Mark Beroney, Atlantic Prefab
Since the early 1900’s when Sears Roebuck entered the prefab housing market, the construction industry has had what seems to be an on again / off again relationship with prefabricated construction. However, over the years prefabrication has certainly found its home in several commercial construction arenas; pre-cast concrete, trusses, wall panels, and so on. They have earned their staying power based on several successes such as technology, structural capacity, speed, and costs. Is this all that the prefab industry has to offer? Certainly not.
The prefab industry is making advances in nearly all critical path phases on a commercial construction project. Some of these specific areas we are seeing more growth in are; exterior pre-finished wall panels, bathroom pods, and hospital head walls. Advances in technology and management such as BIM and IPD are not only enabling prefabrication, they are actually making it possible to bring several trades together on a single multi-trade prefabricated component.
Why is prefabrication such an attractive direction for a commercial project to go in? In today’s commercial construction market, on-site labor, if you can find it, is costly. On-site production rates are hindered by weather, accessibility challenges, site congestion and etc. The prefabrication design process helps to flush out many of those unseen issues and problem details so that they can be worked out prior to being discovered in the field and causing costly delays. A prefabricated approach is a lean construction approach, bringing high level efficiencies to the construction site.
Imagine the exterior wall assembly of a two story 20,000 s/f office building. Now imagine the number of processes it takes to make that building weather tight before the snow flies: exterior framing, sheathing, weather barrier, continuous insulation, maybe a furring system, exterior finishes, and windows. Now imagine that same building with prefabricated exterior wall assembly encompassing all of the above. With a five man crew for 1 – 2 weeks and five crane days, that same building will be weather tight at least two months ahead of schedule. No lifts, no staging, far less exposure to accidents, and far less headaches.
Sure, this all sounds great, why aren’t we seeing this everywhere? In many cases, prefabrication can have the appearance of being more costly than traditional methods. This is mostly due to the costs of shop drawings, handling, and shipping. However, contractors that are embracing this prefabrication know that they experience general conditions savings, a more productive job site, higher level of safety, better quality, and their client gets a better building sooner which puts more money in the owners’ pocket sooner.