The amount of construction work on prefabricated buildings—also known as modular or off-site construction—has almost tripled between 2010 and 2016. Further, contractors want to double their labor investments in prefabrication in the next five years, according to FMI Corp. We are looking at a big boom that is coming, but are we really ready?

Prefab construction brings with it a lot of opportunities, and a lot of obstacles. As we have been discussing all year, it offers the ability for the construction industry to streamline business processes, especially as it faces a skilled labor shortage. Still, the challenge is many contractors are achieving minimal savings in total annual labor hours as it relates to prefabrication efforts, according to FMI. The bottomline is prefabrication processes are ineffective or in need of improvement.

I liken this to the conversation that we have been having around BIM (building information modeling), which we have been having for the better part of 15 years. Many of you will remember in the blog I wrote a few weeks back about data moving through the lifecycle of a project I suggested that a big hurdle that still exists is the lack of interoperability.

Over in our LinkedIn forum, Doug Openshaw of EQUE2 questions me, asking if this was the purpose of BIM. Yes, absolutely, but is it working? If you have thoughts, please hop over there and give your thoughts. We would love to hear them.

My question today is: What are the obstacles facing prefab construction? I do believe there are huge opportunities here to build more with less. I see this occurring with many good case studies I have been coming across.

For example, Skender has launched a new Chicago-based advanced manufacturing subsidiary. This challenges the traditional company culture, which is rooted in collaboration and the lean construction approach of waste reduction, transparency, and ideation. The manufacturing facility will employ union labor to build modular building components.

The company explains that relocating some or most of the onsite construction process to the manufacturing facility will centralize and stabilize labor, eliminate weather delays, and introduce a standardized assembly line process for higher quality components. This will lead to increased flexibility, shorter schedules, reduced costs, and greater speed to revenue. Production is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Still, I don’t want this to be another BIM discussion that we are having for the next 15 years where nothing changes. Transformation is hard. I think we need to talk about the hurdles construction is facing. If it is lack of commitment or struggle with culture shift, let’s address it like Skender is so bravely doing. I think that is the only way contractors are going to successfully double their labor investments in prefabrication in the next five years.

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Laura Black
Laura Blackeditor