Thursday, June 21, 2018

Commercial Developers and Owners Still Reluctant to Embrace Offsite Construction


As prefabrication, modular and other off-site construction techniques gain favor among contractors, a new study suggests that a substantial percentage of owners appear reluctant to adopt—or even explore—these methods for their own projects. And that could well pose an obstacle for builders trying to use these techniques to improve productivity and bridge the shortfall in skilled craft labor.


A recent survey of more than 100 owner organizations conducted jointly by FMI, the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) and the Construction Industry Institute (CII), says that only 38% of owners expressed high acceptance of manufacturing-oriented off-site construction. Even then, use of these methods is limited, since fewer than 50% of participants’ capital projects involve off-site construction.

Owners’ aversion to risk and their lack of knowledge about off-site construction—cited by the study as being top impediments to its adoption—are further evidenced by their preference for traditional delivery methods. Nearly half of the surveyed owners say they use traditional design-bid-build delivery, which Ethan Cowles, a principal at FMI and a study co-author, says doesn’t lend itself to the up-front planning that makes off-site construction methods viable. “Changing owner behavior is the big thing,” Cowles says.

But that might be more easily said than done, particularly if owners lack in-house expertise to fully weigh the opportunities and risks associated with off-site techniques. Along with being a departure from conventional construction processes, the economics of off-site methods often necessitate different products, materials, vendors and supply chains, which can vary from one project to the next.

What’s more, owners must decide early in a project whether to use off-site methods—something that many of them are unwilling or unable to do, says Pete Dumont, vice president of global strategic projects for nVent Thermal Management, Houston, and president of CURT. Even when information and expertise is available, Dumont adds, opting for off-site construction requires more thought. “It’s not always a slam-dunk decision,” he says.

Deciding early on to use off-site construction methods may also be impractical for some types of projects. While many healthcare facilities are making use of prefab components such as overhead corridor racks, bathroom stalls and patient-headboard assemblies, some spaces built around specific types of equipment don’t lend themselves to standardization.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I do not buy into this "risk' idea at all.
These are developers for heaven's sake...it doesn't get a lot riskier than that.

I would suggest that it is riskier to go conventional building now and gamble on budget and schedule.

There is a bias amongst many stakeholders in the greater development/construction industry. These stakeholders are fearful of losing "turf" or "scope" which in most cases is not true.

The pain will have to become so great that an alternative will have to be explored more and more. You can't keep doing the same thing over and over and hope the results turn out differently.