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Expert Insight

Benefits of modular construction


by Patrick O Callaghan, CEO of Off-Site Engineering Solutions, a Dubai based Engineering Consultancy, specializing in advising on design and delivery of Off-Site, Modular and Prefabricated building systems.

By 2050 the Middle East and Africa will be home to around 3.4 billion people – this is likely to be more than the populations of China and India combined (World Economic Forum, May 2018); Such an unprecedented boom will present challenges as well as opportunities, including how to provide homes and infrastructure for such growth;

The Middle East has seen the fastest growing urban populations in the world for the past 50 years and longer – with growth consistently higher than in China or Africa. As a result, over 70% of people live in urban areas across the region, bringing it to the level of Europe. The GCC is one of the most highly urbanised parts of the world with 85% of the population living in cities today, expected to rise to 90% by 2050 (Megatrends, PWC, 2016);

Government agencies, owner/developers and the broader construction industry in the MENA region are turning their attentions to the same questions being asked globally; how can the construction industry respond to these challenges and be more productive, at a higher quality and to a reduced timeframe?

What unique challenges in the MENA region can these be addressed with new modular and offsite technologies?

In the future, the region needs to become less dependent upon oil revenues, and developing new industries and technologies associated with offsite construction can contribute greatly to this new direction.

Offsite and modular construction essentially refers to the construction methodology in which components, or even complete building units, are prefabricated in factories at offsite locations and assembled together on site. When the individual units are manufactured in a factory environment there is a greater degree of efficiency in terms of project timeline and costs along with greater quality control. This ends up benefiting both the real estate builders and end buyers alike.

Let’s explore the main benefits of offsite and modular construction in detail:

What are the benefits of modular construction?

  1. Improved Quality Control

When components or modules are constructed in the confines of a factory there is greater control possible over the quality of the output. A factory environment can include climate controlled facilities, precision equipment and well trained operators, something that is a pre-requisite for any manufacturing output.

Indeed, offsite construction is much more aligned to manufacturing than to construction, much like how automobile production lines are no comparison to the bespoke handwork required for a Formula 1 racecar.

In addition, as production takes place in the controlled set up of a factory, the adherence to exact specifications of materials and procedures can be ensured with much greater accuracy and traceability, with more thorough quality checks.

  1. Reduced Timelines and Early Occupancy

When it comes to onsite construction, external factors such as material deliveries, unplanned delays, rework and environmental factors are very commonly known to take a toll on the project’s completion time.

However, using offsite methods, there exists a sizeable advantage in terms of carrying out both the building of the modules and the onsite preparation simultaneously. This lends a tremendous amount of time efficiency into the project schedule. Ultimately, this efficiency ends up reducing the lead time from contract to actual occupancy by a large margin.

  1. Economical Cost Structure

Modular constructions also present a significant opportunity for contractors to reduce their construction costs, resulting from both the planned and the unplanned activities impacting the projects.

In the factory-controlled offsite environment, it is possible to have a greater degree of planning when building parts and be able to track and confirm the process. Offsite methods make it possible to carry out proper material planning, eliminating the un-necessary and wasteful material surplus requirements. Storage costs, and common expenses resulting from material damage and pilferage, can also be controlled much better under factory supervision.

Additionally, since the production cycle is completed much faster, the time saving translates into lower variable expenditure in terms of labor costs and other overhead expenses. These cost reduction benefits to the builder are ultimately also passed on to the consumer, making their real estate purchase more economical.

  1. Versatile Methodologies

Another striking advantage of modular construction is the flexibility aspect that it comes with. Modular methods are equally good for construction of both temporary and permanent structures, and this makes them very universal for all kinds of construction projects.

Owing to their agile lead time, modular methods are often deployed to quickly set up housing structures in emergency situations, whether related to housing shortage, natural disaster hit regions or construction needs in remote locations. Prefabricated structures are also great for temporary constructions and can be shifted to another location once the requirement is met with.

On the other hand, modular construction are also regularly employed for durable, secure permanent construction needs in all most all verticals and industries.

  1. Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly

Finally, offsite methods are also very well aligned with many environmental and sustainability initiatives.

Minimisation of onsite works reduces local traffic and site disruption, reducing disturbance to neighbours. Compared to the high energy use of concrete, modular and offsite systems regularly make use of recycled and recyclable materials including steel, glass and composite materials. Moreover, due to streamlined production processes in the controlled environment, the reduction of material surplus requirement leads to optimal utilization of resources, minimizing wastage. Also, when modular methods are used for building temporary structures, their dismantling is possible without any kind of destructive demolition. This totally cuts out the emission of pollutants, unwanted dust, debris and noise into the environment.

In conclusion, offsite and modular systems can provide significant benefits for owners, contractors and property buyers in the MENA region.

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