For the better part of 12 years now Assoc Prof Smith has dedicated himself to understanding how the construction industry can generate the same levels of manufacturing quantitative and qualitative data that is available for the luxury ship, aeroplane and automobile industries. It was in a period of reflection some years ago in the Caribbean, when contemplating those industries, that he decided to embark on this exhaustive journey; he may well have arrived at a viable model of enabling this challenging proposition to be realised. Smith noted that the first plank in developing the methodology was an acceptance that the scope of the thing you are trying to produce is different every single time and the labour used to produce that object is inconsistent every single time. Combine those inconsistent production elements with inefficient communication and the American construction industry’s labour productivity has declined by a rate of 0.32% per year since 1964 according to a report published by Stanford University.
“Prefabrication or offsite construction suggests, and you all know this, that potentially we can overcome some of these challenges or dysfunctions in the construction industry,” he said. “Number one: the site doesn’t have to be different every single time; in fact the majority of the work would happen in a single site. We also see that the program, yes, it is going to be different every single time, but the elements that are used to build that don’t need to be necessarily different in each instance and finally the labour that’s used can be consistent from project to project, ensuring quality control and gain efficiencies.” His research utilised a case study method for investigation involving the selection of 17 cases that were based on the following criteria:
- Access to available archival data and willingness of stakeholders to participate and offer additional data.
- Diversity of project sizes, locations and building types in order to see PMC (permanent modular construction) across sectors, countries and cultures.
- Culturally significant buildings were selected based on architectural impact. The goal of the study was to demonstrate how PMC performs with respect to different types, sizes and delivery methods.
Some of the key findings of the quantitative analysis found there was on average a 16% cost savings and a 45% savings on schedules overall. Lesson learned from the qualitative analysis found that the early engagement of a modular builder, a design-build contract and design-phase modular research paid significant dividends. The Off-Site Studies Research Report is available for download at: http://www.modular.org/ ■
To watch Ryan’s presentation from the PrefabAUS conference go to youtube.com and search for Built Offsite.
Ryan E. Smith
Ryan E. Smith