Learn about what prefabrication is, its advantages and disadvantages, how it works, some strategies and tips, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
Published 13 Dec 2022
| By Kevin Gausch, Patricia Guevara
Prefabrication refers to the practice or method of assembling buildings or components of structures at a location different from the construction site, such as a factory or any other manufacturing site. The process also involves transporting either complete assemblies or sub-assemblies to the construction site.
Prefabrication is an umbrella term that encompasses various types of pre-assembled structural components. One of these is modular construction, a type of building design where each space or room is built separately through prefabricated modules. Hence, it must be noted that all modular structures are prefabricated, but not all prefabricated structures follow the concept of modular construction.
Considered a construction innovation, prefabrication undoubtedly presents many advantages and disadvantages depending on the needs and expectations of project managers, contractors, and building owners as well as the capacity and productivity of laborers.
Here are some of the top pros and cons of prefabrication:
How the Prefabrication Process Works
Based on this study published on ResearchGate, a simple depiction of how the process of prefabrication works is as follows:
While more and more contractors are considering the prefabrication methodology, it’s best to understand its basic principles and some helpful strategies for its successful implementation. To guide you, here are a few tips and essentials to consider:
A significant portion of the project’s success is dependent on how well-planned it is. Hence, contractors must ensure that all the project’s needs and specifications are clearly defined and which materials or components should be prefabricated.
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In any construction project, it’s crucial to understand what needs to be done and which part must be prefabricated or not. Even if it can improve productivity and efficiency, stakeholders should verify if this methodology can really help speed up the project and if it’s aligned with the project’s requirements.
Moving forward, processes and activities involved in prefabrication must be streamlined and easier to reapply. Experience is key, which helps contractors identify the specific prefabrication techniques that can be replicated in future projects.
According to the US National Park Service (NPS), London carpenter H. John Manning conceived the possibly first ever advertised prefabricated home called “Manning Portable Cottage” in 1830. It was built component by component and then was shipped and assembled by British emigrants.
The 2 main types of prefabrication are modular and panelized. Modular construction, also called modular prefabrication, covers three-dimensional (3D), shop-assembled panels. Panelized prefabrication, on the other hand, refers to two-dimensional (2D) components assembled together on-site to form a building.
Prefabrication refers to the off-site production and/or pre-assembly of construction components before transporting them to the construction site. Precast construction, on the other hand, involves a type of concrete that’s mixed, cast, and cured off-site (e.g., factory) through reusable molds, which can then be connected or integrated to form a complete structure.
The materials typically used for prefabrication structures include concrete, steel, wood, glass, recycled and reclaimed materials, aluminum, and plastic. In some cases, cellulose insulation, ceiling tiles, and ceramic or porcelain tiles are used to construct prefabricated homes.
Digitalizing operations and activities involved in planning, managing, and monitoring prefabrication work can help organizations, contractors, and workers streamline their processes and strengthen safety compliance as well as quality control.
Using tools and software like SafetyCulture, a workplace operations platform, contractors, project managers, construction teams, and employees can do the following and more:
Kevin has a Lean and Six Sigma Black Belt from Villanova University and Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence through ASQ with a focus on the construction industry. Kevin has 13 years of Quality and Project Management experience in the utility contractor space, including; electric transmission, distribution and substation, gas distribution and pipeline, and telecommunications, both inside and outside plant. 16 years of construction experience overall.
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