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Modular Construction – The next big thing in the construction world? (Part – I)

Even as the construction boom phenomenon is spreading fast to more and more places across the world, people are continually looking for advanced and efficient techniques or methodologies for construction of structures. This perpetual persuit has resulted in new construction techniques that are speedier, more cost-effective, efficient and tailor-made for diverse requirements.

The slipform technique of construction, which has been already discussed in this blog, is one of those that has proven it’s immense relevance in the construction of structures like high-rise buildings, silos, chimneys, etc. Evolution didn’t end there and more techniques are coming into being even as the construction world is achieving newer heights continually. A major development among them is the rise of the modular construction method which has the potential of becoming the next big thing in the domain of construction.

The realm of modular construction is an uncharted territory for this author when it comes to practical involvement. However, with experience in diverse construction work one can always have a fairly good idea about a new construction technique by doing some reading about the same.

So, what is modular construction? It is a method of construction which involves mostly off-site construction and to some extent on-site construction. Off-site construction work is usually carried out in the controlled environment of a factory or similar enclosed facility. The proportion of off-site and in situ work may vary from project to project. Normally, well over 50% of the entire structure is prefabricated in the form of modules (pre-designed) in an off-site facility which are then transported to site for installation in order to complete the structure.

In some cases, almost the entire structure is prefabricated in the form of modules and shipped to site as per schedule. Often the foundation is constructed at site and the rest of the structure is completed by assembling the modules on it. So, the only major on-site activities are usually the site preparation & the foundation work. This gives the entire process of construction a whole new meaning and no wonder that this methodology of building structures is beginning to make waves in the domain of construction.

In a nutshell, modular system of construction comprises of four basic components – analysis & design, production of modules in an off-site facility, shipping of modules to their final destination and installation of the same to complete the structure.

Modular construction technique can be used for both temporary as well as permanent structures. Temporary modular structures are those that can be relocated and reused as and when required. Even though this method can be applied to varieties of structures, the most popular use of it is seen in the construction of buildings such as apartments, commercial buildings and so on.

Modular construction system is especially good for cases where a number of similar buildings are required to be constructed. That’s because a large number of similar modules can be prepared in factory repeatedly, without changing the arrangements and transported to the actual site(s). This makes the construction process even faster and quality, time & cost efficient. Examples are retail outlets, educational buildings, sports villages, industrial townships, apartment blocks, temporary accomodation facilities during industrial project construction, etc. It is also quite useful for ports, deep water construction, healthcare, factory, office, etc buildings as well.

Before opting for modular construction approach it is important to consider certain key aspects. First and foremost whether to go for the modular approach or not is to be decided carefully. This should be determined at the very beginning and the the participants of the project such as the owners, planners, designers, project managers, contractors, experts and end users should be involved in the decision making process. A decision in favour of the same can be taken if the requirements of the participants, especially that of the asset owners & the asset users, are concordant with the advantages to be gained from adopting the modular concept in stead of a conventional method of construction. It is also important to decide which modular methodology would be most appropriate for a particular type of project.

Another key consideration is the transport logistics. The supply & service chain of the modular construction method is quite different from that of the conventional ones. This aspect needs to be thoroughly addressed beforehand. Various dimensions like intricacies of transporting logistics, latest available technologies & equipment for handling & transportation of modules, timely delivery of modules must be taken into account in the conceptual stage itself. There could be other challenges as well which need to be identified and an appropriate contingency plan would come in handy.

Consideration like to what extent a structure would be modularised and how much on-site construction would be done must be addressed well in advance. Another important aspect is whether the structure(s) would be permanent or of the type that can be relocated and reused conveniently. While designing the modules, their connections and the structure as a whole, this can play an important role.

Few other areas requiring careful thinking are the modular design process, cost benefits, a team skilled in modular matters, quality production of modules and their efficient installation and a thorough planning of the entire process itself. It also needs to be ensured at the very early stage itself that no changes occur in the design of the structure or in the scope of the project as such changes tend to cast adverse impacts on the cost and time schedules substantially.

Contd. in Part-II ……

Ref: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercial_modular_construction?seg=1

http://www.skmconsulting.com/Knowledge-and-Insights/Achieve-Magazine/Issue3-2010/article6.aspx

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About clazcons

B. Tech. (Civil Engineering)

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