Modular Construction – The Way Forward

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By Lad Dawson

Disruptive technologies continuously impact daily life as organizations and individuals embrace advancements to work faster and smarter. Developments in mobile technology have redefined everything from the way banking is conducted to how social interactions occur. Technologies applied by companies like Uber and Lyft have changed how travel is approached. The construction industry, however, has been slow to adopt innovative, game-changing developments.

To propel projects from multiple angles, developers and general contractors need look no further than the modular building industry. Harnessing advances in this niche has the power to transform construction as we know it. Given strong demand for new development, a limited labor supply and persistent project management pressures, disruptive modular technology addresses the many risks that threaten to derail a project and delay a return on investment.

Saving Time

One of the greatest benefits of modular construction is the ability to compress construction schedules and move faster to market. Unlike traditional projects which require site preparation and foundation work to be completed before construction on physical units begins, a modular approach allows for concurrent activity. As site work gets underway, units are built off-site to exacting specifications and can be delivered as soon as the site is ready to receive them.

Typically, 60 to 90 percent of a project can be built off-site as individual units and then assembled according to a project's design and specifications. In residential-focused projects – such as housing for families, students or workers – completed units may include everything from plumbing and electrical to the paint, flooring, fixtures, cabinets and appliances, saving even more time on finishing touches on site.

Addressing Labor

Challenges in the construction labor market have been well documented. Aging workers are retiring, and schools are hard-pressed to provide the vocational training critical to instilling necessary skills in the up-and-coming workforce. By moving to a modular model, the number of on-site workers needed is greatly reduced; units are put in place by cranes and connected by a select group of sub-trades specializing in the electrical, plumbing, mechanical and structural requirements of a modular project.

Modular construction also allows project stakeholders to take advantage of a steady, specialized and well-trained factory force committed to precision. Due to their assembly-line processes in place, modular builders can provide consistent high-quality results and institute efficient quality control and inspection measures that may be difficult to execute on site. By building units indoors in a climate-controlled environment, project owners also minimize the impact of weather-related issues and delays. No matter the conditions on site, unit production can continue apace. 20160205 IMG 6030

Controlling Budgets

Projects incorporating a modular approach have the potential to realize cost savings at multiple turns, including those associated with materials, labor and time. Units built using an efficient factory process tend to produce less waste and avoid the weather issues that could prolong a project schedule. Given that expenses are highly predictable, project managers can plan better and avoid significant and unexpected cost overruns.

With fewer workers needed on site, labor costs can be reined in. The existing labor shortage in construction is anticipated to be a persistent trend throughout the year, and the laws of supply and demand are holding true: wages have risen for construction workers and heightened project costs.

Finally, shortening a construction schedule gives developers an opportunity to open their doors sooner. With construction costs being recouped earlier, developers, general contractors and lenders can begin turning their capital faster, adding more projects to their portfolios more frequently and leapfrogging what was previously possible.

Ancillary Benefits

Modular construction offers a host of additional benefits. All units are built to the same exacting codes and standards of conventionally constructed buildings, giving project stakeholders peace of mind in terms of the level of quality and, ultimately, the comfort and safety of occupants. Plus, once complete, modular structures look no different than their conventionally built counterparts.

For developers concerned with green building, the assembly-line processes of modular builders have the potential to implement energy-efficient practices consistently. Eco-friendly materials and elements may be incorporated throughout a project, and waste may be reduced.

Significant construction projects often impact surrounding neighborhoods, with issues spanning noise and dust to traffic snarls. With much of modular construction happening off site, developers can reduce disruption for local residents and businesses. Traffic and other impacts are also lessened by a shorter construction schedule, allowing areas to return to normal activity earlier than with conventional building methods.

Construction's Future

The advances in modular construction have proven effective in addressing a host of risks to construction project management. As more demands are placed on builders to deliver projects quickly, within budget and without sacrificing quality, modular methods are poised to gain traction as the optimal forward-thinking solution.

Lad Dawson is founder of Guerdon Modular Buildings. Dawson established the company in 2001 to make factory technology the mainstream building method for modular residential and commercial construction projects.

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