The way we build really hasn’t changed that much over the past few decades.  Sure, we have developed more energy-efficient building systems, high-performance materials and contractual vehicles that have streamlined the transactional process. And yes, we have had innovations in technology such as Building Information Modeling, but the way we put buildings together is still pretty much the same way we did nearly 100 years ago, one brick at a time. This article, by Lynne OConnor, signals that the next “big thing” in construction is upon us.

We don’t claim to have a crystal ball or any particular gift of foresight, but we can tell you that all lean-thinking builders will be making huge innovations in prefabrication in the very near future and Building Information Modeling (BIM) will make it all possible. Single-trade prefabrication predates BIM and has already become commonplace.  We have been prefabricating simple and repetitive assemblies like shower mixing valves or patient headwall units for more than 20 years. Multi-disciplinary prefabrication, however, relies heavily on all of the coordination benefits recently afforded by BIM: dimensioning, fitment, clash detection, 3-dimensional imaging, and most importantly, model sharing and collaboration.  (This is where Lean comes in, but that is a different, albeit closely-related idea for future discussion.)  As project schedules become tighter and tighter, the added speed of assembling prefabricated building components will become invaluable. OConnor touches on the benefit of the increased safety intrinsic with installing prefab material, but misses an opportunity to delve into the benefits of increased quality through assembly in controlled factory-like environments.  Still, prefabrication intrigues us. We think it will be a major differentiator in an ever-increasingly competitive market and think it deserves a good hard look.

OConnor’s article touches on the prefabrication of mechanical, electrical and plumbing system modules for a hospital project in Delaware, but if I were to get out my crystal ball and look into the near future, I bet we’d see entire patient rooms or school classrooms arriving in 2-3 sections, transported onto their respective floor systems, and assembled in place, resulting in never-before-achieved speed, quality and safety. And after all, isn’t that what it is all about?