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The Impact of Offsite and Modular Manufacturing

Construction Tech Review | Wednesday, December 16, 2020

 

The construction of lighter buildings due to the introduction of timber and steel frame systems eliminate the need for groundwork and further reduces the need for cement and concrete.

FREMONT, CA: Today, offsite and modular solutions are starting to transform construction in various leading markets, including the U.S., U.K., China, and Australia. The implications for volumes and prices and how cement and concrete are used will be profound. To avoid being crushed by solutions for timber and steel, cement and concrete industries urgently need to take concerted and collaborative action to develop a new range of high-performance (high-margin) products and solutions that meet the emerging needs of offsite manufacturers. There are significant opportunities for those brave and wise enough.

The effect of offsite and modular is examined separately to consider the impact on volumes, prices, expenses, and cement and concrete margins.

The Impact of Offsite Manufacturing:

The shift to offsite, non-modular solutions has specific implications, including:

• Focusing on weight as the lifting and transfer of offsite manufactured parts to the site and on-site becomes a vital factor in delivering the structure. Steel and wood panels are also lighter than the existing concrete alternatives.

• Manufacturing tolerances are becoming critical to ensure that goods match together on-site easily and without rework. Steel and timber are known to have higher tolerances, leading to decreased cement and concrete quantities.

• Speed of assembly, where the dry solutions provided by timber and steel panels can be easily attached compared to concrete panels that are often supported and then coated in place.

• The construction of lighter buildings due to the introduction of timber and steel frame systems eliminate the need for groundwork and further reduces the need for cement and concrete.

The Impact of Modular Manufacturing

Weight becomes a crucial problem when transitioning to modular solutions. The most extensive steel frame modules can be up to 5m wide and 19m long, a size that literally cannot be supplied as a concrete module. The concrete panel industry's standard response is that the modular industry is transporting a lot of air to the site. This aspect is a valid point when comparing the empty structure that a concrete panel solution delivers to an empty module. However, the new modular manufacturers are shipping finished modules down to the desks, chairs, and lamps.

All these developments' combined effect could lead to a decline in cement consumption in new buildings of up to 60 percent. Moreover, as knowledge is moved from the automotive and aerospace sectors, and the use of robotics in manufacturing is growing, the need to optimize weight and the need to maintain dry, clean factories risks moving manufacturers away from conventional concrete solutions for steel and timber, reducing volumes – in an extreme scenario – by more than 60 percent.

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