using offsite construction can reduce the site waste firms produce by up to 90 percent, depending whose numbers you’re looking at.
Industrialized construction is a savings machine for the industry. It cuts down on labor costs, shortens project lead times, and produces less waste than conventional on-site methods. Technology and the need to do more with less have driven the prefabrication revolution to its current state, and as the technology matures, it’s likely we will see more firms relying on industrialized construction methods to tighten up their operations and processes.
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