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The modular/volumetric construction industry has evolved massively over the last few years. It is now probably better described as off-site construction as the technology advances and expectations align with traditional construction methods.

The days of modular construction only comprising grey steel boxes of set dimensions are gone. There is now no reason why quality, robust and aesthetically excellent buildings can’t be produced off-site with all the advantages that come hand in hand with this method of building. There has always been huge potential for the off-site industry but only relatively recently has this potential been recognised on such a large scale.

This recognition has hugely increased the demand for off-site solutions including numerous schemes to  meet government targets along with many businesses that recognise the benefits of building in this way. I believe that this demand has produced its own set of challenges for designers like myself, with the complexity of design work increasing and programmes getting tighter as construction pressures mount.

How do we deal with these challenges…

There is no one solution however, the construction industry as a whole already has some excellent tools for improving the accuracy and efficiency of design work, allowing us to deal with new challenges and complexities. Tools such as 3D design software, BIM and clash detection are technologies that we are already embracing.

The process of BIM involves combining information and technology to create a digital representation of a project before we build it in our factory. This digital model then evolves in parallel with the real project across its timeline, from design, construction, and in-use operational information.

The 3D BIM model produced in Revit, incorporates details of the building fabric, structure and M&E fit out. Once produced this model has many advantages including:

  • Collaboration of different disciplines such as clash checking between M&E fit out and structures.
  • Automatic scheduling of fit out items such as doors and windows etc.
  • A quicker and more intelligent process when revisions are made to the design which allows multiple elements to be changed all at once.
  • Ability to create 3D images/visualizations of a building for use in manufacture and marketing.
  • A store of digital information for use throughout the full life cycle of the project/building.

As the size and complexity of the projects we are dealing with increases, BIM helps us to build more efficiency into our design process, allowing us to reduce wasted time, materials and cost by picking up issues digitally before they are physically constructed.

I believe that the diversity of the design team and the wider team is also important. A mixture or both modular and traditional construction professionals provides a well-balanced team with expertise capable of dealing with a wide range of construction challenges.

One thing the modular industry has always been good at is standardisation. Although we specialise in bespoke, turnkey solutions, we use standardised component parts and processes which we and the industry as a whole are continually working hard to utilise, to improve design efficiency and stop reinventing the wheel on a project by project basis.

The above, coupled with good design management, well considered design programmes and clear processes go a long way to allow us to deal with changes in modular designs and expectations. We also need to be prepared to have a growth mindset and be willing to embrace the challenges created as a result of being part of this fast-paced, exciting industry.

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What are your thoughts on dealing with design changes/challenges in the modular construction industry?