Saturday, July 2nd, 2022

Offsite And Modular Construction

Offsite construction is the planning, design, fabrication, and assembly of building elements at a location other than their final installed location.


Offsite construction with precast technology, modular rooms and readymade washroom pods is emerging as a major trend in the construction sector. Ensuring 50% saving on time, close to 30% material conservation and substantial reduction in noise and dust pollution, the future promises to be ideal for factory-manufactured homes amid rising concerns over environment.

The Advantages

Offsite construction alleviates several problems associated with traditional onsite methods. By moving a large proportion of the work from a messy, exposed open-air setting with limited working hours into a safe, controlled indoor factory setting with 24/7 production uptime potential, offsite construction offers six main benefits.

  1. Shorter Building Times and Lower Risk. Offsite construction is far less affected by the vagaries of the weather and by the heavy burden of onsite project management. It is also far less subject to the risks—legal and financial—inherent in complex collaborations with subcontractors. So offsite construction typically reduces building-completion times by more than a third and improves punctuality, with best-in-class builders approaching 100% for on-time delivery. That can be of great value to project owners; a hotel, for instance, can begin taking reservations earlier, and the risks of overspending and delays are reduced.
  2. Higher Quality. Thanks to standardization, a controlled environment, and in-factory quality checks, the defect rate can be halved.
  3. Lower Costs. The controlled, weatherproof workplace raises the productivity of individual employees, while also allowing economies of scale, optimized logistics, and lean manufacturing. The result is a saving of up to 10% on overall construction costs—savings that can be passed on to customers or reinvested in higher-quality finishes, for example.
  4. Improved Working Environment. Workers are protected from the weather and from many of the traditional dangers (such as working for long periods at great heights or underground), and their daily commute remains unchanged from project to project. While the construction industry’s safety record has improved dramatically over the last three decades, the construction industry still has a fatal injury rate more than three times that of the manufacturing industry. With offsite construction, workplace accidents are halved, and recruiting becomes easier as the jobs are now more desirable.
  5. Reduced Environmental Impact. Construction waste and emissions can be halved, by virtue of production efficiencies and increased recycling. The difference is partly because the processes in a factory are much more predictable than on a building site, meaning that materials can be ordered to more precisely calculated requirements, and partly because it’s easier and cheaper to handle waste in the factory setting.

As well as the solid waste that goes to landfill, the machinery used in construction can’t avoid pumping various pollutants into the atmosphere. However, if air pollution can’t be avoided, it can at least be minimised. Replacing onsite with offsite construction would cut the greenhouse gas emissions by anything from 17% to 30%.

These benefits merely mirror those of other industries as they modernized. With offsite construction now gathering pace, the industry is advancing into the 21st century.

Offsite Construction Is Less Labour Intensive

Prefabricating the components of a building in a factory can be automated far more than the traditional onsite brick-by-brick approach. In particular, the construction of kitchen and bathroom pods in a factory allows the rooms with the most complex mechanical and engineering components to be prefabricated and transported to the site without needing to co-ordinate workers with the various skills, often working for different subcontractors, who are needed to construct kitchens and bathrooms onsite.

Automation raises the frightening prospect of machines replacing human labour, stealing jobs, and leaving people unemployed and destitute. However, the prospect looks a lot less frightening in the context of a construction industry facing a severe labour shortage. At least four workers leave the construction industry for everyone recruited into it. The loss of skilled workers is likely to get worse because nearly one in three construction workers are aged over 50 and will retire in the next 15 years. The industry is going to have to make do with a lot less workers in the coming years, so automation offers a way to fill the gap left by retiring humans.

The Barriers To Adoption

The global penetration of offsite construction is difficult to quantify. In some smaller markets, such as Sweden, more than 80% of new homes are now built offsite. But despite an upward trend, no major market yet exceeds 20% penetration; in the US, offsite barely registers at all.

So What’s Holding The Indian Construction Industry Back?

As the manufacturing industry knows only too well, there will always be more advanced plant available on the market, which could improve production. The question is whether the potential benefits justify the cost, and whether the business has the capacity and appetite to make that sort of investment. The world watched in wonder as China put together a 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days and then started constructing a second one that was ready for patients in barely six. 

Modular construction has been around for decades, but swift-moving technology means sophisticated buildings can now be put up in next to no time at all. Also, there’s 3D printer technology that promises to make modular construction even speedier and able to perform more complex tasks. Modular construction has special relevance for India with its urgent need for infrastructure — it can be used for everything from office blocks to hospitals, schools, houses and malls. Equally importantly, it can be used to slash time and costs when putting up low-cost housing on a large scale.

Photo shoot at Autodesk customer, Factory OS, in Vallejo, California. Factory OS is an off site construction company which enables faster time to market, leaner budget, consistent quality, reduced risk, green by design, quiet construction, union supported training and employment and a safer build all translate to homes that can be built 40% faster and with a savings of 20% over conventional construction.

Globally and in India, the construction industry is reckoned to be the second largest in terms of turnover and employment. Right now, India’s market is mired in a deep slowdown, but boom times are seen returning, driven by needs of a burgeoning population. A PriceWaterhouseCoopers report points out that India’s urban population is likely to grow by around 165 million by 2030 and these people will need structures to live, work and play in.

As an industry, construction can be extraordinarily time-consuming and that is particularly true in India, where designers are far less involved in construction than in other countries. Also, there are familiar issues about land acquisition and the fact developers are searching out buyers even as their buildings are going up.

Technology’s almost certain to evolve and give modular construction a bigger edge over conventional building methods. But the Indian construction industry is notably change-resistant and it is unlikely to reach out for new, transformative technologies speedily. Still, wait and watch: modular construction is a boom that is waiting to happen.


By Amrita Batra

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