Given the events in the past year related to COVID-19, “offsite construction” appears to hold more promise than ever for the building industry. As you’re probably aware, under this model, major building components or even entire modular buildings are prefabricated offsite and transported to the jobsite for assembly.
From a public health perspective, reducing onsite labor leaves more space for other trades and onsite workers to social distance. Offsite prefabrication also requires fewer workers and is faster and more efficient than traditional construction methods. This helps lessen labor needs and reduce costs while shaving time from the project schedule.
However, managing an offsite construction job calls for both a higher level of coordination among stakeholders and a seamless workflow from the front office to the fabrication facility to the jobsite.
Communication is a must
Offsite work demands early planning. All stakeholders — including the project owner, architect, engineers, general contractor, subcontractors and materials vendors — must be on the same page from the get-go. Doing so requires an integrated design and project delivery approach. Building and design disciplines must come together at the start of the job’s lifecycle, and the entire team needs to be in place and engaged in planning before design starts.
Schedules also need to be developed and distributed as early as possible to facilitate just-in-time delivery of a modular building or prefabricated components that fit with absolute precision. After all, the cost of any rework needed during onsite assembly will cancel out the efficiencies gained through offsite prefabrication.
Technology drives the project
One critical way to enhance collaboration and project coordination — from predesign through completion — is to ditch paper processes in favor of digital tools that automate workflows and deliver real-time data.
Building information modeling (BIM) software is increasingly a perfect fit. It can be leveraged not only to design detailed, accurate 3D models and perform early clash detection, but also to sequence the design-to-fabrication workflow for building disciplines and communicate updates to project partners throughout the job. Like CAD systems, BIM models can be linked to “computer numerical controlled” machines used in the fabrication process via manufacturing software.
Also essential for offsite construction is using mobile technology to connect the project team to systems used as well as to other team members and colleagues onsite, in the office and at the fabrication facility. The construction phase requires ongoing planning and coordination as modular buildings or prefab components move through fabrication, shipping, and final assembly or connection at the jobsite.
What’s more, as mentioned, project managers must manage logistics to ensure prefabricated components arrive just in time for assembly. One strategy is to assign assistant project managers or inspectors to offsite fabrication facilities to verify proper production of the components.
Preparation is key
Offsite construction seems to be trending toward “repetitious” projects in which standardization is desired, such as multifamily housing and health care facilities. However, it could be used to shorten schedules and more tightly control budgets on many other types of jobs. If your company decides to bid on an offsite construction project, be prepared to get involved early and to engage in a collaborative approach throughout.
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