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Prefab Is Fab

Prefabricated building modules are trending.

Supply chain disruptions and workforce shortages can wreak havoc on construction projects as their compounded effects lengthen lead times and increase costs. Fortunately, these challenges can make businesses more creative and resourceful. Modular construction with prefabricated units combines the benefits of standardization and flexibility to speed up construction and lower costs. It thus facilitates the successful execution of large projects in an era of uncertainty and inflation.

Video Spotlight: Bathroom Pods Made of Light Gauge Steel Frame  (August 6, 2020, Cellular Lightweight Concrete Technology) 

This post is based on The New York Times article, Why Wait for a Sink When You Can Install an Entire Bathroom?, by J. Weed, April 26, 2022, and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: Guido Mieth/Getty Images.

Discussion Questions:

1. In construction, what is prefabrication?

Guidance:  Prefabrication involves assembling components or modules in another location that is equipped and designed to facilitate production. Once completed, these prefabricated units are delivered to the construction sites where they can be installed.

2. How can prefabrication safeguard against shortages?

Guidance: There can be materials and workforce shortages. Prefabrication helps cope with material shortages because there is an opportunity to order parts in large quantities. The large orders have the major benefit of increasing the buyer’s clout and ability to secure deliveries and quantity discounts. Similarly, shortages of highly skilled workers have made it very difficult for manufacturers to produce the right product at the right time and for the right price. Prefabrication brings together teams of workers with different skills. Because the work at a factory is more predictable and consistent and takes place in a safer environment, it is more attractive to workers currently in short supply. Moreover, the standardized nature of the work facilitates automation, which enables manufacturers of prefabricated units (and construction managers) to hire fewer workers.

3. How does prefabrication help complete a construction project on time and on budget?

Guidance: The article and video identify many ways that prefabrication can help keep a project on time and on budget. The following factors contribute to lower costs: orders in large quantities, standardization of work, lower material waste, simplified supply chain and work breakdown structure, fewer high-skilled workers in the factories and on the construction sites, higher quality and lower failure costs, reduced theft and spoilage, and less material handling (but possibly higher transportation costs). The following factors help save time: working in parallel rather than sequentially, assembling teams of specialists for faster production and better coordination, fewer late deliveries and lesser impact, simplified supply chain, and less rework.

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