A New Era for Modular Design & Construction

The Harrah's Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where modular Sto Panel technology and off-site construction played a role.

According to a recent white paper written by FMI’s* Sabine Hoover and Jay Snyder, today’s modular design and construction trends are poised to pull the engineering and construction (E&C) sector out of its 50-year lethargy and launch a new era for the industry.

Capital projects today are getting more complex and many of these projects face chronic cost overruns and schedule delays. In fact, according to The Economist, over 90% of all global infrastructure projects are either over budget or late. The authors maintain that modular design and construction can alleviate these costly issues.

While offsite construction has been around for decades – including prefabrication, modularization, preassembly or offsite multi-trade fabrication — according to these industry pundits, it has only recently emerged as a critical method for delivering projects faster, safer and cheaper in today’s labor-constrained environment. That being said, according to the FMI researchers, only 37% of owner organizations in the E&C sector are embracing offsite construction; nearly 50% still opt for traditional design-build approaches, which do not allow for optimal project planning and execution of offsite construction.

Despite advanced technologies and digital tools that now allow firms to leverage data to address these issues, and despite the fact that there is a $1.6 trillion productivity gap in the construction industry (that much additional value could be added to the sector’s revenues via higher productivity), the U.S. is experiencing declining productivity in this sector, with China and South Africa making dramatic leaps and taking the overall lead in this category.

The authors point out that the E&C industry’s resistance to change could “cost it dearly”. It is not an industry that has traditionally embraced disruptive innovation. Most firms have lacked the vision, strategic initiative, will, expertise –  and most importantly, the financial capital to innovate. There simply hasn’t been a significant return on investment or incentive to innovate. Even so, if firms don’t learn the art of managing change and take advantage of new business models and new technologies such as modular design and construction, they will be eclipsed by those that do.

FMI sees a tremendous amount of venture capital directed into innovative sectors of the E&C industry. “Private equity firms are ramping up investments and seeking new niches that are helping firms to change corporate direction,” says Alex Miller of FMI Capital Advisors. With companies like Google, Marriott, Starbucks and Autodesk embracing offsite construction, investment money is looking to revolutionize the industry.

While FMI claims that over half of all E&C firms expect more change in the next 5 years than in the last 50 years combined, the question remains: will they change? Will they adopt a new framework for success? Will they collaborate on a more streamlined approach to the design-manufacture-construct process? Can construction manufacturers leverage technology to reinvent the entire construction value equation and drive innovation?

There is plenty of evidence that leveraging off-site construction and modular design can mitigate the impact of weather delays and create safer on-site construction environments, as well as improve productivity, increase project efficiency, and enhance collaboration between offsite fabricators and general contractors. It remains to be seen however, if E&C firms can reinvent themselves, not only to keep up with the competition, but to stay relevant in the future.

The authors offer the analogy that disruption is more like a hurricane than a tornado – destructive but offering sufficient time to respond if industry participants are willing to do so. They believe it is in fact possible to respond and survive. Ironically, disruption is rarely led by current industry experts or insiders, but rather it is generated by innovators from outside the industries they disrupt.

*FMI is a management consulting and investment banking firm focused in the E&C, infrastructure and built environment sectors.


AWCI Celebrates 100 Years with Centennial Book

AWCI has published a history of the wall & ceiling industry in a new book celebrating the organization's Centennial anniversary.

In March, the AWCI (Association of the Wall & Ceiling Industry) celebrated its 100th Anniversary in at its annual convention and INTEX Construction Expo in Orlando, Florida. Part of the celebration was to mark the publication of a new book to commemorate the organization’s birth in 1918; the special edition Centennial Book provides an historical overview of the wall and ceiling industry during the past 100 years.

The handsome, large-format book documents a century of industry growth with a decade-by-decade synopsis of the wall and ceiling industry, with many vintage and contemporary photographs that also tell the story.  As illustrated in the new book, wall and ceiling construction has always been a basic service; it survived the ravages of a turbulent century, continues to innovate and remains a robust industry today.

Sto Corp. was the proud sponsor of the 1920’s section of the Centennial Book; a memorable decade that started with the introduction of Prohibition and ended with the stock market crash in 1929, with flappers, Lindbergh’s pioneering trans-Atlantic flight, and the migration of Americans from farms to cities providing memorable milestones. On the wall and ceiling front, Gold Bond gypsum wallboard was introduced, and the labor movement grew in strength. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) had 5 million union members in 1920; higher pay and shorter workdays were contested issues, and skilled tradesmen were in short supply. (Sound familiar?) In 1926, 2,500 Chicago journeymen plasterers went on strike demanding a $2/day wage increase. Overall, each decade in the book provides many insights in the development of the wall and ceiling design and construction business.

As told in this industry memoir, the AWCI has taken a leading role in setting standards since its inception, facilitating union agreements, protecting and promoting the trade. As a forum for unity and direction, the AWCI has helped transform the industry into what it is today and should be applauded for its industry leadership and support for superior building standards over the past 100 years.


Numbers Reveal Construction Industry Trends & Issues

Construction industry statistics from 2017 reveal future issues and trends to watch.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but statistics are also compelling — especially in an industry that’s driven by numbers. The following numerical data, as reported by Construction Dive, are based on a recap of 2017; they are noteworthy in billboarding the near future for construction.

$1.6 trillion — The opportunity cost, according to McKinsey Research, of the construction industry’s hesitation to adopt new technology. While new technologies are making inroads in the construction market – drones, and high-tech, virtual reality  & AR wearable devices – the industry remains somewhat old-school and slow to adapt, thus missing opportunities to grow the market.

$200 billion – According to Moody’s, the estimated damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that ravaged Texas and Florida this year. The stat is a strong argument for resilient design and planning for extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

Key West, Florida, underwater.

$5 billion — The amount of money Amazon is planning to put into its second headquarters (HQ2) building, location TBD.

1,200 — The number of concrete buildings that fall under Los Angeles’ seismic retrofit ordinance, which is the first of its kind in the country. Another tale of governmental policies that are shaping the construction industry and driving resilient design standards to ensure public safety, while protecting property owners’ investments.

76 — The percentage of U.S. construction companies that indicate the tight labor market will stay the same or worsen throughout the year. This statistic, unveiled by the Associated General Contractors of America, bodes well for next-generation practices such as off-site construction, prefabrication and modular assembly, that have proven to help mitigate the industry’s persistent skilled labor shortage.

56 — The average age of the more than 90,000 dams in the U.S. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates the necessary work on the country’s non-federal and federal dams would cost more than $64 billion.  Now there’s a construction market opportunity!

3 — The number of months it took to 3-D print a 26-foot-long concrete bridge in the Netherlands comprised of 800 layers of reinforced, pre-stressed concrete material. 3-D printing and comparable new technologies are changing the building industry.


Construction Trends for 2018

More offsite construction and increased use of modular components are two trends anticipated in 2018.

After a robust 2017, commercial construction companies are anticipating an even stronger 2018. Trends for this year, include a continuing rise in offsite construction as well as increasing reliance on technology. Another emerging phenomenon is the increased focus on resilient design following the most destructive hurricane season on record and devastating fires and mudslides in California.

Other trends that will likely shape construction this year revolve around federal and state policies, the ongoing labor shortage and anticipated mega projects such as Amazon’s much-ballyhooed HQ2. Construction Dive identified what the editors see as the top eight trends for the coming year, and here they are:

Resilient Design

The focus on strengthening structures is driven by the disastrous weather events of the past year. Hurricanes, heat waves, cold waves, flooding, tornadoes and wildfires took their toll, with a nationwide financial hit estimated at $400 billion.

Rather than constructing duplicate replacement structures, more property owners will likely demand resilient site and structure features, heeding the advice and support of organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council. New projects are likely to mimic resilient construction that is already underway, such as re-evaluating building codes and redefining flood zones in Florida and Texas and fire-resistant construction in California.

Labor Shortages

The construction industry will continue to grapple with a tight supply of skilled craft workers as younger individuals shun construction as a career option, baby boomers retire and the federal government reverses the tide of immigrant labor from Mexico, Central America and the Carribbean. With industry groups continuing to lobby lawmakers for funding for trade education programs to help create a construction industry labor pipeline, these efforts could pay off and help ease the problem.

Meanwhile, the industry is turning to alternative construction methods to compensate for the shortage of skilled labor. Offsite construction and prefabrication, for example, are helping mitigate some labor issues, often reducing labor demands by as much as 50%.  Increased use of modular construction in 2018, could also reduce the need for additional workers.

Offsite Construction

A growing number of U.S. contractors are partnering with prefab companies to incorporate offsite construction into their operations. Suppliers, too, are building up offsite capacity and developing products to help streamline operations. With companies like Google, Autodesk, Marriott and Starbucks embracing offsite construction, so are investors who hope offsite will improve construction industry productivity and returns.

As offsite components increase project speed, they are leading to greater collaboration between general contractors and offsite fabricators. With large companies like Turner Construction and Gilbane adding project manager roles for offsite, this delivery method is projected to gain momentum.

Transportation Investments

Cities are making big investments in transportation, integrating it into other public infrastructure upgrades. Nashville, TN, for example, proposes to spend $5.2 billion on an infrastructure and transit plan. Minneapolis’s $1.9 billion Southwest light-rail and Boston’s $2.2 billion overhaul of the area’s Green Line light rail are two other notable investments in transportation systems. In addition to traditional rail and bus systems and tunnels, high-speed maglev trains and hyperloop systems are also trending.

Technology and Automation Advances

Automation and related technologies such as 3-D printing are changing construction practices dramatically. Consider Europe’s first 3-D printed building in Denmark, a 3-D printed concrete bridge in the Netherlands, and the 3-D print concrete turbine towers planned in California.

According to Construction Dive, construction technology was the “Trend of the Year” in 2017. It’s not going away; in fact it looks to be ramping with factory-based construction automation and standardizing design and construction, creating a continuum of services.

New Policy Regulations

New policies at the federal and state level will continue to shape the industry. New York City now requires construction workers to undergo at least 40 hours of safety training. Los Angeles instituted a new seismic retrofit ordinance that will impact an estimated 1,200 older concrete buildings. As always, policies and politics will impact the construction business.

Large Companies with Large Construction Projects

While last year saw the addition of new, high-tech campus facilities at Google and Apple, a second new North American Amazon headquarters complex will likely fuel increased momentum for similar expansions in 2018.

Microsoft is slated to begin a multi-billion-dollar redevelopment of its existing Redmond, WA, campus later this year; Marriott and General Electric are also expected to break ground on new headquarters developments.

As more firms continue to expand their facilities, many are also likely to add infrastructure needed to support their operations. Data center construction is an especially fast-growing sector, as companies amass unprecedented amounts of information. By the first half of 2017, data center investments had already doubled those made in 2016, coming in at $18.2 billion.

Augmented & Virtual Reality — Wearables and Drones

With mixed-reality headsets, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, and wearable devices, such as Triax’s  Internet of Things-enabled sensors, high-tech wearables and both augmented and virtual reality will continue to make inroads, transforming job sites. Two of the greatest benefits these technologies offer are safety and efficiency — areas where the construction industry has struggled in the past.

Beyond the innovations and investment in con-tech, it’s also possible that technology will help attract younger workers who are captivated by the technology in-roads impacting construction, such as the increasing use of drones on survey sites. One thing is certain: the industry buzz can’t hurt.


The ROI on Mobile Construction Apps

Mobile construction apps are emerging as a valuable resource offering a significant return on investment in terms of benefits to overall productivity, risk mitigation, as well as savings from labor costs, downtime, and schedule acceleration.

We all know that technology is trending in every sector of the construction industry with companies deploying a wide range of cutting-edge technologies across a project lifecycle. Drones and building information modeling continue to be the rage, but mobile construction applications are the latest tech revolution in the industry.

Although technology and software are prevalent in construction, the industry continues to suffer from persistent challenges, such as skilled-labor shortage, fragmented teams, high competition, tight margins, and increased risk—all of which can be mitigated by increasing productivity. Traditional construction software has not solved the industry’s productivity problem however, whereas mobile technology software tackles some of this challenge including saving time on labor and rework issues.

A new ebook — “The Dollars and Sense of Mobile Construction Apps” — published by PlanGrid, provides insights into this fast-emerging digital transformation. It provides an overview of the bevy of mobile construction apps that can not only reduce risk, but help construction professionals maintain their bottom line while facilitating communication and document sharing with teams in the field and the office. There is a mobile app for just about everything now, from productivity to project management, reporting, and on the job safety.

The book is a valuable resource with strategies to encourage adoption of new mobile technology into your organization, as well as how to calculate the return on investment construction companies can expect from mobile technology. Like what could a team achieve with 5 extra hours a week? Or how much could you save by finishing a project early?

While mobile construction technology is an expense, the potential return is huge in terms of benefits to overall productivity, employee/client satisfaction, and risk mitigation, as well as a tangible return in savings from labor costs, downtime, and schedule acceleration.


Sto EIFS & Element Music Row Featured by EIMA

The new Element Music Row -- a luxury apartment high rise in Nashville -- used StoTherm ci Essence to ensure the building's energy efficiency.

One of Sto Corp’s signature exterior insulation finish projects is now being featured as a case study on the EIMA website.

Last year, working with Southern Wall Systems and Humphreys & Partners Architects, Sto helped incorporate a continuous exterior insulation system, and a continuous air and moisture barrier with high-performance finishes to protect the new Element Music Row highrise in midtown Nashville. The $100 million luxury apartment complex, is a 19-story, 431-unit building located in the heart of the country & western music capital of the world. The upscale new residence offers commanding views of downtown Nashville and easy access to all the shopping, dining and entertainment on Music Row.

StoTherm ci Essence – a decorative and protective exterior wall cladding that combines superior air and weather tightness with excellent thermal performance and durability – was the wall system of choice for the new structure, ensuring the building’s energy efficiency, aesthetics, and air-moisture control. Because of the inclusion of Sto products and other energy saving efforts, the developers are showcasing the building as a model “green living” environment that is, in fact, LEED certified.

The Element is located on Demonbreun (pronounced de-MUN-bree-un) Street in Nashville – an area that has become a symbol of urban revitalization for the music capital and a favorite venue for the city’s young, plugged-in professionals.  Private development is booming in the area, and developers like Element’s Childress Klein out of Charlotte, N.C. are looking to build upscale living spaces, Class A office buildings and tourist destinations.

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