Modular construction is becoming less of a niche market and a real growth area within the construction sector.
For decades, construction companies have chosen modular construction for the convenience of having factory-produced, pre-engineered building units delivered and assembled on site. In the late 1990's, the Egan Report suggested the predictability and efficiency of offsite construction could improve project performance, enhance construction quality, improve health and safety, and even reduce construction time. Since then, countless other reports have confirmed this theory, which is now being proved correct on a practical level.
But despite this, offsite production is still often under-appreciated and misunderstood. Many still see it as a method for building simple or temporary structures in a short amount of time. But in reality, many architects now choose modular construction over traditional construction to create visually striking buildings, which are built to an exceptional standard. These include ambitious projects such as the Halley VI Research Station, and the 360 foot tall Marriott Hotel in New York City.
Quickest, lightest and most efficient way of building housing
One crucial benefit is more efficient construction. Onsite production often gets delayed by bad weather, material shortages, planning issues and even material theft. Whereas modular construction is a highly organised and streamlined process that can see construction project times reduced by up to 50% as models are ready before they leave the factory. When materials are delivered onsite, construction workers can immediately build with 100% completed parts.
Increased use of modern technologies
Another reason for the increased popularity of modular construction is the improvement in technology, in particular Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is a crucial component to a project’s success as it helps ensure schedules are met and spend is monitored. In fact, according to the Dodge Data & Analytics’ recent research on modular and prefabricated construction, using BIM will improve budget and schedule performance by 30%.
Reduced demands on labour
Modular construction is not only faster and often more affordable, but requires less skilled labour, too. According to the Q4 2019 Commercial Construction Index, 89% of contractors surveyed reported having a moderate or difficult time finding qualified workers. Steven Napper, Director of Modern Engineered Software Solutions Ltd commented,
The idea of offsite construction is that it can simply be more automated. With the precisely detailed data from 3D models, like Tekla Structures, we can be using more cobots. The industry can attract more junior resources, opening up to a wider audience and not restricting itself to the very limited cohort of trained and qualified tradesmen.
High-quality manufacturing and less waste
Modular construction also benefits from highly-skilled offsite teams spotting errors. Thanks to close inspection and quality control projects from framing to finishing, they can easily communicate issues to their team. On top of that, parts are subject to standardised internal inspections and tests as well as extensive third party reviews, to ensure the finished product is of the highest standard. Modular construction doesn't just match the quality standards of traditional construction; it beats them.
Modular buildings also use almost 67% less energy than traditional buildings. This is partly thanks to BIM software, which makes it easy for designers to make changes and corrections before transporting materials. Small mistakes onsite can send tons of unwanted materials into landfill, and even correct materials are vulnerable to rot and damage in harsh weather. But modular construction has put a stop to this, resulting in a 90% reduction of project material waste.
Laser scanning saves weeks of work
It’s clear that laser scanning, like the Trimble X7 Scanning System, is ideally suited to modular construction too. It can take two weeks and four workers to digitise an existing area of a building, resulting in the entire project taking 3,000 hours of labour. But with a 3D scanning solution, a team is able to scan the entire project in 300 hours and bring it into a 3D model, like Tekla Structures, amounting to a 90% reduction in labour.
What’s more, existing site data from the laser scanning can be passed to Tekla Structures and used to create as-builts where they don’t currently exist, and used to compare drawings or documentation against as-built conditions. This then allows accurate and precise prefabrication to happen offsite, with only the assembly happening onsite. By minimising onsite construction requirements, it not only saves costs but the impact of those living, work or visiting the site are also minimised. This can be particularly significant when working on sensitive facilities like schools, healthcare and apartment buildings where closing them for any period of time isn’t practical or feasible.
3D scanning brings many benefits to BIM workflows - from fast collected detailed site data to bringing that data into a 3D model, such as Tekla Structures, to build it off, it reduces rework and increases productivity. In short, it can mean the difference between a minor course adjustment and a colossal project failure.
Easier to document and visualise
When used for renovation and remodelling projects, 3D laser scanning makes it much easier to visualise the design before prefabrication begins. And just as with renovations and remodels, the scan data also provides a reliable way to track and compare the design against 3D models and drawings, as well as check off project milestones as they’re completed.