Once you understand industrialized construction (IC), using manufacturing techniques for the built environment sounds like a common sense move for companies. It makes more sense (and it’s much less expensive) to buy standardized clothes off the rack rather than having them all custom-made for you. Likewise, it makes more sense to have standardization in construction rather than custom making each building.
Prefabrication is one IC process that smaller companies can adopt on a limited basis then gradually expand upon. One of the great advocates in the prefabrication space has been Amy Marks of Autodesk. She makes a good case for prefabrication in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) sector, encouraging contractors to begin prefabricating, even if on a small scale. A shift of traditional construction toward prefab is taking place. A GlobeNewswire report in March 2022 estimated the global market for prefabricated buildings will reach $153.7-billion in the next four years. Of that total, the U.S. market, which is estimated to be about 18.3% of global, could reach $28-billion.
Some of the reasons this shift is taking place include:
- economic incentives of less waste and lower costs
- schedule improvements from reduced weather-related delays
- customer interest in sustainability
The forces that are advancing the adoption of prefabrication are occurring worldwide in concert with increased demand for buildings in the midst of a skilled labor shortage. The pressure to produce residential, commercial, medical, and education facilities more quickly has caused companies to turn to prefab for repeatable “products” rather than projects, particularly specialty MEP contractors.
These products might be used on many, if not all, of the projects a company participates in. Once the prefab products are defined, they can be improved as needed to make them as repeatable as possible – a hallmark of manufacturing.
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Naturally, a product focused mindset does limit design choices available for projects. Contractors need to be clear about the prefab products they supply and the ones they do not. Such collaboration is key to informed decision making and the trusted relationships that bring success on a project. Building information modeling (BIM) provides this transparency to all teams working on a project model. Autodesk Revit is the ideal digital platform for project collaboration and communication.
The controlled environment of prefab is not merely moving processes to an offsite location. It involves fine tuning manufacturing techniques that will improve productivity, overcome skilled labor shortages, and make costs and scheduling more predictable.
Perhaps one of the signs that there is a valuable future in prefab is that Autodesk has been developing a software strategy around industrialized construction. More and more companies are investing in prefab methods, and that seems to be solid evidence that there’s profit to be made in the process.