THE LIGHTWAVE BLOG

A place to review and voice opinion and
insight on the development of environments

20 May, 2013

Permanent Modular Construction – what is it really?

Economic downturns tend to generate innovation, and in the design and construction industry, this may manifest in new materials, services and construction systems to name a few.  One such system that has been topical is modular construction, and indeed, we’ve seen a lot of development of modular construction systems and delivered projects.

But what is Modular Construction all about, and indeed what is Permanent Modular Construction?  For the majority of us, we perceive modular construction as kit homes, transportable homes suitable for caravan parks and mining dongers.  Our perception of them is generally that they are simple, cheap, possibly flimsy and for the lower end of the market.  It is a fact that majority of construction in this sector is of this type,  however over recent years there have been numerous new design orientated solutions appearing in our towns and cities and to the modular industry is no longer held by the reigns of caravan parks and mining camps.

Permanent modular construction is simply an alternative construction solution where some or all of a construction project is manufactured in a controlled factory environment.  The building is broken down into repetitive units or modules.  Completed modules are then transported and installed into location.  A well designed modular building is simply an alternative construction method, and its “modularity” is not apparent.  That is, a well designed modular building will be designed in such a way that the repetitive units are not obvious and any jointing simply covered by “cover strips”.

The strength and resilience of modular constructions are generally well beyond traditional buildings as the loads the buildings are subjected to in crane lifts and conditions under transport are significantly beyond what the National Building and cyclone codes would require.

Modular construction is an alternative method of building and becomes viable under certain conditions.  Permanent Modular construction is a risk mitigation construction solution where time is both minimized and certainty is gained.  A construction project that has a modular component can have both site work and manufacture commencing simultaneously.  Less delays are experienced due to uncontrollable, particularly rain events.

Modular construction in a multistoried project can reduce the complexities involved in working over multiple levels.  Multi storey projects become difficult to construct due to their heights, delivering both materials and labour to heights, the safety issues involved and they are generally in dense urban environments making delivery of materials slow, dangerous and disruptive to neighbours.  The Hickory Group in Melbourne have delivered a number of multistory projects and claim that up to 50% time savings have been obtained.

As the Australian modular industry in Australia grows and matures, the benefits of manufacture can be maximized.  Considered design will allow the capture of repetitive construction elements transformed into manufacturing processes that will save both time and money.  The controlled environments also allow the introduction of international industrial methodologies such as LEAN Production systems, Agile manufacturing, Just In Time systems and Production Planning into the construction of our urban environments.

So where are the potential applications of Permanent Modular Construction?

Application Why
Remote Regions and Towns Inflated labour and supply costs – cheaper to build in Metropolitan areas
Motels Repetitive units and time reduction.
Schools 3-4 week site disruption as opposed to a 9 month traditional build disruption
Hospitals Repetitive units and minimized disruption to existing services
Accomodation above existing buildings Lightweight, easy and cost effective to install without normal working at heights restrictions
Hotels and Multistorey Buildings Repetitive units, concurrent construction and time savings, minimized working at heights restrictions
Sloping Sites No or limited scaffolding, reduced logistical delays.
Inner City Locations Inflated costs due to difficulty and logistics of access and disruption to neighbours / existing operation.

Written by Mark Walsh

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