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Top Technology Trends Part III: Prefabrication and Its Significant Cost- & Time-Savings

 

Top Technology Trends Part III: Prefabrication and Its Significant Cost- & Time-Savings

In part two of our top-trends series, we talked about how optimizing the basics allows construction firms to improve efficiency and productivity across their organizations. That was our first technology trend we’ve seen construction firms start to leverage on a wide scale. The next trend might have you saying, “But that’s been around forever!” Yet the truth is, firms are starting to realize more and more how prefabrication done right can help them save time and money.

Prefabrication has a bad rap with consumers because they think it means that their building is going to look like a bunch of other buildings. Yet what prefabrication really involves is assembling components such as framing off-site and then installing them on-site. With advances in technology, it’s easier than ever to design a unique building that can be partially assembled off-site using prefabrication.

The Rising Popularity of BIM

Building information modeling (BIM) has become quite popular for many reasons, but one big benefit is that it’s now the main driving force of prefabrication. BIM’s ability to analyze building designs and plans prior to actually starting work in the field means you can perform much earlier clash detection, potentially saving huge expenses and costly delays in having to fix clashes during construction. Instead, 3D modeling allows everyone to see where, for example, the building’s support structure could clash with the intended placement of HVAC or IT infrastructure and solve those issues before construction begins. 

And because BIM allows the building design to be finalized and carried out without future changes, it enables far more prefabrication than was possible in the past. Construction firms can be more confident they can produce assemblies off-site to exact and unchanging measurements, thereby improving worksite productivity and boosting savings. 

Additionally, with advances in manufacturing and the digitization of architectural plans using BIM, the parts you need can be not only created to exact and controlled specifications using robotics but also labeled with QR codes that make assembling the components even faster and easier. 

Contractors Can Benefit, Too

It’s not just builders who can benefit from prefabrication. A great example of a contractor benefiting is in electrical. Electrical contractors install electrical boxes, overhead lighting, wiring, sockets and more. A certified electrician requires a certain level of experience, expertise and corresponding pay, so if you can make the process of installing electrical boxes and other components more efficient, you could reduce their time on-site and thus reduce your costs.

Prefabrication allows you to put together the majority of an electrical box off-site so that it gets delivered preassembled, making installation much faster and requiring the certified electrician to be on site for far less time.

Hiring and Retaining Skilled Workers

Prefabrication doesn’t just save your firm more money. It also enables you to hire and retain skilled workers. Prefabrication can be done at the same site for job after job in a controlled environment, so it eliminates travel, weather delays and other inconveniences of being an on-site construction worker or contractor. For those on-site workers, prefabrication increases the speed of construction, as well as decreases delays and the amount of manual labor they’re performing. Prefabrication also allows construction employees to work around subcontractors, further saving time.

All of these benefits are attractive to potential employees and are benefits that help retain current workers. 

Meeting Demands for Sustainability

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that four out of five contractors say their customers are requesting they use energy-efficient materials in their projects.[1] With an ever-increasing push to go green, you’ll find that prefabrication is one great way to do so. 

Because building materials can be recycled in a controlled environment and there’s incredible precision and predictability to what’s being produced, prefabrication produces little to no waste of materials. This not only increases a project’s sustainability but also allows your firm to promote to prospective clients that you follow green practices. 

Getting the Technology Right

Technology, of course, enables prefabrication. BIM has increased its popularity; robotics in manufacturing make it easier, faster and cheaper to do; and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems allow you to track how much of each material type you have, how quickly you’re using the materials and when you should order more. 

Right now, there isn’t one technology that does it all for you, from BIM to materials tracking to the actual prefabrication, but as more and more construction firms begin utilizing prefabrication, the demand will rise and technology will follow to meet that demand. But the ability to utilize prefabrication is currently there for many construction firms who are willing to put in the effort to reap the rewards, and that’s why it’s one of our top three trends in the construction and real estate industry. 

Interested in how technology can work for your business? Contact Wipfli’s technology and construction & real estate specialists for a free consultation.


[1] “Workforce Challenges Continue to Impact Construction Industry as 9 out of 10 U.S. Contractors Report Skilled Labor Shortage,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, June 2019, https://www.uschamber.com/press-release/workforce-challenges-continue-impact-construction-industry-9-out-of-10-us-1, accessed March 2019.

Author(s)

Matt Gelb
Matt Gelb
Partner
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Ken Kortas
Kenneth F. Kortas, CPA
Technology Consulting Services Leader
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