The other week I spoke at the BIMForum in Denver. Although this event (which was attended by over 500 people) is primarily aimed at bringing together people who work in the Building Information Modeling (BIM) world, this particular conference had a focus on prefabrication and modularization.
The shop floor of PCL’s PMC (Permanent Modular
There were speakers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, but a large number were from either trades or GCs (general contractors) who were engaging in more prefabrication for their work. What I took away from this was that this is definitely the direction the industry is heading, but that the real untapped potential of PMC (permanent modular construction) is in bringing together multiple trade scopes to perform work rather than leaving them to prefab smaller parts of a project in isolation from each other.
As a BIM-focused event, there was a lot of messaging about how critical BIM was to allowing more prefab to occur. Different construction companies were using BIM to greater or lesser extents, and it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach—it needs to be right-sized for the application. Sometimes a hand-drawn sketch works just as well and can take less time to produce and get into the hands of the people who need to build it. Having said that, the capacity of BIM to provide clear communication and project details is critical on projects where there are multiple trade scopes needing to work together and a greater level of construction management is required.
A lot of the other GCs talking at the forum highlighted their use of the PMC approach to building bathroom pods for their projects. Some did it themselves, some used trade partners at the GC's facility, and some used third-party vendors. I also heard some exciting ideas from trade contractors working on complex construction jobs. At the St Joseph's Hospital project in Hamilton, Ontario, our mechanical/electrical trade built MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) racks for the hospital corridors. One trade contractor who presented at the BIMForum conference had taken this approach a step further and was using the existing joists from the building structure as framing for MEP racks. By doing this, the steel erector would be able to fly in a single, completed piece that incorporated both the steel joists and MEP systems. This makes so much sense, as the erector has to use a crane to place these joists anyway and is able to eliminate the second crane pick that would have been required for the MEP racks. It also reduces the additional framing required for prefabbed MEP racks. This is really looking at the problem with Lean eyes and reducing the waste associated with the process.
The event left me excited for the future of prefabrication and modularization in the construction industry—a lot more players are getting into this approach. PCL is entering this space earlier than many of our competitors, and this offers us huge opportunities to differentiate ourselves and offer our clients different solutions. It also reinforced my belief that we can find an off-site solution for almost anything on our projects when we get creative!