by Maureen Funke and Deb Gearty
Is prefabrication at the pinnacle of the construction industry transformation?
It may very well be. The data is there: Technology-driven prefabrication has many advantages and few drawbacks. But prefabrication is like many other innovations in the construction industry, slow to catch on and met with resistance. According to McKinsey, the construction industry is one of the “least digitized industries in the world.”1
Least digitized and most arduous! Lack of prefabrication integration has long been a sore point in the construction industry. Yet there are not enough hands to do the work conventionally. In recent research, 88% of respondents had encountered risks related to craftworker shortages, and 67% had encountered risks related to the shortage of field supervisors.2 Today, finding skilled tradespeople is extremely difficult. For every five trained tradespeople retiring only one enters an apprenticeship program.3 The need to build more efficiently is greater than ever.
“Now, digital technologies are gradually entering the construction industry, changing how infrastructure, real estate, and other built assets are designed, constructed, operated, and maintained”, says the Boston Consulting Group.4 Transformation is a subjective term, though, right? How will we actually know the industry has transformed? Fewer man hours, fewer claims, greater sustainability? “Within 10 years, full-scale digitization could help the industry save an estimated 12% to 20%, equal to between $1 trillion and $1.7 trillion annually”.1 I’d say that would be a good measure. I’ll write an article in 2028 to confirm.
As our industry’s adoption of digital tools increases, we can start to envision transformation in a space which has remained largely unchanged in a century. The changes underway now are creating an environment where all stakeholders are equally engaged in the process, a space where the design, budget, and schedule are clearly understood. Along with new technology innovations, new methods are being developed which are paving the way to the future of our industry.
One new method of construction that employs digital technologies to meet the demands of end users, design professionals, and contractors is Doing It Right This Time (DIRTT). DIRTT produces hyper-personalized prefab interiors for healthcare, education, corporate, and life science clients. Custom, pre-assembled walls, doors, millwork, and electrical components are delivered in three to five weeks! The work done by other trades to produce a warm shell is performed in a wide-open, safe, efficient worksite while the interior solution is produced in the factory.
The project is virtually waste-free, with high fit, finish, and function. One recent project reported eliminating 25,600 lbs. of drywall and 550 lbs. of carpet waste while completing the project 20% faster, and another client reported an estimated $1 million/year maintenance savings for their critical care unit, a nice dent in the $1.7 trillion potential savings.1
Technology has transformed prefabrication from the mass-produced boxes we used to see, to beautiful designs customized to suit the clients’ needs. It is one example of the transformative effect of technology on our industry.
Maureen Funke is a DIRTT Champion with greenbox and a longtime Construction Institute member and chair of its editorial board
Deb Gearty is a DIRTTBag and #buildbetterembassador with Ritz Associates and a Construction Institute Board member.
- McKinsey, “How technology is disrupting the construction industry,” March 27, 2018.
- WeldingSchool.com, “A Guide to the Skilled Trades Shortage in 2018: How We Got Here and How We Can Start to Fix It,” April 17, 2018 by Zander Buel.
- CBS News, “A new blueprint for America’s construction trades,” October 1, 2017.
- Boston Consulting Group, “6 ways the construction industry can build for the future,” at The World Economic Forum, March 15, 2018.