There’s confusion in the construction industry, because sometimes the right terminology isn’t being used to describe processes.
Amy Marks, the preeminent prefabrication expert known as the Queen of Prefab, describes industrialized construction as the application of manufacturing techniques to the built environment. It includes design, construction and operations. There are megatrends within this discipline including modular, offsite, prefabrication, and DfMA (design for manufacturing and assembly, which is different than prefabrication). To those who are not involved in industrialized construction yet, it may seem like a mishmash of words. It’s clear that we need to speak the same language.
The names of processes are determined by the elements and assemblies and models that contractors are working with. There are single-trade assemblies and multi-trade assemblies – and incidentally, 75% of subcontractors already have experience with this. Contractors are already using advanced building products that reduce welding time, drying time and curing time. These developments involve a product-led mindset.
But the crown jewel of construction has become offsite fabrication and prefabrication (which can happen offsite and more recently onsite). They are part of a revolution that’s developing and is much larger than any terminology. This revolution is the only way to get productivity in the construction industry to the point where it should be. So naturally, the industry is moving in this direction, and companies don’t have to be large to participate.
Industrialized methods are changing the dynamics of construction. What’s involved is looking at the entire built process and changing it around so it is centered on design: making an ultra-accurate model that can be replicated in the field. This process can no longer be considered simply “innovation” or a set of incremental changes. It’s a completely different process – a culture. The way we build things is becoming very different, and it’s all about design. It also involves data, which is something the trades have not needed to incorporate into their work in the past. One reason for that is, when a company is profitable, there is less incentive to change processes. However, the world changes, and contractors need to change with it. When times get rough, it’s time to check out new and better ways of doing things. As even giant trades contractors who have gone out of business found out the hard way, you can’t live in the past.
Most construction projects involve one-off contributions from subcontractors when they really could be using the diverse knowledge base of those subcontractors earlier in the process to model and then build the project better, faster and more profitably. However, with a team working toward a vision, trust is key, and trust has been lacking in the construction industry for a long time.
The construction industry is a magnificent, diverse industry filled with intelligent people. It’s time to take advantage of that.
Amy Marks is the head of industrialized construction strategy and evangelism at Autodesk. From an early age she developed practical knowledge about the construction industry and also has experience managing a modular construction company. She believes the trades form an “ecosystem,” not an industry. She joined me on the most recent episode of the Bridging the Gap Podcast to unpack her keynote at MEP Force that will take place on August 31st. Listen to episode 42, “The Rise of the Subcontractor” today.
To hear more from Amy, register for MEP Force here. It is the only conference built exclusively for the MEP trades.