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.