A Modular State of Mind:
Tocci Attends MBI Conference

Tocci attended the 2018 MBI (Modular Building Institute) annual conference in Hollywood, Florida this past month. The conference has grown over thirty years – 850 people showed up (owners, architects, engineers, modular fabricators, suppliers, and general contractors + construction managers) to hear what’s new in modular.

Here’s a few things I found interesting:

The United States is late to the modular game

Japan, Sweden, England, and Canada are far in front of the US when it comes to modular construction. Japanese company Sekisui House can produce about 90 modules per day – this, compared to 8-15 modules in North America. Swedish company Lindbacks is about 15 years ahead of the US, according to a talk by Ivan Rupnik (Professor Northeastern University) and Ryan Smith (Professor University of Utah). Canadian company Ladacor is building modular with shipping containers, and they are getting close to an affordable net-zero option.

Marriott Hotels is buying in:

They dove into modular construction in 2014, completed their first project in 2016, and now they have over 50 projects they plan to complete using modular-Including a steel high rise hotel in New York. They spoke about the benefits to their franchisors, that modular construction could increase speed and increase quality. The speakers said, “Don’t try to sell people on cost with modular; sell them on quality and speed.”

One of the obvious benefits to increased speed: faster time to market (the earlier a hotel is open, the earlier it can produce revenue).

Not-so-obvious benefits:

  • Acoustics: modular hotel units have double walls, which drastically reduces the amount of noise
  • Punchlist: as a franchisor, having hotel rooms show up 85% complete means that the punchlist is considerably reduced (Example: plumber goes in to fix a toilet; dents the drywall, your drywaller goes in to fix the drywall; stains the carpet, etc. This is not the case with modular)
  • Quality: 85% of the building is completed in a climate-controlled environment

“Reinventing Construction” by Stephen Fuchs

Steffen Fuchs (say fewsh) of McKinsey and Company shared research they have compiled regarding the many problems with construction. We’ve heard the statistics so many times, but it’s worth repeating a few:

  • Construction is among the least digitized industries. It’s right in front of hunting (not kidding)
  • 98% of projects incur cost or schedule overruns, averaging an 80% cost increase over original value, 20 months behind original schedule
  • Why is it taking so long for construction to reform? “Less than 1% of revenues” are spent on R&D, versus 3.5% to 4.5% for auto and aerospace sectors.

We can keep naming depressing stats but we’d rather look at some positives:

    By rethinking design and engineering processes and expanding adoption of standardized prefabricated designs

  • Radically increasing use of technology
  • Training and developing the workforce
  • We can raise productivity 5-10%

So there’s a few takeaways. Our first full modular project was twenty years ago, and we’re working on our fourth now, so we’re certainly not strangers to this technology or the benefits and challenges, but there’s always more to learn.

Bart Tocci + Owen Huisenga at the MBI Conference

Bart Tocci + Owen Huisenga at the MBI Conference

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