By Jamie Hodges
The construction industry is no stranger to prefabrication – it’s been used for decades as an efficient way to build components of a structure offsite and then transport and assemble them at the jobsite for less cost and less labor without compromising on quality. While this type of construction has been used by many in the industry, it’s popularity is growing given the many additional benefits it brings in a world dominated by COVID-19-related safety concerns, which include minimizing worker interactions and increasing social distancing. The following benefits have always been inherent to prefabrication but are even more so in the world of COVID-19.
Better quality and control
One of the top benefits of prefabrication is the ability to design and construct a high-quality product in a controlled environment. Unlike at a jobsite where there are different aspects of a project happening simultaneously, a prefabrication shop allows for a portion of the project to be built offsite in a quiet, weather-resistant, controlled environment. This provides for less distractions and less unknowns, helping to keep projects on track.
Prefabrication is also typically planned in advance so you have a better sense of what needs to be created and can utilize a crew who has the skill set to construct the materials according to set standards, which are quality checked throughout the process. Put together, this helps contribute to better craftsmanship and better quality as well.
Faster and more efficient
Prefabrication helps accelerate your work since you’re not out in the field subject to weather delays or other distractions like trucks and traffic that can naturally slow a project down. You also usually have the same skilled workers assigned to the project who can hone in and complete it with less interruptions since they know what to expect, taking a lot of the guesswork out of day-to-day operations.
Having the same crew work together can also give them a bit of insulation because they’re separated from other workers at the jobsite and thus at less risk of exposure. When the pandemic hit in March, many prefabrication shops didn’t skip a beat because they were able to social distance quickly and easily, ensuring proper safety precautions were taken immediately.
Prefabrication also usually takes less people to produce and install, in addition to being done more quickly due to upfront planning and fewer subcontractor delays.
Significant cost savings
One of the biggest benefits of prefabrication is cost savings, which is the result of many of the previous benefits mentioned – i.e. anything that is more efficient, has less interruptions and requires less labor will naturally cost less. In fact, it’s not uncommon for prefabrication to cost anywhere from a third to half as much as producing and installing on site.
It’s also not uncommon to prefab in more than one shop, sharing production with partners whom you know and trust. If you sell your services as a package deal, it can help drop the price and further increase your ability to win the job, in addition to helping should you have scheduling or capacity issues.
One recent noteworthy project developed in partnership was between ICM Colorado, a general contractor with locations in Denver and Pueblo who specializes in prefabricated steel projects, and rocket manufacturer United Launch Alliance (ULA). The project entailed developing prefabricated structural columns and beams for a rocket simulator test pad, which was developed after three design changes to ensure precision tolerances. ICM Colorado was able to construct all of the steel offsite, helping to speed up the timeline and reduce the overall project cost.
Constructing offsite can also enable a client to keep their facility operational during construction, helping them avoid any reduction in revenue since a large portion of construction happens offsite, minimizing interference with normal operations. This can be a huge selling point when bidding for projects as it provides clients with additional cost savings.
Less waste and more environmentally friendly
Finally, because prefabrication tends to be pre-planned, materials can be more accurately measured leaving less waste. Materials from one project can also be easily recycled in-house towards the next project vs. sending them to a landfill.
Prefab shops also tend to have exposure to the outdoors so employees can easily work on projects outside, helping with ventilation. As we know now, this is another benefit to COVID-19-related health concerns, as it enables workers to have easy access to good air circulation while still benefiting from a more tightly-controlled environment.
Prefabrication is clearly here to stay and will only continue to grow in popularity given its many benefits – both those that were always inherent to the industry, but which are even more helpful in today’s world. The faster the industry adopts prefabrication, the better off many contractors will be in ensuring that their projects are done quickly and efficiently, for less cost and with less environmental impact, all without compromising on quality. Plus, prefabrication helps keep workers safer by being in a controlled environment with less people and thus less risk for infection. At a time when safety is paramount, there is no better benefit than that.
Jamie Hodges is the Executive Vice President of Industrial Constructors/Managers, Inc. and has worked as a specialty contractor in industrial construction and management for over 15 years.