Credit: photo source is Entekra Inc.
Credit: photo source is Entekra Inc.

In Europe wood frame construction market adoption varies widely, from virtually 100% in Scandinavia, to over 80% in Scotland, and over 30% in Ireland, and many other central- and western European countries. However, what is common in all the countries, where wood frame is used, is that virtually all of the wood framing is constructed using an offsite construction (OSC) system.

Most of the customers in Europe--whether they are builder/developers of multifamily, single family or custom home end users--understand the benefits that offsite systems can deliver in terms of speed, safety, productivity, quality, energy efficiency and sustainability. It would essentially be as alien to a European to stick build a wood frame house, as it would be to buy a new car and have every single component shipped to your front yard and have a couple of local mechanics come out in a pick up truck with welding equipment and pneumatic tools to build the car. You simply wouldn't dream of it.To do so would be to ignore over 200 years of innovation and progress, since the industrial revolution.

Yet in the US market, this is exactly how wood framed houses are built, without taking advantage of the last two centuries of innovation, and ignoring the benefits of computer modeling and digitization, modern CNC/robotic automation or factory-controlled conditions and quality systems. The real question is why?

Actually the question is better phrased as, why have offsite solutions not been more widely adopted by the US construction industry?

Off Site System providers are not simple wall panel or component manufacturers
A large part of the reason, is due to the nature of the mis-nomered "offsite" industry in the US. In Europe and other parts of the world, the offsite companies are part of a dedicated and specialized offsite industry, and categorically see themselves as offsite system providers--not component manufacturers. In fact, the term component is hardly ever used by the offsite industry or builders, outside the US. That's because pure-play offsite companies realize that the customer is not, in reality, interested in purchasing components, but rather is seeking a solution. The so-called components are merely an output, a form of elements of a system, which provides a solution to the problem the builder wants addressed. They are not the raison d'être of the offsite company.

Credit: image provided by Entekra Inc.
Credit: image provided by Entekra Inc.

Offsite benefits come from an integrated approach.
Until there are dedicated Fully Integrated Off Site System providers, it will be very difficult for the builder/developer to gain meaningful benefits and for Off-Site solutions to gain a bigger share of the framing market. One of the major obstacles to this is the requirement for an experienced in-house engineering team. The reason for this is that offsite solutions will always be compromised and sub-optimal if they are forced to use engineering and processes and thinking that was designed for stick framing ,or is based on a simple component model .

In particular, design, engineering and manufacturing of Pre Fabricated Floor Cassettes (PFC) and roof cassettes, requires a lot of internal engineering expertise. PFC's are are a critical element of offsite construction in the multi-story, multi-family and light commercial markets. Engineering for maximum offsite efficiency requires a detailed in depth knowledge of factory manufacturing techniques, advanced automation, structural engineering and the off site building process and connection detailing, in addition to logistics and materials selection.

Those in the industry with a genuine interest and vision for the potential of the "offsite industry" must realize that they need to become more than just component manufacturers. Instead, they have to act as integrated offsite system/solution providers and resource themselves accordingly. Otherwise, the industry will fail to reach its potential, despite the labor shortage, which is forcing builders to look for new solutions.

So, in the US market we have a situation, where component manufacturers and commodity lumber suppliers are commonly masquerading as offsite companies, and customers (builders) don't know the difference between them and true off-site companies. This leads to failed expectations and incorrect perceptions of the true capability of the "real" Off-Site industry.

Credit: image provided by Entekra Inc.
Credit: image provided by Entekra Inc.

Offsite companies may manufacture components but they are not component manufacturers!
True offsite companies are solutions-focused businesses that happen to manufacture components as part of a solution. However the solution comprises of much more than just physical elements. The real value is in the synergy and integration of services which go much further than just panels. In essence, the manufacturing and selling of components is not the raison d'être of the offsite company.

The US construction industry is lagging behind taking the same systematic approach, that has been adopted and proven to be successful in other sectors of the economy.

And as Aristotle said so eloquently over 2000 years ago, the whole, is greater than the sum of the parts. If it's not a system, it's not a solution.

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