How can we redefine modular construction for a new era?

8901

Viewpoint, a leader in construction project management solutions, explores what makes this new age of offsite construction bigger and better? What can this generation of modular buildings deliver that prefabrication failed to do? And how will technology help modular become a serious player in all property construction?

Modular construction is expected to have a global worth of around $142 billion by 2024, according to Business Insider. 

What is modular construction?

To understand the increasing popularity of modular construction, we need to understand the role that Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) have played in this.

The UK government has offered a framework for MMC in the form of a spectrum from 1-7; where 1 is a 3D structure assembled fully in a factory setting and installed onsite, and 7 is the use of technology onsite that aids workers to make productivity improvements, such as drones and field productivity tools.

Modular housing methods sit between 1 and 5 on the government’s spectrum, so it is no wonder that modular has become the poster child of MMC.

Definition of modular construction

Modular construction, or offsite construction, is a method of construction where components are predominantly assembled in a factory setting and finalised on-site. The initial process that takes place in a factory is also sometimes referred to as Off-Site Manufacture for construction or OSM.

In an industry that is responsible for global infrastructure, any method of construction that promises a faster turn around and safer buildings is worth a second look. Modular construction is an exciting addition to construction’s increasingly modern portfolio, with benefits ranging from quicker project completion to improved quality in modular buildings.

Where does modular construction originate from?

Modular construction has been around for a long time. Its first recorded use was back in the 1600s. In 1624, an English fisherman brought a house with him to Cape Ann in the USA and went on to disassemble and reassemble it several times after that. On a larger scale, the first modular housing scheme can be traced back to the 1920s, when the Dymaxion House was planned for use in America during World War II. This never came to full fruition, but the benefits of modular housing have been known for centuries.

So, where does prefabrication fit into it all? More recently, ‘prefabrication’ is the term that springs to many minds for buildings that are finalised on-site. However, over the years the reputation of prefabrication has gone from a new and exciting innovation from America to seen as outdated and in need of a major facelift.

When Winston Churchill’s government envisioned using prefabricated housing as a way to make up for housing shortages after WWII, the scheme never intended to make this housing permanent. The cross-party Burt Committee in 1942 built around 156,622 prefabricated homes over the coming years. About 700 of these are still in existence, long past their intended 10-year lifespan.

In an industry that is responsible for global infrastructure, any method of construction that promises a faster turnaround and safer buildings is worth a second look.

This illustrates the main issue in the UK’s involvement with prefabrication – it has traditionally been used as a temporary solution to an urgent housing need. Because of this, public perception of prefabrication has eroded over time. In a HOME group survey in 2018, 41% surveyed believed modular homes to be less durable than homes built by traditional means.

However, the new wave of modular construction is different: it is technology-led and innovative in its designs and uses. More importantly, safety regulations have come a long way since the days of Churchill, meaning materials have to be safer and more durable on modern-day modular buildings than their prefab predecessors. Modern Methods of Construction are still being championed by the government as a quicker way to tackle the housing crisis, but these structures are built as permanent solutions and not a temporary fix.

As we’ve discussed, modular is by no means a new style of building but this new generation of offsite construction pushes the boundaries of design, engineering and sustainability – qualities that will prove essential for construction and its image in the coming years.

What are the benefits of modular construction?

It seems like there is always a new story in the media about the pinching margins of construction, a quality-related court case or an overrun project. Put simply, the reputation of construction over the past few years has been far from shining. The benefits of modular construction could be vital for construction to reshape its image into something more enticing for younger talent, and more positive in the public eye.

Quicker turnaround

The adage of ‘time is money’ has never been truer than in construction. Anything that can help projects a) stick to their original timeline and b) reduce project timelines going forward is attractive to builders.

Sustainability

Construction does not have a strong track record with issues of the environment. The UK Green Building Council predicts that around 10% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions are directly associated with construction activities.

According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), up to 67% less energy is required to produce a modular building from start to finish, compared to a traditionally built building. Not to mention, modular projects are completed quicker and use less energy at the project site.

WRAP predicts modular construction can reduce building materials by up to 90%. By the nature of modular buildings, many can be disassembled and moved elsewhere at a future date. This means they’re durable, reusable and contribute to a modern climate of construction that minimises waste.

“Up to 67% less energy is required to produce a modular building from start to finish, compared to a traditionally built building.”

Repeatable quality

To make predictable profits in construction, the projects themselves must be predictable.

It’s not possible to eliminate mistakes and change orders entirely, but by reducing the amount of construction that is undertaken on-site, more checks can be carried out in a factory setting and therefore improve first-time quality on materials.

When paired with a field productivity and quality tool, such as Viewpoint’s Field View, this culture of first-time quality and accountability can be carried through a project.

Construction is changing dramatically and the opportunity for contractors to work alongside technology offers an exciting advantage of repeatable quality for customers and the end users.

The case for construction software technology

Although naturally more efficient than traditional construction, modular construction could very easily become difficult to track between multiple sites and teams. On-site construction may be reduced, but that doesn’t mean that modular projects are immune to setbacks and delays. There still needs to be communication between all of the teams involved, from manufacture to installation.

Offsite construction is good for the sector’s image. It’s greener, quicker, cheaper and easier to guarantee consistent quality. Perhaps most critically, the golden thread of information is much easier to track when all parties involved are using software that implements compulsory checks, forms, and approvals to move the project along.

Software adoption

Half of the battle with technology is getting people to embrace and consistently use it. This isn’t just an issue with users – it is also an issue at board level. According to Khalid Kark, less than a third of all technology discussions at board level focus on technology-driven digital transformation.

To reach its full potential on a project, construction software technology must be embraced by all parties involved. Universal adoption of technology is a major hurdle that construction faces as an industry. Those who already use technology have a sizeable competitive advantage. But for technology to impact the industry with lasting modernisation, software and technological tools must become commonplace.

Choosing the right technology partner

Much of the industry apprehension probably comes from bad experiences, or lack of experience, with technology. The wrong technology partner can be worse than no technology at all. Our role at Viewpoint is technology partner and business partner, with the ability to scale and long-term support from people with deep industry experience.

Viewpoint cloud-based solutions

Viewpoint has been developing construction software for over 40 years, have deep industry knowledge and experience, and we have helped thousands of companies reap the benefits of going digital.

Our solutions are ideally suited to modular and offsite building, and improve project profitability and visibility, manage risk, and effectively collaborate with the entire project team from the factory to on-site installation.

Viewpoint Field View™ is a cloud-based mobile application that allows workers to capture, share and report data in the field. Field View allows contractors to quickly resolve issues, mitigate risks and deliver higher quality projects. This powerful mobile field management solution helps manage tasks and snagging, QA processes track quality from factory to project site, and health and safety reporting offers visibility across all of your projects.

Viewpoint For Projects™ is a powerful collaboration solution for project management. This cloud-based document control solution helps contractors streamline documentation, reduce errors, mitigate risks and avoid duplicating efforts.

Modular construction practices in Europe

3 reasons European contractors should be adopting modular construction practices…

Modular construction adds efficiencies, is eco-friendly and may attract younger generations to construction industry careers. By Benedict Wallbank, BIM Strategy & Partnerships Manager, Trimble Viewpoint

While it’s not a new concept to the building industry, modular construction has become increasingly popular as a method to efficiently and sustainably build state-of-the-art structures.

Modular construction – components of projects being assembled in a factory or warehouse under controlled conditions and then delivered and finalised on-site – is also known as “offsite manufacture for construction” (OSM) or prefabrication.

The prefabricated buildings market in Europe was valued at £18.4bn (roughly $24bn) in 2021, and it is expected to reach $32bn in 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 4% during the forecast period. The market is expanding as demand for higher-quality, environment-friendly homes rises across the continent, with the United Kingdom and Germany accounting for the highest proportions, according to market intelligence and advisory firm Mordor Intelligence.

In addition to being a safer way to build, modular construction offers increased efficiencies and more environmentally friendly construction practices for project stakeholders. And, as a bonus, the digital technology used in modular construction practices may help attract a younger generation of construction professionals to an industry in need of more workers.

Modular building brings efficiencies of speed, operations and cost

According to Fortune Business Insights research, modular building projects can be completed 30% to 50% faster than traditional construction, primarily because improved operational processes deliver a quality product quicker and with less cost than traditional on-site building methods. Modular advantages include:

Quicker turnaround: One advantage of OSM is that the time on site is minimised and therefore a project’s length can be reduced. If done correctly, this means subcontractors won’t have to wait around for another subcontractor to finish their tasks on the build. By their very nature, these builds are efficient, meticulously planned and usually utilise modern technology to ensure there aren’t any delays once construction begins on the final site.

Cost efficiencies: Modular construction costs are often lower than traditional construction projects due to fewer resources and less time required to complete a project. The minimal on-site time means that most reworks and snags are reduced by default. Using field software alongside the final assembly stage of the project ensures that any snags or issues are resolved as the project moves along, minimising the chance of delays – and therefore unplanned costs.

Repeatable quality: Anything that has human involvement is inevitably prone to mistakes – this can’t ever be completely eradicated. However, by reducing the amount of construction that is undertaken on-site, more quality checks and audits can be carried out in a factory setting, improving the completed product.

Also, due to a larger proportion of the project being completed in a factory, warehouse or other indoor setting, it is less likely to be delayed due to adverse weather conditions – something all too common on UK building sites. Although this is something often factored into construction insurance, it nevertheless causes a ripple effect of delays that can affect far beyond the root project.

Real-world examples of modular construction success

Contractors that have adopted modular construction practices have seen significant benefits. Consider these recent examples of high-profile modular construction projects:

St Martin’s Place: The recently completed St Martin’s Place project in Birmingham, including the development of 228 luxury apartments, utilised offsite construction techniques. The contractor deployed Viewpoint’s Field View connected construction management app to keep the massive project on track with productivity and cost. Project work included the manufacture of concrete panels in Belfast and then shipping them to the jobsite as a finished unit, with windows and insulation already fitted.

The whole process, including defect management, project forms and workflows was managed using Field View, freeing up time between contractor and subcontractor, with a comprehensive and trackable audit trail.

Claridge’s Hotel Energy Centre: Kane Group utilised modular construction to efficiently build the most logistically challenging project in the contractor’s history: the energy centre for Claridge’s Hotel in London.

The energy centre is located a full five floors below ground in a high-traffic area of the city, so prefabrication was necessary.

The materials were prefabricated in the contractor’s Northern Ireland workshop and then transported and lifted into position via a 3m x 3.4m opening to access the underground levels. Kane Group also utilised offsite solutions, including virtual reality (VR) and noting anchor points to show the project team and client the methodology for safe transport and delivery of MEP systems.

Kane Group also utilised Viewpoint’s Field View, as well as the Viewpoint for Projects (VFP) construction management solution for the entire project. Specific to modular building, Field View and VFP were used to manage the logistics of tracking the prefabricated items to the energy centre and also VR capabilities for project stakeholders.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here