The move to manufacturing is needed in so many ways, but bottlenecks are stopping it from being adopted in a productive and impactful way. But why? This article explores the challenges that manufacturing faces in the future of construction.
Every now and then, disruption pushes a new technology to the front of the pack, bypassing the leading competition. This effect is called “leapfrogging,” and it’s a global phenomenon. For example, in much of the developing world, absent the terrestrial infrastructure for landline telephony, the telecoms industry leapfrogged to mobile phones. Soon, mobile telephony was widespread in these areas, and more innovation followed on its shoulders. Mobile money, like M-PESA, came to market as early as 2007 in East Africa, leapfrogging another gap: inadequate access to financial institutions for everyday transactions.
What would this effect look like in the construction sector? It might look a lot like the convergence of manufacturing and construction, or “industrialized construction.” IC encompasses the manufacturing of single discipline components, such as MEP risers, timber or precast concrete wall and floor panels, but also extends into multi-trade modular systems that include architectural and structural systems and complete MEP services. These methods require less labor, enable offsite construction and onsite assembly, help deliver against accelerated project schedules, are of equivalent or higher quality, and reduce waste—all while keeping construction costs more predictable.
IC neatly sidesteps the issues bogging down growth in the sector—familiar challenges such as flagging productivity and prolific amounts of waste—speeding up delivery and making better use of resources. Is it possible that there are already signs of leapfrog technology in construction overcoming longstanding issues vexing the industry? Two experts on industrialized construction, Mike Eggers, vice president of product & innovation at Project Frog, and Michael Gustafson, industry strategy manager for structural engineering at Autodesk, explored that question.
Today, there is a burgeoning global population and rapid migration to the world’s cities. By 2050, the global urban population is expected to double, requiring construction of an additional 1,000 new buildings per day starting now. Meanwhile, global construction productivity has effectively plateaued, growing just 1 percent per year in recent decades.
According to Eggers, the industry is facing big constraints. "Speed, lack of resources and lack of skilled labor are going to be growing issues, probably globally. There’s a sustainability component in that: You just can't build conventionally in the same way and still meet the needs of society.”