The Changing Face of Construction Engineering — Part Three

Panelization is revolutionizing the construction and engineering landscape today, saving time and money.

In this final post of our blog series, we reiterate and summarize the benefits of prefabrication and specifically the rise of panelization. We also offer an overview of what to look for if you want to incorporate these “manufactured” panel solutions into your construction and engineering plans.

Pre-Fab Manufacturing Can Mean Faster Build Times

A systemized approach to panelized construction can offer many benefits over traditional precast panels, including speed, value and superior performance. There are lightweight, energy efficient, durable panels available today from panel producers from a network of panelizers/fabricators such as those associated with Sto Panel Technology. These are available in a wide variety of aesthetic options for new construction or renovation.

Building envelope installation-time can be greatly reduced using prefab wall panels. The reason? Fast-track, systemized panel manufacturing can occur simultaneously with site prep and construction, with fewer delays due to weather and faster installation times.

Reduced Project Costs

By eliminating scaffolding and other complications of working at high elevations, prefab panels can also help reduce jobsite labor requirements and crew sizes along with the associated risks.  Lightweight panels can also lower structural requirements, drywall furring, boxing, strapping and various costs related to doing it “the old-fashioned way.” Since the shortage of skilled labor is one of the biggest issues in commercial construction today, any labor-saving innovation such as reduced on-site craft work can add value.

Ensure Quality Control, Compliance and Energy Efficiency

In pursuing a panelization solution, make sure your vendor’s output is in full compliance with codes for testing, building and energy efficiency. Sto panels for instance, have ISO-engineered components and offer superior fire, and thermal performance with industry-leading warranties. If you’re adopting this technology, look for products that offer extensive architectural and finish options. With the factory application of materials, you can count on a consistent, high quality finish that will last.

The beautiful, new Aloft / Element Hotel in downtown Austin, Texas was a StoPanel project  with panels engineered and manufactured by Baker Triangle Prefab in partnership with Dri-Design. The 34-story building represented a design and construction challenge due to the restricted access to the site and non-existent lot-line. The results speak for themselves.

The beautiful, new Aloft / Element Hotel in downtown Austin, Texas was a StoPanel project with panels engineered and manufactured by Baker Triangle Prefab in partnership with Dri-Design. The 34-story building represented a design and construction challenge due to the restricted access to the site and non-existent lot-line. The results speak for themselves.

Over the past few years, leading building material manufacturers, such as Sto, have partnered with regional affiliates (leading contractors and fabricators) that are independently owned and operated, ensuring high-caliber products and solutions in every major construction market. Sto, in particular, has a network of 24 affiliates (19 in the US; 2 in Canada; 3 in South America) that are developing common processes and best manufacturing practices while adding panel components that put Sto Panel Technology on the leading edge of building design.

By specifying a single, versatile prefab panel with the option of utilizing virtually any desired finish — from brick and natural stone to the most modern, light-weight energy-efficient coating systems — owners and designers now have the freedom to choose the look they prefer while meeting the schedule and performance requirements the GC/CM desires at a price every owner will find attractive.

Exterior insulated wall systems that are engineered, fabricated, shipped and installed can be a competitive differentiator, saving time, adding value and improving quality. These prefab solutions and other offsite building processes are in fact transforming the construction industry and promise to continue doing so.

 


The Changing Face of Construction Engineering—Part Two

A primary benefit of offsite work or pre-construction engineering is that onsite construction can take place concurrently; with more fabrication accomplished offsite, the more time can be saved on site.

In this three-part blog series, we are continuing to explore how design and construction processes are changing and how prefabrication solutions are increasingly being adopted in commercial construction. This is primarily because in today’s labor-constrained construction environment, prefab helps reduce costs and meet demanding construction schedules.

Glossary of Terms

Three terms are typically used to describe structural components that are not built on a traditional job site: offsite, prefabricated (prefab) and modular. They are similar, yet, in some ways, different.

Offsite: Offsite construction refers to any building process that takes place away from the ultimate point of installation, and the term includes both prefabrication and modular construction.

Prefabrication: The term prefabrication refers to the practice of assembling building systems and components before incorporating them into a structure. Window and wall assemblies have been prefab construction staples for quite some time. Panels such as those manufactured by Sto and its affiliates are gaining traction. More recently, MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) racks, have been the rage. These are corridor-length panels that are pre-wired and pre-fitted with ductwork and piping to make connections neater and faster for the relevant trades.

 Modular: Modular construction is a form of prefabrication and most often refers to complete rooms or sections of a building — such as bathrooms, kitchens and hotel rooms — that are built in a factory.

One of the primary benefits of offsite work or pre-construction engineering is that onsite construction can take place concurrently. The more fabrication that can be accomplished offsite, the more time can be saved on site.  It is estimated that working offsite with other subcontractors to assemble multi-trade racks can reduce onsite skilled labor requirements by as much as half.

Industry at a Tipping Point

Aside from the advantage of being able to work parallel to ongoing job site processes, prefab and modular construction can allow for:

  • A safer process. Common job site dangers can be diminished on a controlled, well-supervised factory floor.
  • No weather delays. Offsite construction is usually performed inside, so work doesn’t have to stop because of inclement weather.
  • Consistent quality. Working in a centralized location allows for closer supervision and quality control.

As previously noted, offsite construction may also mitigate the skilled labor shortage currently plaguing the construction industry nationwide. An Associated General Contractors survey at the beginning of 2017 found that 73% of construction companies anticipate having trouble finding enough skilled workers and yet that same 73% also expect to have more work this year. Any offsite construction processes that can take the pressure off contractors, who are scrambling to find enough labor to manage current loads, could offer some relief.

It would appear that prefab solutions can in fact impact a project’s bottom line and can be a competitive differentiator. Those who embrace it may be best-positioned to excel in the built environment of today and tomorrow. To learn more, be sure to read Part 3 of our series next week.


The Changing Face of Construction

In this three-part blog series, we are going to explore how the evolution of design and construction processes have dramatically changed in the past decade, especially as they relate to prefabrication and modular construction.

We’re not talking about the prefabricated kit homes of the 20th century, but rather offsite construction that accounts for a wide range of projects today, from whole-building modular solutions, to prefabricated walls and mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems that can help contractors accelerate production schedules while employing less labor on site. In today’s labor-constrained construction environment, the prefabrication solution is being increasingly adopted where reduced costs, resource efficiency and meeting tight schedules are priorities.

Several industry reports have shed light on these big-picture industry trends, including a study by FMI, a leading investment banking and consulting firm focused on the engineering and construction infrastructure and the built environment, and the BIM (Building Information Modeling) Forum. They surveyed 156 industry leaders most of whom work in the commercial sector and whose businesses, collectively, represent approximately $38 billion in annual revenue.

Some of the findings:

  • In 2010, only 26% of the survey respondents were using prefabricated assemblies on more than 20% of their projects. By late 2016, this number more than doubled: 55% of respondents were using prefab assemblies on more than 20% of their projects.
  • Project inefficiencies and improved technologies are driving prefabrication as a way to mitigate labor shortages and improve construction schedules.
  • Contractors who use prefab on more than 50% of their projects are more productive and efficient compared to those who do less prefab.
  • While many contractors struggle to make prefab pencil out, others plan to increase their investments in prefab over the next five years.

Just how much can prefabrication impact a project’s bottom line, and can it really be a competitive differentiator? Join us next week as we delve deeper into this topic and take a look at the relatively small, fast-growing cottage industry of prefabrication innovators who are driving change and shaping the future of the industry.


Construction Industry Labor Shortages and the Rise of Robots

The In-situ Fabricator is an autonomous construction robot capable of laying bricks into pre-programmed structures. Can robots mitigate the labor shortage crisis in the construction industry?

Automation has long been considered the harbinger of future unemployment, and experts have in fact predicted that the widespread adoption of robotics and other technological advancements — artificially intelligent (AI) software and smart machines — could lead to millions of people losing their jobs. Many tasks in transportation, manufacturing, even insurance, law and taxation are already being taken over by machines.

Increased automation is expected to dramatically disrupt worldwide employment as early as 2020, but in the construction industry, which suffered massive job losses in the Great Recession,  automation could help mitigate the impact of current labor shortages and improve efficiency.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the construction sector lost more than 2.3 million workers (40% of the workforce) between April 2006 and January 2011. The share of builders reporting serious labor shortages skyrocketed from 21% in 2012, to 46% in 2014, 52% in 2015, 56% in 2016 according to Construction Dive. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that almost 200,000 construction jobs were unfilled in the United States as of February 2017.

Can an industry plagued by labor shortages get help from automated systems and machines? A number of AI-powered systems that could help alleviate the construction industry’s woes are currently in development. These include a mobile construction fabricator as well as a 3D-printer for buildings, both of which are capable of adapting to their immediate environment. And equipment giant Caterpillar has just invested $2 million in Fastbrick Robotics to develop and sell the Australian company’s robotic bricklaying technology. These construction systems are typically able to finish their tasks more efficiently and quickly than their human counterparts, so construction companies may benefit from certain  automated systems.

Some critics are wary of intelligent automation because they view it as an attempt to shut out and replace human workers. But in an industry that is already suffering from a lack of skilled labor,  intelligent automation is making inroads. In the race between man and machine, the pace is now quickening


Tallest Tower West of Chicago Topped Off in San Francisco

The 1,070-foot-tall, $1.1 billion Salesforce Tower in San Francisco will be the tallest skyscraper west of Chicago.

The 1,070-foot-tall, $1.1 billion Salesforce Tower was topped off in San Francisco last month making it the tallest skyscraper in the West, eclipsing the city’s Transamerica Pyramid. It also tops the charts as the most expensive building ever constructed in this City-by-the-Bay “with little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars…”Salesforce, the enterprise giant, will pay close to $560 million over 15 years for the naming rights in this landmark  real estate transaction.

The 62-story, 1.4-million-square-foot building, includes access to the new Transbay Transit Center which will connect 8 Bay Area counties through 11 transit systems. The tower features 13-foot-high ceilings, 10-foot glass panels and metal sun shades at each floor to help regulate the building’s temperature and lighting. Builders are aiming for LEED Platinum certification with sustainable features that include high-efficiency air handlers for increased natural ventilation, under-floor air distribution, and a sophisticated water recycling system.   salesforce-and-its-billionaire-ceo-marc-benioff-are-riding-high-these-days-1

So far, the skyscraper is 70% leased; Salesforce has taken the bottom 30 and top two floors; Bain & Company and Accenture are other tenants. The estimated completion date is late 2017. The signature project was developed by Boston Properties and Hines and is being managed by Clark Construction; the architects are Pelli Clarke Pelli.


A Useful Primer on Construction Drones

Construction drones are one of the biggest trends in the industry today and now there's a primer that makes this new technology more accessible.

Not that you haven’t already heard a lot about drones, on this blog site as well as elsewhere, but Construction Dive just published a handy comprehensive primer on the use of drones in the construction industry. Their series of articles covers all the critical issues that can mitigate the fear of flying: from getting licensed to analyzing aerial imagery data. It also addresses top trends influencing drone use on the jobsite and tips from drone pros on running a drone business. The FAA regulations and new rules that are impacting UAV use in construction are also covered to insure contractors have a smooth take-off and landing with their new aerial robots.

The FAA expects commercial drone usage to expand 10-fold in the next 5 years, so it behooves leaders in the construction industry to stay on the cutting edge of this new technology trend.