Modular construction Cx?

Modular construction, or offsite prefabricated structures and systems assembly, is affecting the new construction industry across the nation. According to Forbes, over $1 billion in venture capital funding has been invested in modular building startups in the past few years. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS, or The Institute) recently released Report of the Results of the 2018 Offsite Construction Industry Survey, an update to a 2014 industry report. The survey responses included projects from 49 states and Canada. The largest number of projects reported by state were, in descending order, Washington, Florida, California, Ohio, and New York.

The 2018 survey respondents said they are using offsite elements for commercial construction (54%), industrial (33%), healthcare (31%), education (30%), multi-family (38%), and hospitality (18%). Most respondents (88%) indicated using offsite fabricated components to some degree over the past 12 months, and 82% expected to use offsite construction more often or the same amount in the next 12 months. How will the expansion of a structural and dynamic systems assembly market impact commissioning providers? Now is a good time to know more about its impact in your region.

What is Offsite Construction? The Institute’s Offsite Construction Council defines the process as “the planning, design, fabrication and assembly of building elements at a location other than their final point of assembly onsite. An integrated planning and supply chain optimization strategy characterize offsite delivery.”

Who decides? The Institute’s survey asked, “during the project planning phase, who was responsible for the decision to use offsite construction?” According to respondents, CM/GCs request or require it 47% of the time. Following that, architects specify it (46%) or owners request it (42%). Engineers and subcontractors are rarely responsible for the decision.

When/how does Cx happen? With offsite construction, integrated testing and verification don’t occur until individual components are delivered to the project site — pre-functional testing of assemblies is moved into the factory (or self-performed by the manufacturer).

Although factory observation by CxPs may occasionally be included in modular design and construction, a design phase commissioning review is likely not well coordinated with the process. Early detection of problems can be less of a focus, with a resulting cost in change orders and schedule delays. Construction phase functional testing and integrated performance verification cannot occur until systems are reassembled on-site.

Project Types. Almost two-thirds of offsite construction projects occur in the commercial [office] building sector, followed by multi-family (39%) and healthcare (31%). Eleven percent, and growing, are reported for data center facilities.

Benefits Realized in Respondents’ Projects. As shown in the table below, the highest-ranked benefit of offsite construction was reported as “schedule advantage/speed to market.” Interestingly, 46% also named “quality,” 43% said “cost-effectiveness,” and 37% indicated “productivity” as benefits.

Challenges. Among the biggest challenges, according to one CxP experienced in the process, are:

  • > Lack of adequate programming via OPR and BOD
  • > The culture of design and construction, specifically:
    • >> Late design changes
    • >> Lack of collaboration
    • >> An adversarial climate for project delivery
    • >> Lack of coordination
    • >> Poor integration
    • >> Inadequate time for fixing issues (e.g., damage during shipping)

Most of these issues are not unique to the offsite construction market, but all can be helped with commissioning. You may want to know more about the impact and potential rewards of commissioning in the offsite construction market.

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