If your construction company isn’t yet taking full advantage of offsite prefabrication, you’re leaving money on the table. And, in an industry with notoriously thin margins and stiff competition, that’s a serious situation.
Most likely, this isn’t news to you. Offsite prefabrication isn’t a brand new development in the construction world. It is, however, more practical and cost-effective than ever before. If you’ve considered incorporating it into your workflow in the past, but couldn’t justify the cost of setting it up or effort of outsourcing it to another company, it’s time to look again. And, if you’ve never tried it before, now is definitely the time to learn why offsite prefabrication is a game changer for your firm.
Why offsite prefabrication?
The concept of building “modules” at offsite facilities and shipping them to the jobsite for installation isn’t new. However, in most circumstances, it wouldn’t save time or money over the course of a job. Instead, it would often lead to more work and expense because there was a communication gap between the blueprints everyone was using and what was actually happening at the jobsite.
To ensure a given pipe or conduit fits exactly where it needs to, tolerances need to be as tight as 1/32 of an inch — or tighter for some jobs. So, if anything at all had changed at the jobsite, it brought into question whether the prefabricated module was going to fit. Often, it was up to the welders and pipefitters to figure out a way to make it work, or the prefab pieces had to be scrapped and completely remade.
So, what has changed?
Today, it takes just seconds for plans to be updated and for changes to be communicated to all stakeholders: designer, fabrication facility, GC, owner, and jobsite. Additionally, as 3D digital modeling surpasses traditional paper plans and mobile technology as well as augmented and mixed reality technology evolves, it is far easier to ensure everyone is looking at the same thing at the same time. The communication gap has been essentially closed and the lag time that used to doom prefab orders to the scrap pile is all but eliminated.
As a result, prefabrication has become more than just a “nice to have” option. It’s rapidly become a “must have” that clients, GCs and other subs expect. With the practical challenges met, offsite manufacturing saves time, saves money, improves quality, and makes the whole job easier and more efficient.
Where offsite prefabrication outperforms onsite
There are three main ways offsite manufacturing accomplishes these benefits. Compared to traditional onsite methods, prefabricating modules offsite is faster, more efficient, and of higher quality:
The factory-like, structured environment of an offsite fabrication facility tends to eliminate many of the complications and slowdowns that come with working on a busy construction site.
The machinery and tools workers use can be larger, of higher quality, automated and faster because it doesn’t need to be transportable to and around a crowded jobsite. Additionally, the people running those machines tend to become faster and more efficient because they’re honing a particular skill over a period of time rather than jumping from one urgent need to the next.
Unlike the jobsite — where space is at a premium — an offsite fabrication facility will have room to stock sufficient spare parts so work won’t be delayed waiting on machine downtime.
Offsite fabrication has the potential to pull labor from the jobsite, leaving more room for onsite workers to do their jobs. As long as this is combined with smart infrastructure and logistics planning, it creates incredible efficiencies on what used to be a crowded and chaotic jobsite.
This effect naturally extends to the ability for more efficient job scheduling. When you’re turning out modules and spools at a fixed rate from the prefabrication plant and delivering them on schedule, scheduling installation becomes much easier and more predictable. Everyone at the site knows what to expect and when, so it promotes a more fixed and efficient schedule.
As noted above, the controlled environment of an offsite fabrication facility lends itself to higher quality equipment. Therefore, a higher-quality product can be produced. Joints, equipment and systems are tested at the offsite fabrication plant for failure as part of the QA/QC process. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to carry out as rigid a QA/QC process onsite.
Tolerances at an offsite facility will need to be higher than those required onsite since finished modules need to be shipped to the jobsite. In many cases, arrangements are made for inspectors and regulators to visit the prefabrication facility to handle inspections prior to shipment, since they’re able to do so more quickly and effectively under those conditions.
So, no doubt you can see why offsite prefabrication is such an important strategy for the modern construction company to pursue. But, there’s a lot more to learn.