Owner Interest is Top Obstacle for Modular Construction

As modular construction gains traction in the architectural community, it leads to the question of where the glass and glazing industry fits in.

“We’ll be looking at hotels where every room is a container with windows, stacked ten stories, and everything comes pre-built. What’s that going to do to window contractors? Will the installation move from the jobsite to a warehouse? And whose scope is it from that point?” said TSI Corp. engineering department manager Will Pounds when speaking about the future of contract glazing.

In a new report from Dodge Data & Analytics titled, “Prefabrication and Modular Construction 2020,” design firms and contractors were surveyed about their experiences with and expectations for the construction methods. In part two of this two-part series, we’re looking at modular building trends. To read part one about prefabrication, including curtainwall, click here.

Modular Building Defined

There are two different types of modular construction: permanent modular construction and relocatable building. Permanent modular construction is defined as a process performed in a manufacturing facility where building components or modules are constructed to be transported to a permanent building site. Relocatable building is a partially or completely assembled building that complies with codes and regulations and is constructed in a building manufacturing facility using a modular construction process. These buildings are designed to be reused or repurposed multiple times and transported to different building sites.

Modular Building Types

Trade contractors were asked to choose which building types they think will feature permanent modular construction most frequently over the next three years. Healthcare facilities were chosen by 56% of respondents, followed closely by college buildings and dormitories with 52% and hotels and motels with 50%. Trade contractors expect to see modular construction growth in all segments in the next three years compared to the last three years, except for the multifamily and commercial warehouse segments.

Schedule and Cost Performance

Trade contractors reported experiencing fewer benefits from modular construction over the past three years compared to architects/engineers and general contractors (GCs)/construction managers (CMs). Only 36% of trade contractors reported any decrease in schedule due to modular construction, compared to 88% of GCs/CMs and 65% of design professionals.

The same is true in regard to cost benefits, though the difference is less stark. Of trade contractors surveyed, 46% reported a decrease in project costs due to modular construction, compared to 47% of design professionals and 91% of GCs/CMs.

The survey examined modular construction’s impact on seven aspects of project delivery by asking respondents to rate the level of impact. The following represents the percentage of respondents who reported medium, high or very high contributions for each factor:

  • Improved productivity (93%);
  • Improved quality (90%);
  • Increased schedule certainty (90%);
  • Improved cost predictability (88%);
  • Reduced waste generated by construction (86%);
  • Increased client satisfaction (86%); and
  • Improved safety performance (83%).

“As is the case with their ratings for prefabrication, the percentages of trades giving very high impact scores is notably larger than that of design firms or GCs/CMs for most of the aspects, indicating a true appreciation of the benefits provided,” reads the report.

Modular Construction Trends

Several factors have influenced the use of permanent modular construction in the last three years. The highest percentage of trade contractors cited improved productivity as having a high or very high level of influence over its use. The top factors for trade contractors include:

  • Improved productivity (65%);
  • Remaining competitive (60%);
  • Improved cost performance (50%);
  • Safer working conditions (52%);
  • Owner demand (50%);
  • Workforce shortages (42%); and
  • Commercial availability of permanent modular components (17%).

While trade contractors lead in identifying the need to remain competitive as a top factor, it was the second overall most influential factor. Improving project schedule performance, improving project quality and decreasing construction costs were identified by trade contractors as being the top factors that will influence the use of permanent modular construction over the next three years. Enabling year-round construction, streamlining the inspection process and helping to achieve green objectives were also chosen by fewer than 10% of trade contractors.

For the trades, the top obstacles to increasing the number of projects that use permanent modular construction include:

  • The owner not being interested in a modular approach (48%);
  • The project delivery method preventing effective modular use planning (33%);
  • The project type not being applicable for modular construction (29%);
  • Not being familiar with the process of modular construction (25%);
  • The availability of modular component manufacturers (23%);
  • The availability of a trained workforce to install modular components (10%);
  • The cost being too much (8%); and
  • A concern about quality (8%).
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