Manufacturers have used the assembly line to create everything from cars to shoes for more than 100 years. Even as far back as 1913, they saw a six-fold decrease in production time by employing this strategy. However, assembly line production never made its way to the mainstream of construction industry until now.
Perhaps this resistence to change is why productivity in this field has been on a steady decline for over 50 years. More than any other industry, construction insiders have been hesitant to change long-held roles and scopes.
Modular Construction Challenges Inefficiency
The current approach to building a home or commercial building consists of many different people doing individual tasks with little knowledge of anyone else’s function. For example, owners and developers start a project and then pass it off to architects and engineers. They bring in additional layers by hiring contractors and construction managers and involving the regulating authorities. Each team has its own priorities, which can and often do conflict.
The current system is inefficient because it pulls people together who have never collaborated in the past and they part ways when completing the project. This leaves no opportunity to learn from one another and carry that knowledge to future projects. Construction teams simply start from scratch every time they construct a new home or building. Modular construction shifts this paradigm to a new way of thinking.
The Growing Popularity of Prefabricated Modular Homes
This new type of home construction has attracted everyone from the environmentally conscious desiring modern sustainable homes to retiring baby boomers looking to downsize to a well-designed, smaller space. Modular homes, which can be placed virtually anywhere, are easier and more efficient to build than their contemporary counterparts. Instead of taking months to build, a prefabricated home can be move-in ready within a matter of weeks. Costs run about the same, but industry experts predict a reduction of about 15 percent as more people become aware of the option to build a prefabricated home.
Manufacturers of these homes build them entirely indoors, which means they are never exposed to moisture, mold, or severe weather. The homes are prefabricated as panels or block-like units. Building crews fit the pieces together permanently while still in the controlled indoor environment. Prefabricated homes must meet all local building regulations and codes before being made available to a buyer.
Joint Venture Between British and Chinese to Produce 25,000 Prefabricated Homes
In late 2016, a housing association in the United Kingdom signed a deal worth £2.5bn (3.09 billion in U.S. dollars) with a Chinese-owned construction firm to build 25,000 prefabricated homes over the next five years. This is partially in response to the need for up to one million new homes in the U.K. by 2020. Other compelling reasons for the project include creating 1,000 new jobs and contributing to renewable energy efforts. Currently, the U.K. is well below its target goal of building 200,000 new homes per year.
As part of a major anti-poverty initiative, the new modular homes will be more affordable than what people can currently find in the U.K. Although the project is still in the early stages, it’s clear it will provide numerous benefits beyond improved building efficiency.
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