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The Rise of Prefabrication in Construction

Many owners and developers are beginning to incorporate pre-assembly and prefabrication processes into their construction projects rather than a more conventional approach.

 

With prefabrication and pre-assembly, the construction firm will set up a particular commercial space (fabrication shop) to prefabricate and assemble materials readied for the jobsite. Examples include pre-poured slabs, pre-assembled modular walls, and frame pieces. Once the pieces are created offsite, the construction firm will truck the assorted products to its construction jobsites.

 

There are several compelling reasons why prefabricated and pre-assembled modular pieces are created early in the building process. First, this type of preparation in materials is becoming more common in commercial, residential, and mixed-use construction projects instead of those same materials being assembled on the jobsite.

 

Conserving resources, reducing costs, and maximizing efficiency are among many factors and have led to more agile construction. The evidence from real examples occurring every day validates that prefabrication can save on industrial waste 5% or more, improve site safety, reduce budgets by 6% or more, and reduce project schedules up to a month or more, as reported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

 

These staggering statistics revolve around conserving resources, improving safety on the construction site, and maximizing efficiencies. A crucial differentiator is a commitment and collaboration with the owner and stakeholders at the start of the project.

 

This article highlights five benefits of prefabrication and pre-assembly in commercial and mixed-used construction projects and market data indicating the rise of prefabrication in construction. 

 

The benefits for all stakeholders include safety, quality, customization, time, and waste reduction.

 

Benefit 1: Consistent Quality

One of the most significant benefits of prefabrication and pre-assembly is managing and controlling the safe and secure environment where materials are produced. In addition, avoiding seasonal and climate changes in the field can make a substantial difference in project timelines and quality control.

 

For example, winter cold and snowstorms continually impact projects in the northeastern states such as New York, where projects constantly shut down for a day or two.

 

Prefabricated building elements are created in a single environment and precise conditions, contributing to more predictable results. In addition, the manufacturing shop produces the assembled parts in larger quantities under processes that can be perfected by staff.

 

Benefit 2: Safety and a Simpler Build

Another good reason to utilize prefabrication in construction is the safety benefits by cutting down on potential jobsite injuries.

 

Removing build and tool processes from the jobsite and into a protected environment eliminates many hazards. Here is a simple example: Workers are likely using built-in saw installations in a production environment at the prefabrication shop. This safer process allows the construction firm to help the building owner avoid having to insure and support individual workers using free-motion saw tools at a jobsite. In addition, this change toward offsite production decreases the chances of accidents.

 

Benefit 3: Less Time On-Site

Time savings on the jobsite is another significant benefit of prefabrication. Project managers driving project schedules will tell you that time is a precious commodity, and the clock is always ticking to meet deadlines.

 

Reducing onsite job time and building projects faster, safer, and reducing costs benefits all stakeholders and allows the owner to turn ROI.

 

When it comes to reducing time, prefabrication processes can make a difference. For example, construction professionals have estimated that a prefabrication approach can save up to 50% or more in schedule savings on commercial and industrial projects.

Benefit 4: More Customization

With a centralized facility approach to construction prefabrication and pre-assembly, there is also more ability for firms to offer customized options to customers. While managing a building project jobsite, construction companies must deliver special tools for creating custom work. This requires more labor, onsite process, heavier vehicles, and added costs and effort in setting up onsite work.

 

On the other hand, having a fully optimized production environment for creating custom projects is much more efficient. Construction firms leveraging this approach can realize economies of scale. If heavy industrial or other market segment builders serve 10 or 20 customers, they can diversify what’s made and assembled on the floor.

 

Benefit 5: Less Waste

Waste on commercial construction projects is prevalent on jobsites, and clearing cuttings, trimmings, and mixed construction waste takes a lot of time during or after construction.

 

Much of that waste, time and energy to dispose of it is eliminated with prefabrication and pre-assembly. In addition, construction firms set up mass manufacturing processes that efficiently create and cut individual materials. As a result, bulk drywall, lumber, concrete mix, and other materials ordered are no longer delivered to the jobsite.

 

Prefabrication and pre-assembly help preserve the environment by reducing waste in addition to the time and cost savings.

 

The Rise of Prefabrication in the Construction Industry 

Manufacturing and prefabrication wood building in the U.S. brought in just over $2 billion in annual revenue in 2011. In 2020, it surpassed $4 billion. In addition, prefabricated metal building manufacturing revenue came in $6.2 billion in 2012, with experts predicting above $8 billion in 2022.

 

According to a recent Dodge Data and Analytics, Prefabrication and Modular Construction report, 61% of survey respondents said they planned to utilize prefabrication materials in at least 10% of their construction projects over the next three years. In addition, 90% of respondents achieved improved productivity and quality and increased schedule certainty when using prefabrication and modular build methods.

 

As project schedules shrink, materials cost increase and the skilled worker shortage continues to stress the construction industry; prefabrication becomes more appealing to all stakeholders. Prefabrication enables construction firms to improve cost predictability, reduce waste, and speed production processes compared to more traditional “stick-building” construction methods – in some cases, up to 80% faster than conventional approaches.

 

One strong example of the schedule expediency of prefabricated construction is the McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital project experienced considerable collaboration across all trade partners on the jobsite. The workforce in the shop included just 14 people for all trades, resulting in a 30% reduction in trade labor onsite for the installation of the racked systems. Installing the racked systems in the building took about an hour per rack, totaling 220 hours.

 

The assembly on the jobsite was extraordinarily efficient compared with stick-building, and eliminating the extra time onsite produced significant savings. In addition, MSUITE helped onsite and fabrication teams track the real-time status and productivity metrics.

 

“The 2-months schedule savings resulted in a $5.6 million-dollar direct return to the owner. In addition, two months of unexpected operational time for the health care facility can mean an indirect revenue impact of $60M, said Mark Lamberson, CPD, National VDC Manager at Limbach.

 

Conclusion

These are some of the most substantial benefits of a prefabrication building approach for commercial and mixed-use construction. Prefabrication and pre-assembly in construction hinges on a firm’s ability to source more of the products and parts of a building offsite. This pre-work creates more efficient, effective, and safer buildings for integrated design-build firms and owners.

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