Many parts of the lean methodology — such as the efforts concerning waste reduction and continuous process improvement — align with goals in the construction sector. It’s no surprise there’s an emerging lean construction trend that involves using prefabricated buildings.
Prefabs are assembled off-site in factories, then moved to the final location in their nearly completed forms. Some lean construction efforts also involve modular buildings, which represent a category within prefab construction. Most of the unit assembly process in these cases still happens elsewhere. When the pieces arrive at a site, builders finish the job by stacking the block-like parts in the right arrangements.
Here are some examples of why the push toward lean construction simultaneously benefits prefabrication companies and customers.
1. Reduce Costs and See Payoffs Sooner
Clients typically hope construction jobs are finished as soon as possible. The sooner the building process is completed, the faster the owners and managers can use it to make a profit.
Christian Lawrence is the founder and CEO of a company called Rise Modular. The executive says his business model, which uses a factory assembly line approach, can save 10%-20% on construction costs, as well as shorten the time from groundbreaking to occupancy by 30%-50%.
In an interview, Lawrence also spoke of how the modular process reduces errors and the challenges of bad weather, noting, “The precision and quality we can achieve in a factory setting is greater than what can be achieved on-site. A 90-degree angle is truly 90 degrees. You’re not dealing with the elements. We’ve built our company, our platform and technology specifically to build high-quality housing and hospitality projects.”
2. Minimize the Delays Associated With Construction Tasks
Succeeding with any construction project requires managers to ensure there are enough people and supplies to keep operations running smoothly. Someone overseeing a site’s activities must become a skilled negotiator while engaging with subcontractors, suppliers and other parties. Even so, it’s challenging to coordinate everyone’s duties and ensure they know their responsibilities.
Since so much work happens on prefab homes before they reach the property, there’s a significantly reduced likelihood of having to wait for different teams from various companies to collaborate. Instead, assembly line workers associated with a single company complete their jobs to the required specifications.
Such results mean customers can start enjoying the fruits of those labors sooner than they otherwise could. Suppose a homeowner opts to have a precast foundation installed. In such cases, the builder can often begin working on the residence that day, substantially reducing the overall construction timeline.
Moreover, other components, such as prefab wall panels, have built-in openings to accommodate windows and doors and are designed with wiring and small plumbing elements in mind. This allows teams to get straight to work without worrying about some of the more time-consuming construction site duties.
3. Enable Construction Companies to Maintain Competitiveness
Focusing on lean construction can also help firms stay competitive. Decision-makers know they must keep innovating to maintain prominence in the marketplace. Such was the case with Philadelphia D&M, a finish contractor with more than two decades of experience in construction. The company has heavily invested in prefab construction, including building a 170,000-square foot dedicated facility for it.
The company has also trademarked its Durapods, which are customized modular bathrooms designed for facilities such as hotels and hospitals. A joint venture with Alexander Building Construction Co. involves supplying more than 130 Durapods for a Pennsylvania medical center.
Stephen Lee, the executive-in-charge at Alexander, says Philadelphia D&M has “taken the 5S methodologies of lean construction to another level.” He also discussed how serious the company’s team is about continuous improvement, saying, “You can just feel it when you’re talking with their team. They’re always looking for a way to make the process better. You don’t need to pull them along — they’re leading the way.”
4. Increase the Availability of Affordable Housing
Evidence also suggests that prefab homes could help tackle the lack of reasonably priced abodes in the United States and elsewhere.
Vaughan Buckley is the president of Volumetric Building Cos., which specializes in modular homes. He explained, “In inner-city environments, we can get townhouse costs down by building enough of them at scale. First-time homebuyers can buy a product for less than what it’s worth in the market and actually generate equity and wealth and allow people with lower incomes that would typically be stuck in a rent cycle for their entire life to get into homeownership.”
He clarified, “That’s an opportunity that is not specific to modular and off-site construction, but I think that we’re very well poised to deploy large quantities of housing in a really meaningful and efficient way.” Buckley also mentioned his company’s methods open opportunities for high-quality apartments that people can afford.
You can easily imagine why that’s the case. For example, lean construction aims to avoid waste, and that’s precisely what happens with a modular project. There’s no chance of making mistakes at a site and wasting materials. Buckley explained that many modular mistakes happen at the drawing table while making plans. However, that also gives plenty of time for making corrections before the errors become costly.
Lean Construction Gaining Traction
As professionals become more interested in lean construction, you’ll almost certainly see additional attention paid to prefab homes and commercial projects. Many people in the business world already know about lean methodology principles. As more of them hear about the possibilities for applying it to structures, the practice should enjoy even more momentum.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing industrial topics for the manufacturing, energy, and supply chain industries.