Shawn Phillips, Director of Virtual Design and Construction, F.H. Paschen
Modular construction is a tried and tested delivery method that capitalizes on the efficiencies of collaborative systems. Building information modeling (BIM) lends itself to a collaborative process by providing designers and builders with tools to visualize and coordinate projects in a virtual environment. It is only fitting that the two be used hand-in-hand (or mouse-in-hand, if you prefer) to improve on an already successful method of project delivery.
Virtually every aspect of the modular construction process can be improved with BIM. Take the design process for example. Many of the hours that used to be spent manually drafting design options can now be used on more design options. Computer modeling provides designers with the ability to design, analyze, and visualize each option in 3D, quickly and accurately. In some cases, given a specific set of criteria, design options can be automatically generated. Commonly known as machine learning, the computer will try and test hundreds and thousands of iterations, learning from each one, improving as it goes, returning the most successful designs to the user. BIM helps make design opportunities virtually limitless.
The goal of design is to achieve beauty and functionality, sometimes with more emphasis on one over the other, but in construction, time is money. Saving time is theoretically the biggest benefit of modular construction. According to the Modular Building Institute, projects can be completed 30-50 percent sooner using modular construction because several activities can be performed simultaneously in separate locations, and then rapidly assembled on site when ready. Using BIM, sequences can be pre-planned and viewed as a 4D animation that helps contractors identify opportunities for process efficiencies. 4D animations can also be used to help clients understand complex module assembly sequence adjustments that could save time and may require their special attention. Faster project delivery is important but modular construction affords other benefits as well.
One of the most significant benefits of the modular process is the reduction of waste by way of prefabricated assemblies. Chad Elliott of Premier Mechanical Incorporated in Chicago states that, “Prefabrication has allowed us to perform nearly 20,000 man hours in our shop, reducing over 600 cubic yards of onsite waste, reducing trade stacking, and allowing work to be performed before site conditions are ready."
4D animations can also be used to help clients understand complex module assembly sequence adjustments that could save time and may require their special attention
Usually smaller than the module but no less important, the prefabricated assembly may be asimple bathroom plumbing pipe cluster or an entire hospital suite. In either case, BIM provides the platform for the different project teams to collaborate in a virtual setting. Subcontractors can combine their 3D fabrication models together in a collaboration software, review for clashes, make adjustments, and sign-off on an accurate, complete assembly in just hours. Elliott says, “Through the BIM process, we have been able to identify repeatable task’s that can be prefabricated and incorporated into modular designs.” Some companies have even engaged the use of virtual and augmented reality to review assemblies and convey specific installation instructions to their field personnel.
The origins of modular construction date back to the days of Buckminster Fuller and Robert W. McLaughlin. Their innovative use of mass-production and off-site construction techniques has led to a modern boom of modular high-rises and prefabricated living units. The addition of BIM makes modular construction an even more tangible option for the future.