Modularity/ Off-Site Construction Revisited.

I would like to return to the topic of modular/off-site construction as it could impact significantly on the profession as will the introduction of artificial intellenge and robots both could create a revolution in the way plumbers operate. Interest is growing in this development as the advantages are being highlighted with a number of large companies who are beginning to invest in the process.

It involves some or all of the fabrication or assembly of components being carried out within the controlled environment of the factory or workshop rather than on- site.

Even though the associated costs are much the same modular manufacturing has a number of advantages over traditional methods of construction some are given below:

  • Time factors namely it takes to build traditionally is approximately six months whilst to construct a modular house is three to four months.
  • Removing site processes to the controlled environment of the factory or workshop will improve the rate of production and product quality. Improved process will lead to reduced levels of waste and subsequent costs. Also with improved control of materials flow, raw materials can be recycled rather than be skipped which often happens on site.
  • With fewer activities being undertaken on sit less time should be required for on-site activities where conditions are less predictable and controllable.
  • Modular construction is not effected by the weather
  • The units can be easily transported to remote locations again reducing the overall cost. However, traditional construction also requires materials to be transported from their point of manufacture to the site, sometimes involving frequent, though often short distances.
  • Quality, standards, inspection and control issues will be improved. Building components assembled on-sit is often prone to workmanship defects, which cost client and the industry considerable sums each year. The control of components assembled in a factory environment can benefit from more rigorous quality assurance checking. Therefore off-sit construction has the potential to deliver a product that has fewer opportunities to acquire defects.

Modular construction will present significant challenges to all the trades including the plumbing profession whether in the domestic and commercial enterprises. Significant changes will also occur at the onsite installation stage. It will also require fundamental changes in the training people preparing to enter the trades. Further Education Colleges (FECs) and other training organisations will need to make major reforms to the way they operate. In addition specific training of site operatives may be required to implement some systems correctly. As said above many see these developments as a revolution.

Colleges and training providers need to be helped and supported by the manufacturing company’s and professional bodies that represent the trades. In addition the various trades must collaborate more. Equally important college management needs to recognise these challenges and in turn support the lecturers and trainers by providing adequate resources. The training of lecturers and trainers will also need to be significantly reformed as will the training of students wishing to enter the industry. One significant change will be how the various trades work together in the new working environments including closer collaboration between the professional bodies.

I would be interested to hear from lecturers and plumbers on how they see the possible impact on their current practices as modular manufacture increases in scale.

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