Frost and Sullivan's PRATHMESH LIMAYE looks at how modular buildings are making construction projects cheaper, quicker and more sustainable.
The construction industry is grappling with issues pertaining to productivity and project deadlines that have steadily intensified in the wake of the economic recession of 2008 and 2009. Close to two million construction workers were let go in the United States alone between 2007 and 2011, creating a vacuum that the industry has struggled to recover from. Additionally, with the impeding Brexit in Europe, he industry faces huge gaps in terms of skillsets. Such macro-economic trends hamper the growth of the construction industry, extending deadlines, blowing out budgets and causing costly delays.
How is the industry responding to these challenges?
The industry is adopting innovative techniques and borrowing heavily from the manufacturing sector in an attempt to overcome productivity challenges. One such technique involves building homes in a factory off-site and then installing the finished house on the designated land. Industry stakeholders are increasingly considering such buildings, known as modular or prefabricated buildings, because they allow projects to be completed in half the time as traditional construction practices, leading to big savings.
The growth in adoption of modular and prefabricated building practices paves the way for increased automation in the construction industry, which otherwise relies heavily on manual processes such as bricklaying, installation and carpentry.
How is automating achieved?
The rise in modular and prefabricated buildings has also led to the adoption of principles hitherto unutilised in the industry. One such principle is the Design for Manufacturing Assembly (DfMA). The DfMA process, which is increasingly being adopted by prefabricated building manufacturers, enables them to have a stronger design plan compared to traditional construction. This, in turn, helps in achieving a shorter construction period.
This approach has also resulted in the increased use of he Building Information Management (BIM) systems that typically generate 3D design models for a building. BIM systems effectively compute the time, materials used and cost of materials used throughout the construction process. Due to this, BIM systems act as effective project management tools that allow industry stakeholders to better track and manage construction projects. Apart from tools such as DfMA and BIM, other tools are also being adopted that aim to make construction projects more efficient in regards to cost and time parameters.
How does automation benefit the industry?
One of the primary benefits of automation is the help such systems can provide in the processing and installation of construction materials such as wood, composites and plastics. These materials, when compared with traditional ones such as concrete and steel, are considered more sustainable. Wood, for instance, emits a lower amount of CO2 into the environment than concrete and can also be replenished through afforestation and reforestation activities.
In this way, manufacturing and automation in the construction industry is enabling sustainable building practices - a primary challenge of the modern industry.
What is next?
With the advent of new technology - such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) - and its rapid deployment in the manufacturing sector, we will witness the increasing use of 3D printing in building prototypes for homes. This will help in gaining a better understanding of designs amongst stakeholders and enable better change management while executing projects. One such project already underway is New Story, a joint venture between Swiss design firm Fuseproject and construction technology firm Icon. Established in Latin America, New Story's goal is to develop housing solutions for the homeless using 3D printing. The first concept model, measuring in at 350 square feet, was developed in May 2019.
As a result, the industry is also experiencing a transformation of the traditional business models where design companies are becoming the construction companies of the future. Major design software company AutoDesk, for instance, recently acquired the US-based prefab company FactoryOS and has initiated its use in the construction industry.
Article by Prathmesh Limaye, Senior Research Analyst - Chemicals, Materials, Food, Frost and Sullivan.
Image: Habitat 67, a prefabricated housing complex in Montreal. 123RF's Isabel Poulin © 123RF.com