For modular construction to improve the industry, we need to figure out how to use different types of components, rather than constructing a modular structure the same way it would be built onsite. We need to innovate so structures are constructed differently.
Consider walls. A sturdy wall has several layers, including framing, sheathing, insulation, underlayment, and interior and exterior wall coverings. Each of those layers requires a team to go around the entire building every time a layer is added. Conversely, modular construction enables your onsite team to erect prefabricated insulated panels that create an entire wall with one trip around the building.
Although the cost of the individual components of the conventional multiple-layer wall may add up to less than a modular wall panel, the labor input for conventional walls is much more than for modular panels. With labor traditionally being about half the cost of a construction project, money is saved in the long run using modular processes. The industry is already having to do more with less because of the skilled labor shortage. The labor-material ratio can be changed by processes that use fewer, more highly skilled people.
Construction is a centuries-old process that has had pieces of innovation added to it for incremental improvements, like CAD and 3D modeling. However, construction has gotten more expensive and less efficient, partly because those piecemeal innovations have not improved the way buildings are actually built.
The main challenge with construction today is to determine the components that can quicken a project’s pace. Modular construction has proved to be easier and enables faster installation. It is more efficient and streamlined.
Not only does modular enable you to move construction into the shop, but it enables companies to employ methods of building faster and more efficiently. When you move portions of your project into a controlled environment, you can consider innovative products that will make your team even faster. The industry could use more innovative ideas, materials and equipment – figuring out how to do more work offsite with more innovation.
With modular processes, specialized components and up-front design, more of the details are taken care of at the beginning of the project, rather than at the end. The details are important with modular building.
In this way, construction becomes more like manufacturing. Although some things still need to be built onsite, the efficiencies are gained through the early planning. The key is figuring out the pieces and parts that you can manufacture/ prefabricate.
In general, a majority of the incoming workforce is less interested in laboring onsite on construction jobs and more interested in what they are accustomed to: sitting at a desk and using a computer. Fortunately, computer modeling is a career niche that the industry needs more of. Gradually the industry will employ another computerized skill set as well – 3D printing; structures are already being built with concrete and other types of 3D printing materials.
Tune in to episode 123 of Bridging the Gap Podcast, where I talk with Chip Parsley about innovation and modular processes.