Using Industrialized Construction to Save Time and Money
Unlocking scalability for GCs in the post-pandemic construction boom
The “next normal” in construction is here. Two years ago, McKinsey & Company predicted that a shift away from conventional construction and toward factory-built solutions would change how space gets built. Last year McKinsey wrote about how the growing number of challenges with conventional construction would lead to modular and prefabrication becoming part of the next normal in construction.
The post-pandemic recovery is accelerating what McKinsey predicted. Construction activity is already on the rise, reflecting pent-up demand from the steep decline over the last year. The Dodge Momentum Index, a monthly measure of planned non-residential building projects, reported a 12-year high in April.
And now general contractors (GCs) trying to keep up are forced to run a gauntlet of challenges — project backlogs, changing needs, surging cost of materials, labor shortages, and supply-chain disruption. This has led to heightened concerns about how the industry will manage this sudden upswing in demand.
GCs now have to figure out how to restart paused projects, land new builds, and complete multiple jobs on shorter schedules.
Achieving those goals today requires a different approach than conventional methods used even a few years ago. To successfully scale interiors now, GCs need to use off-site, modular construction because building this way provides cost certainty, faster construction and installation, fewer labor requirements, increased safety, and future adaptability. This level of predictability means GCs can confidently take on more concurrent projects while continuing to deliver exceptionally built spaces on schedule.
Budget and timeline certainty
When spaces are designed with DIRTT’s construction software, pricing is calculated in real time, right to the penny. Once the design is finalized, the build specifications are sent to our manufacturing facilities and the entire space is built and shipped to the job site in 21 days or less, reducing the potential for change orders. Pricing (including delivery and installation) is determined up-front, which eliminates the fear of cost overruns or Day Two charges.
Fewer labor requirements
Because the interior space is manufactured off-site, GCs can dramatically reduce the number of trades they manage. For example, DIRTT can prefabricate a wall with built-in technology, electrical, and networking components so GCs need fewer trades on the job site. This simplifies the building process, minimizes disruption, and increases physical safety as there are fewer people needed on location.
As Ken Simonson, chief economist with the Associated General Contractors of America, said in a recent media release, “Contractors are experiencing unprecedented intensity and range of cost increases, supply-chain disruptions, and worker shortages that have kept firms from increasing their workforces….[these challenges] will make it difficult for contractors to rebound as the pandemic appears to wane.
To be resilient, GCs need space to be adaptable
It wasn’t long ago that space was built with the intention of going unchanged for years. Workplaces, hospital rooms, and even college classrooms were static. The opposite is true today. Now, more owners and facilities managers are taking a second look at their spaces and asking if they’re set up for a post-pandemic world.
This is what they’re considering:
- How to adapt to accommodate a hybrid workplace.
- How to build space that enables collaboration while also being cognizant of health and safety protocols.
- Whether their space has the right design when the future is unknown.
- How to plan for change.
Prefabrication and modular interior construction solutions answer these questions for owners and facilities managers while creating scale opportunities for GCs.
For owners and facilities managers, modular solutions simplify Day Two changes. Walls can be cleanly reconfigured in as little as two days. Surface finishes can be updated by swapping out panels in a matter of hours. Technology can also be integrated or removed from rooms as their purpose evolves. And all of these changes can be done with minimal downtime to the business because the modular components can be simply swapped.
A high level of customization is possible, too. Finishes, materials, colors and more can be customized. All of it is made from high-quality materials that are often more durable than conventional options. DIRTT’s lean manufacturing process ensures everything meets rigorous quality standards so the finished product is as close to flawless as possible.
The business benefit of prefabrication and modular interior construction for GCs is that they meet their clients’ needs quickly and on budget, which frees up time to take on more projects.
Modular off-site construction enables GCs to scale
Take this project in San Antonio, Texas for example. A bank needed to build a new corporate headquarters in a short timeline as the lease on its old building was coming to an end. The new space was 460,000 square feet over 15 floors in a downtown office tower. The team wanted to maximize view and allow natural light to find its way to everyone in the tower. Using DIRTT’s prefabricated elements allowed glass and hidden casework to be installed across every floor in the tower in just five months. And the extensive use of glass meant every office, meeting room, and cafe had lots of natural light to allow connection to the outside world.
This project in Lawrenceville, Georgia, DIRTT was selected to outfit the interior of an inpatient critical-care environment. If conventional options were used it would mean drywall, tape, and mud, requiring eight hours of drying time between stages. Instead, DIRTT’s prefabricated interiors were shipped and precision-installed in only eight weeks creating 71 acuity-adaptable patient rooms that included nurses stations, bathrooms, and support space.
The speed and efficiency of DIRTT can make a big difference for GCs looking to grow. That was clear to Portland, Oregon based Eteriors, a DIRTT Construction Partner that installs our interior construction solutions.
Mike Johnson, the company’s principal, likes to tell a story about a project that happened 15 years ago. The company’s owners wanted to completely rebuild their space. Their instructions were to demolish everything. As Mike began the teardown, he found himself drilling out rivets from existing prefabricated walls. But, then it hit him — he didn’t have to disassemble to destroy. He could, in fact, disassemble to reassemble. So, he went back to the owners and explained he could reuse components of their existing prefabricated office fronts and panels and cut weeks off the schedule, as well as save money. They gave him the green light. Since then he’s grown a business that embraces prefabrication.
Johnson shared that this year, Q1 was a record quarter for his business, and he credits the ability to provide guarantees via prefabrication and off-site manufacturing of interior spaces as his company’s secret weapon.
Building partnerships as we build space
The post-pandemic recovery is an opportunity for all of us in the construction industry to try new things, forge new partnerships and strengthen existing ones, and continue to tackle challenges head-on.
By working together and playing to one another’s strengths, GCs and prefabricated modular can reduce risk, minimize disruption, and enable a return to profitability for every organization rapidly shifting to adapt to current circumstances.
Shifting sector values will continue to be important as the industry works through pent-up project demand in the coming years. All of the interior construction trades are part of a broad, thriving ecosystem that must work together to embrace new technology and solutions that provide resilience and remain relevant for clients as the world continues to change.
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