Modular construction has seen a surge in popularity, disrupting the construction industry in a positive way and shortening the time between project conception and completion. However, there are still many barriers to modular becoming the preferred method of project delivery.
One of the main issues for clients is knowing when to engage modular suppliers during the design process to get project security but also maintain a commercial competitiveness.
Early engagement is highly useful to allow the design to fully capitalise on a supplier's system including dimensional arrangements of walls and floors, materials and finishes. However early engagement also locks the project into a single supplier and means the project's final cost is often negotiated rather than tendered and there are naturally commercial concerns over the competitiveness of this process.
How do clients decide when to select a supplier, get confidence that the supplier has the know-how and capacity to deliver the modular project and that it will be commercially competitive?
In traditional build projects, progress and quality can be monitored directly as the works progress on site. This is different for modular projects as a significant amount of investment in time and cost is needed before anything turns up at site and is tested for fit up and quality.
This can lead to a significant financial and time risk where clients are left with a building pre-sold or pre-let and with months or even weeks before commissioning and handover and yet most of the building is not on site nor tested for fit-up accuracy. On the modular supplier side, suppliers want to invest in production improvements but struggle without an advance order book or high-volume market demand.
I firmly believe the industry can be furthered with a significant step change. The starting point is to avoid the need for early engagement with modular suppliers by taking the reliance of the design out of the supplier's hands and holding this in the design team for longer, similar to how traditional construction is designed. To do this standard details that are supplier agnostic are required.
The big idea here is to allow procurement flexibility, then traditional contractors without specific modular system expertise can still bid and deliver the project in a modular way. Modular suppliers can still bid for the same project and coupled together with this thinking and approach they can increase the volume of modular projects in the industry, increasing expertise across the whole sector, not just modular suppliers, thereby increasing investment and innovation.
This approach will also drive the modular industry towards more uniformity and standardising which is much needed and key to increasing the demand for modular delivery.
If modular suppliers have capacity that's great but if they are overbooked or not cost effective traditional contractors can step in. Also, modular suppliers that lack in country expertise can enter the market by adopting a standardised system developed by the project design team.
Everyone wins and everyone benefits and the industry can move on to deliver higher volumes of modular projects, invest in more innovation and technology, bringing a national and international work forces to bear on the construction industry, providing safer working environments and shortening project deliver times as well as driving down the costs of projects and upfront financial costs down.