As the pandemic drags on, the global supply chain is reeling. Couple that with the “great resignation,” and the real estate industry is feeling the stress. Lack of materials and lack of labor are two main factors in the increased cost of construction.
Traditional construction methods of just-in-time deliveries of material, precise scheduling of manpower, and expected quality outcomes are not working in this environment. Nearly all construction projects are feeling the impact of increased schedules and increased costs.
Over the past several years, more and more projects are turning to prefabricated or modular construction to combat the external effects of supply chain and labor issues. This process involves producing components, or in some cases, entire buildings, in a controlled environment.
Each project is unique and has different desired outcomes. Because of this, prefabrication may not always be the best solution. The list below shows the pros and cons of prefabrication:
Efficiency (Cost and Time)
Materials can be sourced, delivered, and inventoried into a single location. This allows for the correct materials to be in the correct place at the correct time. The current state of supply chains provides opportunities to find necessary components across several vendors to ensure they are on-site as needed for fabrication.
Prefabrication turns the construction process into a manufacturing process. All tools, materials, equipment, and labor for the entire process are staged in an assembly line with the product passing from one step to the next seamlessly, and without delays. The prefabrication process also allows for materials to be staged in a logical manner.
In many cases, modular construction creates less waste. The components are pre-planned and designed to be efficient, resulting in fewer instances of excess materials being delivered.
Components are produced in a controlled environment with little to no impact from weather.
Construction in a controlled environment reduces the safety risk to the fabricators. Many injuries in construction are the result of varying conditions on-site (such as weather, terrain, and site access). Eliminating these factors reduces the risk of injury.
Because of the nature of modular construction, products can be produced well before they are required for installation. For example, for modular interior walls, the walls can be fabricated while the exterior of the building is being completed. This extended fabrication window helps to keep projects moving forward in spite of material and labor shortages.
Prefabricated units require transportation to the installation location. This limits the size of components to dimensions that can be transported. This includes everything from highway transportation to fitting in an elevator. This applies to dimensions and weight.
Another factor in this is the cost of transportation. While the project may save on schedule delays and labor shortages, the supply chain issues have increased the costs of transportation.
Site constraints at both ends of the prefabrication process may limit effectiveness. The finished product must leave the fabrication site and be delivered to the installation site. In many cases, the product must leave fabrication so the line can continue to function. If the installation site cannot take the materials when they are ready, additional costs and logistics will be necessary.
Local building codes will dictate when and where prefabricated items can be used. This applies to complete structures as well as prefabricated hospital headwalls. Every process may need to be inspected by LOCAL building officials. When products are fabricated off-site, this can create issues. Always consult local building officials when determining whether or not to utilize prefabrication.
The schedule benefits of prefabrication come with a downside. Once a product is fabricated to fit a space, it is not easily modified if the space changes. It can be costly to create custom pieces to match existing conditions.