It is a well‐known fact that the construction industry suffered greatly during the last economic downturn. We have published several articles on the challenges facing us with the skilled labor shortage, but history shows that the construction industry is resilient. When faced with a challenge, we band together and look for ways to overcome and push forward. That same mindset is transforming today’s approach to construction through the innovative use of modular and prefabricated construction materials.
Becoming more widely embraced, this method employs off‐site construction where building elements – anything from bathroom pods to exterior walls ‐ are built in a factory and transported to the site to be constructed. Employing prefabricated materials offers many benefits such as fewer disruptions, faster and more consistent production, better quality control, cost mitigation, eco‐friendly processes, improved safety conditions and the real driver, less skilled labor requirements. All of these making it more appealing to the bottom line as preconstruction departments work the numbers and developers look for every potential opportunity for cost savings and speed to market.
The real key to success is understanding when this type of approach makes sense. Though innovative according to today’s standards, it can present real challenges if not employed correctly. The most important factors to consider are consistency and redundancy of the use of materials, which is typically found in the construction of student housing, education facilities, hospitals, senior living facilities and data centers.
Employing this type of construction does have its limitations as it greatly reduces the flexibility for changes in the field. Decisions have to be made upstream, and commitments to the design have to happen early. Contractors must engage in solving any perceived challenges, in some cases through the use of virtual construction, to ensure that the factory produced materials are ready to be installed. This inflexibility becomes a real challenge when you think about residential or mixed‐use and office space, where tenants drive the choices.
As typical in construction, there is no one size fits all approach. This trend of prefabrication will continue to present itself as the demand for skilled labor grows, and developers look for ways to maximize their dollars and contractors seek to become more efficient.
At RKR, we will continue to examine new ways to solve the complex issues facing our industry, always with our client’s goals in mind.