Trade Contractors Expect Prefabrication Usage to Grow Over Next Three Years

Prefabrication and modular construction are major buzz words in the construction industry, including among glazing contractors, as companies look for new ways to improve productivity, costs and scheduling. 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 with prefabrication.

Single- and Multi-Trades

When it comes to prefabrication that can be carried out by a single trade, trade contractors are the most enthusiastic group, with slightly more than half predicting they will employ single-trade assemblies on more than half of their future projects in the next three years. Only 37% of general contractors (GCs) and construction managers (CMs) predict that a majority of their projects will include single-trade assemblies and 16% of design professionals forecast this usage. Multi-trade assemblies are currently used less frequently than single-trade assemblies, according to the data, but design professionals, GCs/CMs and trade contractors expect to see growth in the next three years, with the trades expecting the least growth.

“Interestingly, trades are slightly less positive than the other groups perhaps because individual trade contractors have less control over decisions to create multi-trade assemblies than they do in pre-fabricating their own work as a single-trade assembly,” reads the report.

Curtainwall assemblies fall under the multi-trade assembly category.

Project Delivery Methods

The traditional design-bid-build delivery method was employed most frequently when prefabrication was used in the last three years, followed by design-build, construction manager at risk and integrated project delivery.

Prefabrication Usage

For trade contractors, 77% of respondents cited improved productivity as the top factor that influenced the use of prefabrication in the last three years. Similarly, improved project schedule performance was selected by 66% of trade contractors as a top factor influencing the use of prefabrication in the next three years.

Glass Inc. Expands in its 20th Year

On July 5, 1999, Robert Smith and six former co-workers banded together to form Glass Inc. in Meridian, Miss. It started out as a $5 million glass company and has since grown to a $30 million company over the past 20 years.

“We started in a small workshop and outgrew that building in the first year,” says Kristen Smith, communications/public relations coordinator, and president and owner Robert Smith’s daughter. “We moved to a new building and have been expanding it since with increased warehouse space.”

After Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan, the company opened additional locations in Gulfport, Miss., and Foley, Ala., which feature a display showroom for shower doors, mirrors and a variety of specialty glass.

Several other members of the Smith family also work at Glass Inc., including CFO Beverly Smith, project manager Rob Smith Jr. and estimator/project manager Justin Smith.

Kristen Smith says the company has grown through its relationships. One of its strongest is with Yates Construction.

“Because of that relationship, whenever Yates grew, we grew,” she says.

Other strong relationships facilitating growth for the company are with curtainwall manufacturer EFCO Corp. and with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. According to Kristen Smith, Glass. Inc. has been on the forefront of technology, adopting unitized curtainwall early on.

“We’ve been able to tackle projects with EFCO that other companies thought impossible. We love a good challenge, figuring out projects and making it happen,” she says. “We design new systems with them to make projects work.”

In addition, the company is currently working with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on several projects in Memphis, Tenn., and Kristen Smith expects the company to open a new location there, an area she says is in need of a large glass company.

As the company continues to grow, Glass Inc. is focused on bringing in new employees and is working with the Mississippi State University Building Construction Science program to hire interns and find quality people.

“We want to find and train younger people to replace the guys in their 60s who have been in this industry for 20-30 years. Eventually they will retire and we have to have people to replace them. It’s an industry-wide issue,” says Kristen Smith. “We’re trying to stay in front of schools … We want to stay educated about our trade and recruit people. We want them to know that they can make a great living with us and don’t need to go to college to make a living.”

One of the reasons Glass Inc. is so focused on recruitment is because it credits its employees for the company’s success over the past 20 years.

“A large portion of our success has been due to the dedication and loyalty of our employees, including those six people who took a risk and started this company with  my dad. All six are still here. We wouldn’t be where we are without them and all of our employees,” says Kristen Smith.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Glass Inc. released a book titled “Reflections” about the company’s history.

YKK AP Signs Research Initiative

YKK AP Inc. has signed an agreement with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to conduct joint research on advanced technology to install windows, curtainwalls, doors and other products in buildings. The agreement was finalized in May 2019 and activities are now underway.

In response to increasing global demand to counter the shortage of labor at construction sites and shorten the construction period, the purpose of the joint research is to develop new technology for fenestration products installation at jobsites by using robots and information technology (IT) to improve construction productivity and quality. YKK AP and CMU will investigate virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality technologies and research new methods of installation to bring enhanced innovation to the construction industry, according to the company.

“YKK AP is seeing future constraints on field labor not only in the U.S., but across the globe. Increasingly tight schedules, rapid building close-ins and constraints on skilled field labor are demanding the development of advanced technologies,” says Oliver Stepe, president of YKK AP America Inc. “By partnering with Carnegie-Mellon University’s leading research team, YKK AP Inc.’s goal is to bring new and advanced construction
technologies to market, creating efficiencies for the global construction industry.”

The five-year partnership runs through April 2024.

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