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.


Prefab is expanding and growing in popularity

Prefab is expanding globally, with new types of residential and commercial projects appearing on several continents.

Prefab is growing not only in size and scope, but it is also expanding options for buyers and leaving an impact on different cultures across the world. The building community often uses prefabricated techniques due to cost effectiveness, but modular methods are also opening up new doors for design innovation. Here are some ways that modular architecture is changing the construction industry.

FMI Corporation, a management consulting organization, conducted a survey in 2013 where it interviewed contractors across the construction industry about prefab techniques. According to the survey, three out of five contractors expect the use of prefab methods to grow across the industry.


What can a prefab approach bring to your build?

The construction industry is always developing, but one trend that looks like it's here to stay is prefabrication. When you can handle exterior coatings and housewrap off-site, it opens up many options for your on-site build.

The construction industry is always developing, but one trend that looks like it’s here to stay is prefabrication. When you can handle exterior coatings and housewrap off-site, it opens up many options for your on-site build.


The truth behind 4 prefab myths

What are some of myths surrounding prefab architecture and what's the truth of the matter?

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