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Inventions of the Twentieth Century
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Introducing the ‘new’ era of modular construction

Call it offsite construction, manufacturing-blended construction, or construction integrated manufacturing; the truth is that modular construction is not new. In fact, the first modular building was built in 1887 because of the speed at which these buildings could be constructed and because many of them could be moved around.

And let us face it, performing work in a shop environment instead of the construction site makes sense.

But even though it went into a lull, modular construction has been recapturing the industry’s attention and has steadily gained momentum in recent years. This is resulting in a significant transformation of construction as we know it today.

Of course, a modular build’s underlying principles and benefits are the same as they were nearly 200 years ago. However, this construction method has greatly improved due to technology improvements, more connected supply chains, and evolving customer requirements.

Modular Construction 2.0

It is, therefore, more appropriate to think of it as an update or modular construction 2.0, which has seen adoption rates increase further as more construction companies adapted to a new way of working to remain operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, many inefficiencies have been eliminated – with a great recent example being a ten-storey stainless-steel apartment block built in just over a day in Shanghai, China.

Clearly, modular construction has been reformed. As other modern construction methods evolve across the entire construction value chain, the speed and quality of modular builds will only improve further.

And this is critical if the construction industry is to meet growing demand. If done at scale, construction sites will be the final assembly process that concludes an increasingly complex supply chain. But what this does mean is that new construction possibilities will open across industry segments from building houses to schools, hospitals, commercial buildings, and even energy infrastructure.

But beyond the physical aspects of construction, the change will also flatten the traditional contractor sub-contractor structure.

Embracing disruption

With the resultant disruption, engineering and construction companies will need to find better ways of integrating previously chaotic and disconnected environments. Modular construction 2.0 is an enabler to deliver projects on time, on budget, and at high quality. But for this to work, there must be a technology underpinning that sees stakeholders position themselves for growth.

Technologies like IFS Cloud for Engineering and Construction support modular construction and have been built to enable this best practice by combining industry functionality with continuous innovation. As the benefits of modular construction increase, those who don’t use it potentially face being outpaced by their competition.

However, many struggle to adopt technology to ensure their ERP backbone can support them and the construction supply chain. What you need to do is find a technology, like IFS Cloud, that has been built to enable construction companies to achieve best practice, handle disruption, and deliver positive Moments of Service by being more flexible, agile, and adaptable.

So, whether you are a contractor expanding into offsite work, or a manufacturer installing assets on a customer site, you need technology to help you achieve the overarching and not just the build benefits of modular construction. Working with local construction companies, we see the need for software that gives the company project financial controls for on-site work; engineer-to-order ERP for shop-based design and fabrication; building information modelling (BIM) compatibility; and comprehensive ERP to cover the entire manufacturing and construction spectrum.

The road to construction transformation

More than the technology, those operating in the construction industry must consider three steps to successfully transform for the digital era.

It starts by improving control. Construction companies must understand how to become more agile, increase visibility, and gain actionable insights from their operations. By eliminating the multi-layered and disconnected business system architectures that have become too common, those in the sector can establish a single view with one version of the truth.

Following this is modernising construction methods. Those still undecided about the merits of modular construction need to start embracing it. Modular construction is ideal for ironing out inefficiencies and enabling the organisation to operate in a more controlled environment. With this comes a greater level of accuracy that uses more repeatable processes to reduce cost and improve speed.

The third step that brings everything full circle is digitisation. Introducing digital solutions can improve operations and boost profitability. This is where the likes of BIM, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and the Internet of Things can alleviate many of the traditional industry challenges such as labour constraints, accurate project estimates, and delivering first-time success.

The new way

With clients becoming more demanding and wanting contractors to construct the asset and take responsibility for operating and maintaining the asset after it is built, modular construction makes sense. Construction companies will likely be contracted not just for a finished asset but outcomes over the asset’s entire lifespan.

The ones that will be successful in this transition will transform themselves into manufacturing and service management businesses. And central to this is the humble modular construction that set the wheels in motion in 1887.

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