Brett M Stevens of US-based start-up iBUILT examines the case for modular offsite construction in a Covid world
The coronavirus pandemic has left many construction projects at a standstill, crews out of work and the industry as a whole in a state of uncertainty. As increased restrictions and lockdowns are likely to continue, disrupting project timelines, adding new requirements to worksite safety and the construction industry at large, there has never been a more opportune time to invest in and rely on offsite modular construction to eliminate heightened risks that have emerged during these unprecedented times and propel the industry forward into the future.
On-site, conventional construction is often dangerous – in the United States, one out of every five workplace fatalities is construction related, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Today, Covid-19 has brought additional challenges, including financial instability, scheduling uncertainty, timely and costly jobsite safety protocols, and labour shortages, to traditional construction worksites that make timely project completion nearly impossible to achieve. Modular construction streamlines building and increases efficiency. By controlling manufacturing in an offsite facility, modular construction is free of the typical risks and extenuating circumstances affecting traditional construction sites, allowing for more efficient and safer building with higher quality control.
Increasing productivity via modular tech
The pandemic has heightened an already pressing labour shortage in the construction industry, as workers experience fear of infection on job sites and difficulty commuting with limited access to public transit. Offsite manufacturing makes space for a real focus on safety and cleanliness in a controlled environment and allows for social distancing that enables construction workers to get safely back to work on critical projects, stimulating the economy and keeping the construction industry operational. Remaining labour shortages can be remedied with automation and robotics, increasing productivity and production via seamless, state-of-the-art modular construction technology.
Worldwide, the construction industry is suffering from material delays as a result of international containment efforts, restrictions and lockdowns as leaders work to soften the virus’ lethal blow. This has resulted in higher material costs, delayed deliveries and, ultimately, slower and more expensive projects.
Over the past several months, lumber futures rose above $750 per 1,000 board feet – up sharply from under $500 at the end of October. The spike in lumber prices is drastically increasing the price of construction. Offsite manufacturing makes it easier for us to use steel in building, achieving lower construction costs in less time. Steel is stronger, more resilient, more sustainable and requires less maintenance than lumber. Leading companies in the modular construction industry are turning to steel construction and implementing new technologies to the design, manufacture and build process.
And despite being the largest industry in the global economy, construction has not experienced the same improvements in efficiency or advancements in technology and new processes that most industries have experienced. While the industry-wide status quo has long been sufficient to produce high-quality buildings to meet the needs and wants of developers, many inefficiencies exist in the dysfunctional development process. With little incentive to transform how buildings are built, the construction industry has largely remained stagnant – until now.
A clear solution to industry problems
The pandemic has accelerated the need for advancements and adaptations to the rapidly changing world around us, and construction is finally feeling the heat to keep up. The need for disruption has been pressing for a long time, amidst cost pressure, prolonged product delivery and variable production approaches. Offsite construction, which has seen massive growth in the past few years as developers identify building components that can be factory-built and modularised, presents a clear solution to many of the problems the industry has long faced, all while reducing material waste, noise pollution and air pollution.
But modular is just the threshold of advancements, disruptions and innovations that building and construction must undertake to keep up. The construction industry is missing turnkey, end-to-end solutions that help developers eliminate inefficiencies, cost and time overages, and deliver better buildings.
The severity of challenges presented within just a year since the pandemic forced the world into massive lockdowns suggests that the long-term impact on the construction industry is likely to be severe. The time for industry-wide change has never been more urgent to overcome these challenges and move forward, maintaining the safety of our labourers while at the same time streamlining our processes and delivering better buildings. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to transform the industry by elevating the construction technologies that are taking the risk and uncertainty out of the development process and delivering a more efficient, higher quality and environmentally friendly product.
Brett M Stevens
Vice-president of business development
Tel: +1 (833) 335 8933