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Prefab and remote locations make perfect sense together

Prefabricated buildings or modular buildings have been common over the past several decades with some structures erected in the 1950s still standing even today.

Newton Mthethwa from Construction Review speaks to Felix Clemens, Director for Fabricated Steel Manufacturing Company (Pty) Ltd better known as FSM about the current trends as well as significant benefits and opportunities offered by prefabricated buildings, especially in remote locations. Prefab and remote locations make perfect sense together, especially in instances where accommodation needs to be erected in a short time in remote locations. Examples include, dam construction sites, rural road construction sites, new mines or mine expansions, where accommodation is required or before the main workforce moves in.

Prefab buildings has been used as temporary site offices, clinics, classrooms as well as accommodation for employees in a number of areas. Their use has also come into the spotlight as a possible solution to medium and low cost housing needs in many African countries.

In addition, they offer many advantages over traditional construction methods, since greater work can be prepared off-site, this limits site work, the level and amount of skilled workers required on site,reducing site disruptions, as well as reducing health and safety risks as most of the preparation work is completed in a safer factory environment, explains Felix Clemens.

Prefab buildings aim to maximise value and minimise waste, as materials used are premeasured, scheduled and prefabricated at the factory. This results in more consistent quality and financial savings as well as the ability to send large quantities of modular building panels to site at once. Assembly rates on site can exceed 1000m2 per week with a workforce of 200. Assembling does not require complex skills, and it is ideal in remote locations where skilled labour tends to be scarce and expensive.

Certainty of timescales for the delivery of projects is maximised through efficient manufacturing, on time delivery of significant quantities per truck load and speedy assembly on site, with the limited resources available in the remote location, adds Felix Clemens.

Important Considerations

It is imperative for the clients to know what they want- there is a wide choice available in prefabricated buildings produced by each manufacturer and also between various reputable manufacturers. Choices include portable or non-portable buildings, the material composition of the buildings and methods of construction. Some systems carry Agrément certifications, some manufacturers are ISO 9001:2008 certified and all should be capable of being certified under rational design criteria by a certified Engineer. Further considerations by clients relates to the flexibility of the system and the relocatability of modular components which add to the cost-effectiveness over time. Export clients need to carefully consider transport costs as flat pack systems offer significant cost savings as transport distances increase.

In addition, track record, quality, affordability as well as after sales support are key, and customers should look at a company’s project history to gauge its level of expertise and if possible select a supplier which is ISO certified and affiliated to credible industry bodies.

Sustainable designs

With the global focus on the need to reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants, as well as limiting the use of non-renewable resources, prefabricated buildings are moving towards a greener identity with most of these structures boasting low-carbon footprints. The components used to manufacture the panels are environmentally friendly, and the steel used is recyclable. The modular buildings can be fitted with energy saving lighting, solar panels, inverter air cons, evaporative coolers as well as solar geysers or heat pumps.

In addition, prefab buildings are manufactured off-site, this will almost certainly mean that there will be minimal site disturbance, especially in comparison to traditional construction methods. Reduced site traffic is also another significant factor- fewer site trips for workers and vehicles.

FSM’s Journey

FSM has a proud heritage spanning over 80 years. The founder of the company, Frans Janovsky, came to South Africa representing the ELIN Company. His task was to promote ELIN electric arc welding machines which was a relatively new technology at the time. To demonstrate the advantages and practical aspects of welding, a number of welded steel structures were produced. The response to these demonstrations convinced Frans that there was a ready market for welded structural steelwork. As a result, he decided to start his own company, Fabricated Steel Manufacturing Company (FSM) in 1933.

In 1941, FSM was involved in the construction of the Everite fibre cement factory. Being an innovator and a talented engineer, Frans  J realised the need for a prefabricated building system using a steel structure and fibre cement walls, hence he proceeded to design and patent the system. His patent was the first industrialised building system in South Africa. FSM’s major breakthrough came when the company was commissioned by the then ISCOR to supply and erect 30 prefabricated houses for the new Van der Byl township.

Since then, FSM has continued to grow, is now ISO 9001:2008 certified and has 7 products, 2 of which are Agrément Board of South Africa certified. Its latest Agrément certified product is the FR Polycore Building system which has only recently been launched on the market and of which FSM is justifiably proud, notes Felix.

FSM’s main production facilities are in Germiston in Gauteng on the same site that it started on in 1933. The facility is massively expanded and now covers around 48 000m2 of which almost 24 000m2 is under roof. FSM also has a 2000m2 assembly plant in Atlantis near Cape Town.

Over the years, FSM has participated in many projects in South Africa and other parts of Africa, including Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, DRC, Guinea and Mali to name a few.

One of the biggest individual projects ever undertaken by FSM was the accommodation camp for both skilled and semi-skilled staff at Eskom’s Medupi power station project. In total, FSM supplied accommodation for 6500 to 8000 staff depending on room configuration. This was a massive undertaking and one that Felix points out FSM is immensely proud of.

FSM also assisted with mine housing during the development of Zambia’s Lumwana mine and Mali’s Loulo mine. FSM were instrumental in providing a rented construction village as well as offices and a production control centre at Khumani mine in the Northern Cape.

FSM has expanded it footprint in neighbouring Mozambique and amongst other contracts has built numerous bank branches for BCI in Mozambique. These are mostly in remote locations and exemplify the benefits of prefabricated buildings in such locations. FSM has also built its first hotel in Northern Mozambique which has been both very rewarding but also very challenging comments Felix.

FSM is truly proud of its involvement in the rollout of the National Department of Health’s doctors consulting rooms linked to existing clinics in mostly rural areas throughout South Africa. The first phase was run under the direction of the Development Bank of Southern Africa and along with various other contractors, a significant difference was made to the public’s accessibility to quality healthcare. This is indeed a good news story for South Africa enthuses Felix. Further projects that have made a real difference for South Africa’s youth are the supplying of additional temporary classrooms to overcrowded schools and building of new schools in Gauteng. The library project in the Eastern Cape is also a highlight and will be invaluable to the development of our youth adds Felix.

FSM has also refined its double storey modular building design from what it put up in the early 1960’s to a more modern version with vastly improved noise attenuation both between rooms and between the upstairs floor and downstairs room. It has been interesting to show prospective clients one of the original buildings put up in the 1960’s along Empire Road in Johannesburg and the redesigned version at our Germiston factory comments Felix Clemens. It also leaves clients in no doubt as to the longevity of our buildings concludes Felix.

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