Is Volumetric Modular the right choice for your project?

Volumetric modular construction has been a topic of great interest in the AEC space recently. Here are 5 questions to help you determine if volumetric modular construction is the right fit for your project.

Volumetric modular construction has been one of the most newsworthy topics in the AEC space over the last few years. You've probably seen news articles about fabulous hotels in hip locations such as London and Amsterdam. Watching one of these projects come to life is almost like watching construction on fast forward.

HubSpot Video

Beyond the cool factor, project owners have been increasingly turning to volumetric modular construction for fiscal or performance reasons. Volumetric modular can be more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective than traditional building methods. It requires less on-site crew, improves workplace safety, reduces material waste, and can be sturdier than conventional construction.

The end results of volumetric modular construction are often indistinguishable from traditionally constructed buildings. In fact, you may have encountered modular buildings in your day-to-day life without realizing it. Schools frequently utilize modular buildings for temporary classrooms that can be easily relocated and repurposed. Even well-known fast-food chains like Chick Fil A, Wendy's, and Starbucks are embracing this method for constructing their new locations.

Considering the numerous benefits, it begs the question: why do some still opt for traditional construction methods?

Construction projects tend to be unique or highly customized. This is the opposite of traditional manufacturing which produces the same product at scale. Simply put, not every project is a candidate for volumetric modular.

Here are 5 questions you can consider while determining if volumetric modular is the right choice for your project.

1. Do the site conditions support the required equipment?

Site conditions can affect the feasibility of volumetric modular construction. Because the modules are manufactured off-site, they must be transported to the construction site for assembly. It's important to consider the logistical burden before moving work offsite. 

In addition, the site must have suitable access for large trucks and cranes to deliver and assemble the modules. Projects in highly developed urban areas with limited space or demanding access may require a different approach.

Depending on your project's unique conditions, it may make sense to build parts of a project traditionally, then leverage volumetric modular for others.

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2. Is your design suited to modular?

One mistake many companies make when moving work off-site is to take a traditional scope and carve it up. It's important to consider how the final design will be constructed.

Volumetric modular construction is best suited for projects with a repetitive design.  Repetitive design allows for building components to be built in a factory environment with information coming directly from the designers. It’s also important to consider the assembly sequence. Volumetric modular plans should include a clean site work interface to simplify assembly. 

Examples of projects with high levels of repetition include hotels, hospitals, offices, and residential buildings. Using volumetric modules can reduce construction time and improve efficiency in these cases. This is because modules can be manufactured concurrently while site preparation work is ongoing. However, this process requires the project manager to diligently monitor the path of construction to ensure work sequences occur as needed. 

This construction method doesn't eliminate the possibility of architects and designers developing custom designs. Nevertheless, this latter type of design can increase costs and lead times throughout your program.

3. Is project ownership willing to try a new way of building?

The success of a modular construction project heavily relies on the project sponsor's buy-in to utilizing volumetric modular on their project. One significant deterrent is the higher initial cost associated with modular projects than traditional construction. Modular projects require more design and engineering work from the project team than traditional construction.

In addition, unfamiliarity with the specific work sequencing necessary for modular projects can pose a challenge. Owners may struggle to find suitable partners who possess experience in volumetric modular construction or face a lack of familiarity with potential partners. Furthermore, significant rework may be necessary if the initial design is not compatible with modular construction methods.

4. Is the design repeatable, or truly unique?

Every building is different, even modular buildings. One of the things that makes the construction industry unique is the ability to create such complex products that are highly customized. It’s a common misconception that you cannot customize modular construction. For instance, modular home builders often reuse the same floorplan, based MEP layout and framing, but will offer the ability to customize fit and finish levels. 

Different use cases do not necessarily mean that everything will need to be created from scratch. For instance, a school may have support rooms such as kitchens, a staff lounge, and building infrastructure. So will an office space, data center, LNG export terminal, and a prison. Projects with high levels of repeatability may be ideal for volumetric modular. 

Kitchens are a common point of commonality between buildings

You can also use different building approaches for different parts of a project. For instance, a developer may choose to build a new neighborhood by fabricating support buildings off-site. Park bathrooms, the kitchen at the neighborhood pool, or association office could all be modular. Meanwhile you could take a kit of parts approach to the home building.

5. Are you working with the right value chain integrators?

Volumetric modular construction requires specialized equipment, transportation, and installation methods, which may not be available in all areas. Finding experienced partners to both fabricate offsite, then work on the installation and commissioning can be a challenge in some regions.

Still need help deciding?

Considering these factors is crucial to ensure the success of a volumetric modular construction project. However, if the project aligns with the strengths of this building method, the benefits of volumetric modular construction can far outweigh the drawbacks.

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