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All Signs Point to a Bright Future for Modular Construction

Despite so many aspects of the economy and our daily lives stalling during the pandemic, modular construction took off. The need to rapidly add or adjust space paved the way for modular solutions.
By Nancy Novak
June 22, 2021
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Despite so many aspects of the economy and our daily lives stalling during the pandemic, modular construction took off. The need to rapidly add or adjust space paved the way for modular solutions.

Modular construction helped meet needs for affordable housing quickly. Hospitals and testing centers were constructed in weeks to support pandemic response, according to the Modular Building Institute. Modularity has also been critical to responding to the skyrocketing demand for data center capacity as more people are working, learning and streaming entertainment at home—a trend that’s not changing even as we anxiously anticipate herd immunity.

Modular construction, of course, means many of a building’s parts are prefabricated offsite for assembly on-site. This approach got a bad rap for a time. Some think prefab and modular means boring and cookie cutter. When, in fact, there is plenty of opportunity for flexibility in design and aesthetic elements to yield the quality and style that builders and clients seek.

For parts that are the same from project to project, distributing the work and completing components in advance creates a lot of advantages which, together, create one huge opportunity to help stem the tide of attrition in construction and bring workers back to the industry.

Quality

For starters, one of the greatest advantages of modular construction is quality. Specialized focus on parts versus the whole results in a higher-quality product. The predictability and replicability of building parts in a manufacturing-type facility leads to specialized tools, parts, processes and people to oversee it all who know exactly how best to create their particular pieces of the puzzle. Quality assurance and controls are stringently applied in the manufacturing setting, which are precursors to continuous improvement so quality is on an ever-upward trajectory.

Timeliness

With component parts created in a factory environment, developers mitigate some weather delays that accompany on-site construction so projects come together faster and are less subject to delay. The overall project timeline is expedited with the ability to move parts forward simultaneously rather than waiting for completion of one part to move on to the next.

Safety

Year after year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other organizations point to construction as one of the economy’s most dangerous industries, if not the most dangerous industry. Incorporating modular and prefabricated components into a construction project can help to reduce construction site injuries and fatalities. With so much work done off-site, there’s a less-congested worksite. Fewer people, vehicles and moving parts is a solid step toward enhanced safety. Indoor, factory construction also protects workers from extreme weather conditions, which can contribute to accidents.

Restocking the talent pool

This industrialized approach to construction creates the safety, quality, cost savings and predictability to make construction jobs more desirable to a more diverse pool of talent.

In the controlled, off-site manufacturing environment employees enjoy regular hours, predictable commutes, better training and consistent supervision. There are many fewer unknowns compared to a construction site. Predictability and consistency form the foundation of a healthy work environment. Already, growing reliance on off-site manufacturing in construction is increasing diversity in the construction workforce. There are more women in these off-site construction facilities than on the jobsite.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that 41% of the construction industry workforce will retire by 2031, and that fewer young people are entering the field.

Increased off-site manufacturing reduces the requirement for sheer brute strength to do the job on-site and opens the door to diversity in construction. A more diverse set of workers opens the door to innovation, efficiency and a stronger bottom line. Off-site manufacturing holds a lot of potential to resolve a host of issues—from the obvious to the not-so-obvious—that the construction industry faces.

This article is the second in a four-part series about the most-recent developments in construction’s cutting-edge technologies and best practices. Click here for part one.

by Nancy Novak

Nancy Novak, Compass Datacenters’ Chief Innovation Officer, has over 30 years of construction experience and has overseen the delivery of over $3.5 billion in projects during that time. Prior to joining Compass, Nancy was the National Vice President of Operations for Balfour Beatty Construction which she joined after serving in a variety of executive positions for Hensel Phelps Construction Company. Ms. Novak is a member of the iMason’s advisory council and is actively involved in a number of organizations dedicated to the advancement of woman in business including Above the Glass Ceiling (AGC) who are working with Fortune 500 companies to aid in the advancement of women in STEM, Women in Government Relations (WGE), Women Construction Owners and Executives (WCOE), The World Trade Center Initiative, Fortune Media’s Most Powerful Women and the National Woman’s Party.

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