Modular construction adds efficiencies, is eco-friendly and may attract younger generations to construction industry careers, says Benedict Wallbank, BIM strategy and partnerships manager, Trimble Viewpoint
While it’s not a new concept to the building industry, modular construction has become increasingly popular as a method to efficiently and sustainably build state-of-the-art structures.
Modular construction—components of projects being assembled in a factory or warehouse under controlled conditions and then delivered and finalised on-site—is known as “off-site manufacture for construction” (OSM) or prefabrication.
The prefabricated buildings market in Europe was valued at 18.4bn pounds (roughly USD $24bn) in 2021. It is expected to reach USD $32bn in 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 4% during the forecast period.
The market is expanding as demand for higher-quality, environment-friendly homes rises across the continent, with the United Kingdom and Germany accounting for the highest proportions, according to market intelligence and advisory firm Mordor Intelligence.
In addition to being a safer way to build, modular construction offers increased efficiencies and more environmentally-friendly construction practices for project stakeholders. And as an added bonus, the digital technology used in modular construction practices may help attract a younger generation of construction professionals to an industry needing more workers.
Modular building brings efficiencies of speed, operations and cost
According to Fortune Business Insights research, modular building projects can be completed 30% to 50% faster than traditional construction, primarily because improved operational processes deliver a quality product quicker, and with less cost than traditional on-site building methods. Modular advantages include:
One advantage of OSM is that the time on site is minimised, so a project’s length can be reduced. If done correctly, subcontractors won’t have to wait for another subcontractor to finish their tasks on the build. By their very nature, these builds are efficient, meticulously planned, and usually utilise modern technology to ensure there aren’t any delays once construction begins on the final site.
Modular construction costs are often lower than traditional construction projects due to fewer resources and less time required to complete a project. The minimal on-site time means that most reworks and snags are reduced by default. Using field software alongside the final assembly stage of the project ensures that any snags or issues are resolved as the project moves along, minimising the chance of delays—and, therefore, unplanned costs.
Anything with human involvement is inevitably prone to mistakes—this can’t ever be completely eradicated. However, by reducing the amount of construction that is undertaken on-site, more quality checks and audits can be carried out in a factory setting, improving the completed product.
Also, due to a larger proportion of the project being completed in a factory, warehouse or other indoor setting, it is less likely to be delayed due to adverse weather conditions—something all too common on UK building sites. Although this is something often factored into construction insurance, it nevertheless causes a ripple effect of delays that can affect far beyond the root project.
Successful completion of a high-profile OSM build
Northern Ireland-based Kane Group utilised modular construction to efficiently build the most logistically challenging project in the contractor’s history: the energy centre for Claridge’s Hotel in London.
The energy centre is located a full five floors below ground in a high-traffic area of the city, so prefabrication was necessary.
The materials were prefabricated in the contractor’s Northern Ireland workshop, and then transported and lifted into position via a 3M x 3.4M opening to access the underground levels. Kane Group also utilised offsite solutions, including virtual reality (VR) and noting anchor points to show the project team and client the methodology for safe transport and delivery of MEP systems.
Kane Group utilised Viewpoint’s Field View, as well as the Viewpoint For Projects (VFP) construction management solution to streamline workflows, collaboratively share data and documents, and track progress for the entire project. Specific to modular building, Field View and VFP were used to manage the logistics of tracking the prefabricated items to the energy centre and VR capabilities for project stakeholders.
Modular building reduces waste and is eco-friendly
The UK government set an ambitious goal of cutting emissions by 78% by 2025, compared to 1990 emission levels. One way to help achieve this goal is through implementation of green modular infrastructure. Consider this:
- According to The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), up to 67% less energy is required to produce a modular building compared to a traditionally built building from start to finish.
- WRAP also predicts up to a 90% reduction in materials can be achieved through the use of modular construction. By the nature of modular buildings, many can be disassembled and moved elsewhere at a future date. This means they’re durable, reusable and contribute to a cyclical method of construction that aims to minimise waste.
- Modular building methods are quicker than traditional building methods, so energy usage is reduced at the project site.
In recent years, in a bid to focus on making the construction sector greener, the government has set aside funding for construction projects that encourage the use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). Modular construction forms a large part of these plans, with the government actively seeking and favouring partnerships with contractors specialising in this type of construction for its projects.
Modular building methods incorporate modern tech that may attract a new generation of construction professionals
Europe’s construction industry is plagued with labour and skills shortages from an ageing workforce, coupled with the younger generation’s preference for technology-focused employment options. Construction is changing dramatically, and the opportunity for contractors to work alongside technology could give them an exciting advantage when it comes to attracting a younger generation to the industry, as well as delivering repeatable quality for customers and end-users.
The EU’s push to improve energy efficiency in buildings and reduce the amount of fossil fuel they consume could create more than 160,000 jobs in the energy and heating sector by 2030, according to the European Commission.
“The transformation towards a climate-neutral building stock will only be possible if existing jobs are transformed to include green and circular skills and if new job profiles emerge, such as specialists in deep building renovation, installers for advanced technological solutions, or Building Information Modelling managers,” according to the European Commission and noted in a recent report from EURACTIV Media Network.
Modular construction methods in perspective
Offsite construction is good for the industry’s image. It’s greener, quicker, cheaper, and easier to guarantee consistent quality. Naturally, although efficient, this type of construction could very easily become difficult to track between multiple sites and teams. Just because much of the on-site construction is reduced, doesn’t mean that a modular project is entirely immune to setbacks and delays. There still needs to be cohesion between all of the teams involved.
The most successful construction projects—whether carried out onsite or offsite—are carried out using collaborative planning and communication technologies and modern construction management solutions that allow contractors to measure their progress in real-time.