The expo was an effort to draw more attention to permanent modular construction, the Modular Building Institute, National Institute of Building Sciences and other industry groups.
Despite the promises of a higher quality product in a shorter timeframe and growing chatter around the alternative method, permanent modular construction still faces the obstacles of an industry averse to change and concerns regarding the altered timeline of traditional construction.
Although they expect wider implementation of offsite, experts cite concerns of a change in the traditional project workflow — from the need to bring in modular builders earlier in the process to questions regarding building codes standards for prefab units.
The biggest change is decisions need to be made earlier so the project can go to fabrication and production.
Builders considering modular construction to do their research well in advance of starting the project, as they need to consider where permanent modular construction companies are located and what regions they cover, decide whether the building’s design is suitable to modular construction, and ensure that all team members come together early to collaborate in the process.
Design-build is recommended as the contract type most suitable for modular projects, as it allows architects and contractors to come on board at the early stages and decide on details together, rather than the traditionally separated design-bid-build process.
During the most buzzed-about session of the expo, a representative from China-based prefab buildings maker the Broad Group explained the details behind the popular YouTube videos of a 30-story hotel in China’s Hunan Province being constructed in 15 days.
Broad Group USA general manager Sunny Wang said that 93% of the T30 Broad Sustainable Building was built with prefab components.
They have built 30 Broad Sustainable Buildings, with the majority in China and one in Mexico. They use a 2.5 million-square-foot factory with 4,000 employees to create the “mainboards” that are then assembled on-site.
Broad has its sights set on the North American market, as it envisions the building components being manufactured in the China facility and shipped to the U.S. “I hope in another two years we’ll see the first in the U.S.,” Wang said. “Offsite construction is the future of the world.”
The company uses steel materials with anti-corrosion technology to ensure a longer building life cycle, which can withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake, according to Wang. The company also emphasizes the energy-efficiency of its structures, with 6 to 12 inches of thermal insulation, glazing, external solar shading, fresh air recovery and LED lighting.
Wang said the building method allows the company to standardize design, make project management more efficient, lower costs, reduce waste and lower the likelihood of industry corruption or development hold-ups.