Why Prefab Construction Isn’t Used More

By on September 25, 2017

From Procore Jobsite:  While experience shows a healthy return of benefits to projects incorporating prefabrication, 86 per cent of construction firms surveyed by FMI and the BIM Forum said the prefab process is either not effective or needs improvement. Here’s why.

Prefab is a Mixed Bag

As a blanket term, prefab construction comes in several types. At the upper end are the complete buildings that manufacturers deliver to a site where crews “install” them on foundations or piers. Next come complete units that get hooked together to form a finished project or building. These units might also form one portion of a building like a bathroom. Then, there are trusses, laminated beams, and complete walls and ceilings.

A 2016 JB Knowledge Construction Technology Report cited prefab as occurring “most often with metal framing and drywall, MEP trades, concrete formwork, bathroom/unit pods and particularly on hospital projects or projects in rugged environments.” In a separate 2016 report by the World Economic Forum,  “Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology,” the authors painted a spotty picture of prefab adoption, pointing out surprising inconsistencies among countries and even within countries. For example, Scandinavia widely uses prefab for residential construction while prefab has made little headway for the same use in Germany.

Stakeholders See Different Benefits

While prefab is often touted as more affordable, quicker, and greener, each of those claims is debatable from a client’s perspective. That’s because there are too many factors involved and too many variables to say those benefits hold true all the time. For example, real estate developer Chad Ludeman points out that claims of affordability often don’t take into account the overhead imposed by the manufacturing facility, the manufacturer’s profit, site equipment needed to move large units, and customization fees. He also writes that while value engineering can save money on site built homes, over-engineering is often the case for manufactured homes. That can cancel claims of less waste.

But, from the perspective of a builder trying to deliver projects on time and on budget, there are credible reasons to consider prefab. The most obvious is quicker build times, as in the case of using laminated beams, trusses, prefab walls, and prefab ceilings. When it comes to And, in the case of modular residential prefab, some claim delivery of completed homes is 75% faster.

Builder Advantages

Builders can also benefit from better control over the schedule. Just consider hotel construction where a hundred identical bathrooms make up the install list. Dropping in prefab units with fixtures already in place, speeds up the process while improving both consistency and quality.

Other builder and developer advantages often claimed by prefab are:

  • Factory production principles improves quality and consistency
  • Reduces weather related schedule issues
  • Improves procurement
  • Fits well with rising technologies like BIM and 3D printing
  • Places greater emphasis on early stage planning

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About Dede Hance