In a recent post, we discussed the benefits of using permanent modular construction – how it can reduce costs, increase efficiency and allow for faster project delivery times.  However, permanent modular construction differs in many respects from traditional construction and requires consideration of different factors to ensure a successful project. Here are five issues that architects, engineers, and design/builders should consider when incorporating modular construction into a construction project.

Advance Planning is Key

First, advance planning on projects using modules is key, since converting a traditionally-designed building into a modular project later in the project schedule can create a myriad of problems.  For instance, modular layout will likely determine the final foundation design requirements.  As a result, any changes in the modular layout may require changing a structure’s foundation or necessitate additional structural design services.

Consider Transportation Issues

Second, design professionals should consider how to transport modules to the construction site.  This is crucial because each module will have to travel by road from the assembly yard to the final site location.  (Rail travel may be possible to an extent, but, in all likelihood, the modules will be delivered exclusively by road.) All local transportation regulations dictating maximum load size will apply to modular units.  Transportation issues require special attention when the assembly yard is located in another state (or multiple states away) since the design professional must ensure that the modules can be transported to the site.   In other words, architects and engineers should ensure that the modules are not too large to be transported.

Look at Site Access

Third, design professionals should consider site-access issues.  The project site must have sufficient space for the modules to be lifted by crane onto the foundations.  There must be sufficient space for location of the crane.  The designer should also consider the location of fencing, gates, and other structures when establishing the final sizes of the modules to ensure that there is sufficient space to move the modules around the site.  Design professionals should also ensure that there is sufficient space on site to store modules while they are awaiting installation.  If there is limited space, the designer should account for logistical concerns to ensure that the modules are not delivered to the project site until ready for installation.

Connection Concerns

Fourth, design professionals should consider how the modules are connected.  When configuring the modular floor plan, avoid locating windows, doors, and plumbing fixtures across modular splits to reduce on site work.  This is crucial to realizing the cost savings of modular construction, since much of the savings are attributable to the increased efficiency of assembling modules easily.  The more construction that takes place out of the assembly yard/factory will reduce efficiency and increase costs.
Size-related considerations are not limited to transportation and site storage concerns. Mechanical engineers working on modular projects should be aware that modular construction projects might require mechanical systems designed to work with less ceiling space as the overall size and height of the module may be limited by transportation requirements.

Avoid Manufacturing Changes

Lastly, design professionals should be aware that it is critical to avoid any changes to the modular project once it hits the assembly floor. The cost savings of permanent modular construction are based upon efficiency and building the same module repeatedly in an assembly-like manner. Any changes in design after the modules are being assembled will likely halt progress and vitiate modular’s advantages over traditional construction.

If you are interested in learning more about using modular construction techniques, the Modular Building Institute offers a number of continuing education courses on modular building. You may access their website at the following link: http://www.modular.org.

If you have any questions about modular construction or other risk management issues, please call us at (864) 327-5000. We would be happy to assist you!