Katerra, the technology company redefining the construction industry, recently hosted hundreds of financiers and stakeholders gathered as Katerra unveiled its TAKE OFF program, a presentation to share the company’s future plans last week in Las Vegas.
The company introduced eight product launches that fit the company’s goals of higher productivity and efficiency to enhance affordability.
The first reveal was the Katerra Building Platforms, an approach for mass customization to minimize the number of unique parts and to maximize part repetition in construction. The Katerra Building Platforms are factory built, leveraging the factory mentality of integration and standardization. Yet, Katerra maintains a level of customization to capture unique, and necessary, geographic demands and market variations.
The approach is much faster and offers compliance with 48-states' building and energy codes, a complete bill of materials, and an efficient process that enables a faster path to early estimates, feasibility, permitting, and dry-in.
At the TAKE OFF, Kattera introduced both a garden, or low level, market rate building platform and a garden workforce housing building platform. The market rate platform offers 12 unit plans for dozens of combinations of unit mixes. Some of the design flexibility comes from the choice of wood or light gauge steel framing, different finish packages, and choices in the exterior design elements. Solar elements that could add up to an alternative energy ready project or even a zero net energy project are available.
The garden market rate platform will be shipping at the end of 2019.
The garden workforce housing will also be available to ship at the end of the year and boasts three building types, four unit plans, six finish packages, and 33 unique wall panels per floor for a smart reduction in piping and ducting.
Craig Curtis, president of Katerra Architecture, pointed out that the key to reducing costs is making decisions up front. Trevor Schick, president of Katerra Materials, says that with this process, “the time getting into permit is reduced by 75%.”
The next part of the TAKE OFF was focused on cross-laminated timber, or CLT. In the next quarter, Katerra will start operating a 250,000-square-foot CLT manufacturing facility in Spokane, Washington, which will become the largest capacity CLT factory in the U.S. Katerra is adding this advanced building material to the mix of offerings in a holistic way—by also providing resources to advocate for jurisdictional support for taller wood frame buildings.
Consistent with Katerra’s vision, CLT also is better, faster, and safer, making it more affordable and more readily available. CLT is one-sixth the weight of concrete and, therefore needs less foundation work. The Katerra factory will have a high volume output of large-format panels, also with a low ratio of labor to volume. With geometric and biometric scanning, high capacity sorting, and advanced panel algorithms for layup, the factory will produce 140 boards per minute, giving it the potential to output more CLT than any other plant in the world.
The focus on timber is purposeful because it’s fully renewable and sequesters carbon instead of releasing it. In addition, wood offers intangible benefits, such as warmth and beauty.
Katerra promises that the CLT will be cost competitive and breaks it down into volume applications. For a residential building between six and 12 stories, Katerra anticipates it will be cost neutral compared to concrete and steel.
"For residential projects up to six stories, when CLT is used for floor panels only, we expect a slight cost premium when compared to TJI’s or truss framed floor systems," Curtis said. But one must factor in the advantages of speed to market, brand differentiation and superior aesthetics when making the decision to use this material."
Nic Brathwaite, the head of R&D and Utility systems at Katerra presented the next announcement: the Katerra Energy System, or KES, an integrated energy platform to replace typical electrical closets in multifamily garden-style buildings with a single-enclosure appliance.
The KES monitors all power through the building, providing real time power reports, in addition to metering and distributing the energy, automatically changing between power sources to find the most efficient, low-cost option. For example, Brathwaite points out that at night, KES could draw power from the grid. Then, as the sun rises, pull power from solar. As occupants leave the building, KES uses the energy to recharge batteries and send excess energy back to the grid. As occupants return, KES could switch to use stored battery power, thereby managing peak use and stress on the grid.
The KES closet has a simpler design so it is easier to install and cheaper to construct. Katerra also made sure the closet was future ready, making upgrades simple and easy, so new power sources would be less expensive to add. A premiere version of KES will be ready in third quarter 2019, with a base system at a lower cost than a typical closet.
Next launch was the KTAC, a packaged HVAC Solution. This product was a simple-yet-aggressive approach to simplify the footprint of the HVAC unit to drive down costs and make installation easier. The KTAC fits purposefully into a framed wall panel and can operate alone or in cooperation with other units. It uses advanced electronics, AI, and machine learning to provide comfort and efficiency at a lower cost. Katerra plans to have the KTAC available this year.
Katerra also revealed an entry into manufacturing windows, the goal again to reduce cost, while improving performance. With a target launch of third quarter 2019 from its new manufacturing facility in Tracy, California, Katerra pushed to develop windows that could be sold at a low cost price point, but with capabilities of high cost windows. Katerra windows also will be able to tint in about one-tenth the time of competitive windows, through a partnership with Kinestral Technologies and its Halio™ smart-tinting glass. Current testing is producing a very quiet, durable, energy efficient, window. Now, Katerra says its plans are to expand the window portfolio to curtain walls.
Bathrooms can be up to 15% to 20% of the costs of multifamily construction, Brathwaite pointed out, which was the impetus for Katerra’s new Bath Kit, that will cut costs in half. The new product can be shipped to a job site and installed by two people in less than a day and has no excess material in the delivery. Every part of the shipping is used in the construction of the bathroom.
The idea is part of Katerra’s concept of “level of completion,” that focuses on transitioning as much as possible from the field to the factory. Brathwaite says that without changing the bill of materials, by using creative shipment techniques, a higher level of factory completion, and streamlined install, it takes less than four hours to install the tub, shower, plumbing fixtures, flooring, trim, and vanity.
The bath kit is currently in pilot stage and Katerra will have a prototype of a similar kitchen kit in the next few months.
With this product and others, Katerra is still working through the various building codes and local laws. The company’s "precon" team studies state level programs for enclosed wall panels because a sticking point is closing the wall completely before shipping, Schick says.
Next, Schick revealed KOVA, a line of high-quality interior fixtures and finishes, that are easier to install and available at a lower cost. The product line, available at www.kovaproducts.com, is able to reduce costs by eliminating middlemen and streamlining logistics.
Apollo is the name of a complex and important Roman god, and also the name of Katerra's complex software vision, which was shared by Richard Harpham, vice president of software products at Katerra. Apollo provides a single operating platform for the entire building cycle that offers faster collaboration and better cost control. Built on an open API, the system offers construction budget and schedule tracking, centralized documentation, automated site planning, cost and schedule forecasts, design analysis and connects real time pricing with 2D and 3D design reviews.
“We have spent 500,000 developer hours on this now, doing 80,000 drawings,” said Abhijit Oak, head of development at Katerra.
Oak and Harpham also spoke of an Apollo pioneers program available to industry partners who could commit time and resources to test the product. Those interested can apply by emailing [email protected].
Much of what was discussed at the TAKE OFF event is reality at the K90 project, a Wolff Development residential project in Las Vegas. With these innovations, the 24-unit garden project is expected to go from ground up in less than 90 days–30 to 50 days less than typical construction timelines.
The success of the project can depend on the position of the factory. Schick says the magic formula is to have projects within 500 miles of the factory and to focus on flat packing.
Schick said the company doesn’t have plans for any big acquisitions, but it has its sights on single-family. He says it’s a much bigger opportunity.
This story appears as it was originally published on our sister site, www.hiveforhousing.com.