Modular Monitor: How GCs, trades and architects view offsite construction, by the numbers

Considering the fact that Development Dive started using the pulse of offsite development, this column has been inundated with praise for the system from self-identified modular builders.

Modular-centered corporations are placing alongside one another vertically integrated company versions, handing about keys to turnkey buildings and even calling the motion disruptive. 

But modular builders likely just cannot go the needle on their individual, so the concentration is diverse for this month’s column: modular’s other stakeholders. 

Even though there are about two hundred modular builders in the U.S., in accordance to the Modular Creating Institute, industrial modular creating only accounts for about 4% of the market. It would just take sweeping buy-in from conventional contractors, designers, proprietors and all relevant trade professionals for modular to be outlined as an field disruption, or a “major disturbance in the way factors are finished,” as Ivan Rupnik, an associate professor at Northeastern University’s College of Architecture, places it.

Homeowners may be the most pivotal, due to the fact they conceive and fund assignments, and if a build is going to be modular, it has to be modular right before shovels hit the dirt, in accordance to Laurie Robert, LEED AP and vice president of modular creating professional NRB Inc. in Canada.

Who’s creating way for modular?

Even though Robert also expressed the popular sentiment that deficiency of education among the proprietors usually inhibits modular’s takeoff, it can be vital to observe that there appears to be a particular threshold for a tipping point: Once proprietors are certain, they go out and actively champion it.

But what about architects, development administrators and subcontractor teams these types of as erectors and creating enclosure trades? What do they seem to agree on, and where by do they vary?

To that finish, Dodge Facts & Analytics not long ago introduced a report that culled alongside one another considered management on modular and prefabrication, these types of as the observation from Rupnik, and recorded benefits from a survey on modular development that elicited responses from more 600 AEC professionals ranging from designers to steel fabricators. 

To take part, respondents experienced to have worked on at minimum one undertaking that associated prefabrication things or whole modular development in the previous a few several years. Of that pool, only 15 identified as modular builders or suppliers, and their solutions had been recorded independently.

As a publication which is striving to glow mild on the industry’s more complete and usually varied sights of modular, it can be refreshing for Development Dive to see a extensive array of tangential stakeholders weigh in on the subject matter. 

Answers had been broken out by a few professions.

Who’s chiming in?



Architects (designers)   one hundred sixty five
Engineers (included in the designers group) 33
Common contractors/development administrators (GCs)   176
Subcontractors (trades) 219
Modular builders (not included in this tale)  15

Investigation demonstrates how a lot they dovetail on myriad sentiments and also some of the approaches in which they contrast.

Common contractors that responded, for case in point, overwhelmingly confirmed assist for offsite creating procedures. That may not be a complete surprise, thinking about that previous month we heard heavyweights that have made their name in conventional stick creating, these types of as Mortenson and DPR, speak about benefits they’ve experienced with offsite development.

But it’s vital to think about where by GCs’ stance matches among the other stakeholders in the designed ecosystem. 

For one, this was the group that most forecasted increased use of whole-volumetric long lasting modular development. A slight greater part predicted only 25% or less of their assignments staying composed of mostly flat-packed or 3D modules designed offsite in the following a few several years. But more importantly, a quarter of that group explained they’ll be applying the system on more than half of their assignments. Only 13% anticipated no involvement at all. 

Where does modular make feeling?

Out of 14 market segments, GCs discovered professional medical facilities the most promising for modular development. Forty-one % selected health care as staying in the leading ten most-promising sectors, which represents a bigger quantity than any other group. Respondents had been going out on a limb on their health care predictions, due to the fact that amount is double the share of corporations that ranked it as one of the leading creating varieties they’d finished by means of modular means in the earlier a few several years.

Health care ranked in the same way for the 219 trades associates that responded. Like the GCs’ rankings, it also arrived in as the subs’ strongest group for modular development, with 56% crowning it in their leading ten irrespective of only 31% placing it in that class when wanting back.

But the consensus of contractors and subs vary from that of designers, who stand behind multifamily as the strongest contender for growing modular inroads. 50 percent of the more than two hundred architects and engineers polled ranked it in one of the leading spots, irrespective of only 16% indicating it’s been one of the most notable categories in new several years.

Multifamily is probably the biggest enigma of the report. “Design corporations,” for instance, in accordance to co-authors Stephen Jones and Donna Laquidara-Carr, “are incredibly positive about the role of modular on multifamily assignments going ahead,” and the figures back that up.

Trades, on the other hand, more regularly ranked it as staying considerable in the previous a few several years still not almost as likely to hold these types of significance in the following a few. GCs’ just take appears to be that it will taper a little bit but continue being about the exact, with only 33% indicating it has been and will continue to be one of the leading creating varieties for modular. 

GCs and trades are also more optimistic about modular in the hospitality section, with it coming in 2nd and third in that exact index, respectively, for the following a few several years. Designers, on the opposite, anticipate the sector’s use of modular slowing.

What’s driving offsite’s development?

For all teams, the “desire to increase productivity” reigned as the most vital factor influencing the go to offsite in the earlier a few several years, in accordance to Laquidara-Carr and her team’s findings, even though builders and subs ranked productivity gains even bigger than designers, likely due to the fact of how it impacts their workflow.

Remaining competitive” was the 2nd-most influential factor among the all a few, and even more so for subs.

“Interestingly,” the report notes, “design corporations report possessing been most highly determined by trying to find improved expense performances (fifty eight%) — out[pacing] the two GCs/CMs (49%) and trades (fifty%). 

“This,” the findings continue, “ … [suggests] that architects and engineers have an understanding of the two prefabrication and modular development can have a positive affect on expense handle and need to lead to more improvement of style methods that consciously permit the two.”

What’s holding modular back?

The rub, nevertheless, is that designers forecasted the cheapest total share of prefabricated assemblies usage in the coming a few several years. Only 16% anticipated use of prefab components these types of as behind-the-wall plumbing assemblies for headwalls or multi-trade assemblies these types of as earlier mentioned-the-ceiling corridor racks in hospitals, as opposed to whole-volumetric room modules.

This means, the authors wrote, that designers need to have “to become more engaged with planning in a way that enables contractors to employ prefabrication.”

Acquiring on the exact web site in the improvement of the two prefabricated assemblies-based mostly and module layouts normally takes teamwork, and the society demands to adjust, NRB’s Robert explained. “The formation of your crew, like the owner, the architect, the normal contractor, the modular builder and all other stakeholders,” she continued, “is surely the most vital facet of a modular project’s success.”

“Style and design corporations and GCs most highly worth knowledge, but style corporations are considerably more motivated by proprietors on their modular provider decisions than GCs.”

Donna Laquidara-Carr

Field Insights investigate director, Dodge Facts & Analytics

Fortunately, for the sake of modular’s advancement, there are many factors to agree on. All a few teams leaned into the idea that modular development enhances undertaking timetable overall performance, with that factor resonating as the biggest driver for development. About half of each and every groups’ respondents considered modular lessens undertaking costs more than enough to think about it a highly influential factor in stirring up demand from customers. 

But GCs did not agree with most subs and designers on modular’s penchant for improved quality as staying a leading driver. Only 34% considered it will participate in an vital role, whilst half of the designers and half the subs explained it’d have an significantly substantial amount of affect.

Yet another location in which all teams aligned included their just take on what is inhibiting modular development the most. Homeowners, as mentioned, are however one of the biggest influencers on whether or not field players toying with offsite ways really hire them on assignments or not —​ and which is legitimate for all teams, with each and every ranking “lack of owner interest” a leading impediment. 

Kendra Halliwell, associate principal of the women of all ages-owned Icon Architecture, also earlier expressed the fact that availability of modular factories, or deficiency thereof, can be a major determinant in whether or not a modular undertaking will get greenlit. Which is even more obvious for designers, in accordance to the report, with half of that group ranking it as a big setback to development and GCs trailing a little bit in that belief. 

“One particular detail I want to emphasize is, if you are accomplishing a modular undertaking, to stop by the manufacturing facility at minimum after a 7 days while it can be staying built,” the AIA and LEED AP architect explained in the course of a situation analyze presentation of her firm’s to start with modular build, the 171-unit, 129-module The Graphic Lofts, Boston’s premier modular multifamily improvement. “We didn’t program for that, and we ended up possessing to make up for that. We did, nevertheless, satisfy a few instances a 7 days — occasionally by means of virtual conferences — with the architect, contractor and modular manufacturer.” Proximity to the manufacturing facility is essential, she explained.

Trade contractors, nevertheless, do not see availability in the exact mild. Only about 23% considered it a difficulty, but that could be due to the fact trades “are not as associated in sourcing suppliers,” in accordance to the report.

How are source decisions made?

How players select modular development expert services is one more eye-opener. “Design corporations and GCs most highly worth knowledge,” the report discovered, but “design corporations are considerably more motivated by proprietors on their modular provider decisions than GCs.” 

Joe Beeton / Development Dive, details courtesy of Dodge Facts & Analytics


“Price,” nevertheless, “is not a highly influential factor for selection of a modular development provider,” for any teams applying whole-quantity modular builds, the authors discovered, noting that it will likely be more of a factor as more and more suppliers enter the market.

But which is diverse from what respondents experienced to say about the source of prefabricated components and expert services. “This contrasts with prefabrication, where by it ranked 2nd total on this exact listing of six elements and was cited as the main influencer by 20% of GCs/CMs,” the report mentioned. “This may mirror the diverse maturity ranges between these two marketplaces, where by due to the fact there are more suppliers available for prefabrication, rate can be more readily applied for competitive evaluation.”

Nonetheless a diverse just take is that some builds entail a mix of the two whole-module rooms and one- or multi-trade prefabricated assemblies, or merge those people offsite things with conventional procedures, usually known as hybrid builds. Robert, concurring with one more popular perception, espoused the worth of hybrid versions.

And it’s in hybrid or prefab operate where by many subs glow. Even though they are associated in whole-quantity modularization work as very well, they usually are the most heavily invested when it arrives to any other work that call for at minimum partial panelization or prefab components.

The analyze notes that “trades can usually make the final decision to prefabricate their aspect of the operate without the need of considerably impacting or involving other trades.” Subs seemed the two the most very well-versed in prefabrication when wanting back at the earlier a few several years and also the most enthusiastic about the following a few.

Subcontractors usually have to put their workers’ necks on the line, so modular’s purported protection benefits hold a whole lot of h2o for subs. “Safety scores considerably bigger with trade contractors due to the fact of its immediate effect on their workforce,” the report explained. 

Continue to be tuned to this monthly column as it normally takes a further, nuanced and occasionally more critical glimpse at the modular motion, and come to feel totally free to e mail me your feelings, fears and ideas on topics to go over in this collection.

The Modular Keep an eye on collection is brought to you by The Modular Creating Institute​ (MBI), the voice of industrial modular development.

MBI offers Earth of Modular, modular construction’s leading global event, in Orlando, March 9-twelve. Register these days.

MBI has no affect about Development Dive’s protection in just this column or other content articles, and its articles does not mirror the sights or thoughts of MBI or its workforce.

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