Improving Construction Efficiency and Productivity with Modular Construction

Charlottesville, VAThe Modular Building Institute (MBI) has published a whitepaper that cites a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Research Council (NRC) which identifies modular construction as an underutilized resource and a breakthrough for the U.S. construction industry to advance its competitiveness and efficiency. 

The NRC report, developed at the request of  NIST, was the result of the work of  an ad hoc committee of experts, assembled to  provide advice for advancing the competitiveness and productivity of the U.S. construction industry. The committee’s specific task was to plan and conduct a workshop to identify and prioritize technologies, processes, and deployment activities that have the greatest potential to advance significantly the productivity and competitiveness of the capital facilities sector of the U.S. construction industry in the next 20 years. The committee identified five breakthroughs to improve the efficiency and productivity of the construction industry, including breakthrough number three: “Greater use of prefabrication, preassembly, modularization, and off-site fabrication techniques and processes.” 
“This report validates what we in the industry have long known; that a greater use of off-site construction leads to improved efficiency and productivity.” said Tom Hardiman, Executive Director of the Modular Building Institute. “Modular construction is a more resource-efficient, inherently greener process and more developers and owners are beginning to realize these advantages.”


(Left) Milestones Middle School in Phoenix, AZ, a modular building completed in 166 days by Accelerated Construction Technologies; (middle) Example of a factory-controlled environment; (right) [Un] Modular Design for Deconstruction, winner of the EPA’s 2009 Lifecycle Building Challenge Awards

The NIST/NRC report also says “Manufacturing building components off-site provides for more controlled conditions and allows for improved quality and precision in the fabrication of the component.”

In addition, the report says:
Prefabrication and modularization allow for the following:
  • More controlled conditions for weather, quality control, improved supervision of labor, easier access to tools, and fewer material deliveries (Construction Industry Institute, 2002).
  • Fewer job-site environmental impacts because of reductions in material waste, air and water pollution, dust and noise, and overall energy costs, although prefabrication and related technologies may also entail higher transportation costs and energy costs at off-site locations;
  • Compressed project schedules that result from changing the sequencing of work flow (e.g., allowing for the assembly of components off-site while foundations are being poured on-site; allowing for the assembly of components off-site while permits are being processed);
  • Fewer conflicts in work crew scheduling and better sequencing of crafts persons;
  • Reduced requirements for on-site materials storage, and fewer losses or misplacement’s of materials; and
  • Increased workers safety through reduced exposures to inclement weather, temperature extremes, and ongoing or hazardous operations; better working conditions (e.g., components traditionally constructed on-site at heights or in confined spaces can be fabricated off-site and then hoisted into place using cranes) (Construction Users Round-table, 2007).
The NIST/NRC report goes on to state, “Prefabrication and related techniques are commonly used in the construction of industrial projects, but they are also used, if less frequently, for commercial and infrastructure projects.  The committee believes that greater use and deployment of these techniques (if used appropriately) can result in lower project costs, shorter schedules, improved quality, more efficient use of labor and materials, and improved worker safety.”

Excerpts of the report are reprinted with permission from the National Academies Press. A full copy of the report is available on the MBI Web site here and the whitepaper can be viewed here.
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