Businesses and health care facilities considering construction projects may want to look at modular construction alternatives as a way to control costs, reduce time, and minimize disruption. To meet client needs, SGA Design Group has designed several versions of modular facilities using volumetric modular systems, panelized systems, and intermodel cargo containers.
What advantages are there to using modular construction?
- Compress the critical path of the project schedule
- Reduce disruption to users and operations by performing as much work as possible off-site
- Minimize construction staging area by stockpiling and performing assembly off-site
- Improve construction quality with in-plant manufacturing processes
- Concentrate labor in controlled environments
- Leverage sustainable practices:
- Increase production speed and reduce energy usage by using lean construction processes
- Reduce construction waste by adopting efficient assembly line recycling processes
Modular expansions can provide quick, flexible ways for owners to establish or increase their square footage with minimal effect on existing operations, limited noise and crew disruptions, and far lower costs and timeframes than conventional construction.
Final finishes can be applied at the factory, which also eliminates one or two construction trades, as well as potential paint overspray and debris generation on the business site. If jurisdictional zoning requirements necessitate enhanced architectural palettes, modular units can be designed to receive thin stone, brick, or wood veneers during the in-plant manufacturing process.
The advantages of modular offsite construction are best leveraged when as many building systems as possible are fully integrated at the manufacturing plant. Electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection systems may all be pre-installed with final connections between modules made quickly on-site. Specialized inspections conducted at each step of the off-site fabrication process allow imperfections to be resolved on the spot. Furnishings and equipment can also be shipped to the manufacturing site for pre-installation. Minimizing on-site touch to the finished building saves time and ultimately allows quicker use of the building and shortens the duration of construction financing.
What types of modular construction are being used now?
- Component Systems
- Special Construction Systems
- Intermodal Shipping Containers
Volumetric modular construction consists of stacking and joining pre-finished modules to form a complete building. Modules are bolted and interconnected, and facades can be installed on-site. Entire buildings can be erected on-site and operational within days.
Panelized modular construction utilizes roof, walls, and floors which are broken down into flat, shippable sections to decrease construction time on-site. The building envelope can be erected on-site within a few days. After the shell is erected, the interior finish-out can proceed, weather protected.
Component systems are helping speed up construction by reducing the time needed to piecemeal systems together on-site. Things like elevator shafts, complete bathrooms, and equipment rooms are now being pre-assembled into the largest possible sections that can be transported and placed into position at the jobsite.
Special construction systems are often not thought of as modular since this type of construction has been in use for many years. This can include everything from fuel system canopies to building envelopes for temporary structures.
Intermodal shipping containers are re-purposed Conex shipping containers that typically come in standard dimensions of 8‘ wide by 8’-6” tall by 10’, 20’ and 40’ long.
The versatile flexibility of modular construction is already showing worldwide influence in enterprises of all sizes from major chains to mom-and-pops.
Marriott Corporation is currently constructing the world’s tallest modular constructed hotel. Located in New York City, the 26-story hotel’s guestrooms will be prefabricated and pre-furnished off-site.
Whitley Manufacturing’s unique UpGrade system has been used to erect a fully enclosed 22,000 SF cross-dock distribution center in 3 days. Their system is comprised of 12 foot wide sections including roof and walls, with a span of up to 66 feet, and interior vertical clear space of 24 feet. Their proprietary design is flexible and relocate-able, allowing additions, removals, or relocations to adapt to changing needs.
Numerous convenience stores such as QuikTrip, HyVee, and 7-Eleven have utilized panelized construction to fully fabricate their exterior walls and roofs off-site to get dried-in buildings within a matter of days. In northern climates, this can be critical with limited time available in the construction season due to weather constraints.
Intermodal modular containers have been used at Starbucks’ first Taipei café, designed by Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma, was made out of 29 whitewashed shipping containers, which cantilever at perpendicular angles to convey the “uneven foliage of coffee trees,” in his words.
For USMC Air Station Miramar’s self-storage facility in an underutilized parking lot in San Diego, 160 container units were assembled in three weeks, yielding substantial revenue streams and improving customer convenience. To help UPS in Louisville, KY cut labor costs and package loading/unloading time at sorting centers, 400 containers were designed with doors on both ends. The containers were further designed so that five containers fit in one 53-foot truck. At Plenty United in Wyoming, 96 container units assembled in two weeks lowered water/energy costs and increased farming crop yield. The extreme mobility of containers enabled Go2Market in Puerto Rico to transform 102 of them into portable kiosks to rent to clients, thus creating a highly profitable business by saving production costs.
What differences are there in using modular vs traditional construction?
- Decisions have to be made early
- Changes can’t be made once fabrication begins
- Comprehensive coordination is essential, from initial designers to constructors and installers
Traditional construction methods allow decisions to be made throughout the process, and changes can be accommodated along the way. With modular construction, everything is pre-assembled which means decisions have to be made at the outset and changes can’t be made once fabrication begins.
It’s essential to have a point person leading the coordination of a modular construction project to ensure everyone is kept in the loop and all decisions are shared with all parties, including designers, fabricators, and installers.
What are some of the latest developments with modular construction?
- Energy-efficient design
- Fire resistant materials
- Solar-powered systems
USC is expanding the capacity of their flat stacked panel containers to be fire-resistant, energy-efficient, and refrigeration-capable. For example, a new fire-resistant design could contain a fire for 4 hours at a maximum 1,200°F temperature. Other designs can power a converted container off the grid with photovoltaic solar panels, emphasizing the portability of containers
Similarly, KPS Global’s insulated panels could complement off-site based construction, given owners’ increasing preference for them over conventional building methods in such areas as bakery prep, food courts, cold storage, and online grocery pickup. “As retailers respond to customer demands for prepared foods, they are seeing the benefit of modular insulated panels,” said Sean McGrann, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for KPS Global. “Not only do the panels reduce the construction time, but retailers also benefit from food safety certifications that come with insulated panels.”
“Construction managers have seen three to four weeks shaved off the schedule by utilizing modular insulated panels over traditional construction methods,” added Tom Beatty, Vice President of Construction Services for KPS Global.
Modular construction epitomizes the ecologically sustainable capitalism of the future with its ability to lower construction costs and timeframes, increase cost-effective expansion capacity, decrease operation expenses, and provide optimum flexibility in space arrangement and finish selection.
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