Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Modular construction looks progressive and remarkably advantageous as Curt Ranta explains. However, as with other construction methods, there are real challenges that can affect the success or failure of your modular project.

1. Mass Production / Limited Variety

First, a modular approach (think mass production) to scale is most effective when spaces and products are uniform and repeatable. Curt Ranta shares that apartment buildings and hotels are therefore naturally likely candidates if each unit can be standardized and stacked. At this stage of the technology, trying to create separate or non-repetitive modules reduces, and potentially defeats, the time and cost benefits for both buying and supplying parties.

2. Higher Number of Complex Decisions/Upstream Design

Second, modularity requires more decisions and better design and engineering to be made early in the process. This requires architects, engineers, and contractors to know the intricacies of the manufacturing and erection stages of modules. For example, the taller the building (higher modules stacked), the more attention must be paid to how they are connected together to be aligned and how the two modules and the outer skin will allow for compression. (The weight of the stacked modules can actually crush the wood underneath.) This up-front design process forces buyers and owners to make final choices on things like finishes and appliances so they can be purchased. well before the start of work.

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3. The Approval Process can be Complicated

Third, the approval process can be complicated. Regardless of how they are constructed, all projects must follow state and local laws and codes. However, the applicable codes change depending on the method. 

Some regions and local jurisdictions are more supportive of modular production than others. Ideally, modules are subject to state codes and can be inspected and completed at the factory, with only connections and field work subject to local inspection. In places with strong union influence, the way contractors manage business relationships can further complicate the approval and execution phases.

4. Few Suppliers are Exposed to Risk

In addition, you concentrate the risk of project execution on one or more suppliers. As per Curt Ranta, module makers have mostly focused on making individual houses as baked goods. Although the number of companies producing commercial and multi-family products is increasing, it remains very limited for those who are interested, capable and have the financial capacity to deliver. Buyers, whether owners or general contractors, should do their due diligence on businesses before entering into a deal that puts all their eggs in one basket. And they must continue to follow up diligently throughout their work. Even with a bond, it would take a huge disaster to switch to another manufacturer in the middle of a project.

5. Transport Costs and Risks as Curt Ranta suggested

Then there is the transport risk. Since the modules are prefabricated in a factory located miles from the construction site, they must be transported directly to the construction site or set up at a nearby location and then put in place. Carriers and riggers must be extremely careful with each module, as a single accident during transportation could necessitate major repairs or replacement of the entire module. This could potentially delay an entire installation sequence. For our Philadelphia project, delivery, set-up and installation went fairly smoothly, with limited interior drywall cracking due to modules being lifted into place. This damage was easily repairable, so nothing to worry about.

It is important that transport and assembly companies make serious efforts to follow the routes and plan the logistics of moving the modules along their journey. They must not be blocked by bridges, sharp curves, traffic problems, the installation of cranes and temporary road closure permits. The size of the modules is usually limited in the first place by the size allowed on the road (perhaps 3 meters wide by 20 meters long) and the crane capacity available (to lift up to 25 tons) across the depth of a project site. Make sure your insurance advisor also works with a broker and carrier who is familiar with the many risks associated with offsite construction. Discover in this article the standards for electrical accreditation.

6. Difficult Funding Process

According to Curt Ranta, another challenge concerns funding. Since modular construction requires things to be bought and made faster, bills are usually much larger at the start of the construction period than investors and lenders may be accustomed to seeing and paying. So take the time to work with the fabricator and contractor to understand the amounts and timing of expected funding (create a monthly projection) and update it as the project unfolds. This will ensure that sufficient funds are available to continue the work and avoid mechanic’s liens. A related point is that a person representing the contractor,

While modular construction is beneficial in certain circumstances, it is not without its problems and is not the solution for all projects. However, Ranta is sure that you’ll see a lot more modular and offsite construction in the future.

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