Modular/off-site construction could impact significantly on our profession. It 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 (as covered in P&H Engineering, March/April 2019).
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.
Modular manufacturing has a number of advantages over traditional methods of construction, including:
Time: A traditional house build is around six months, while to construct a modular house takes three to four months.
Controlled environment: Removing site processes to the controlled environment of the factory will improve the rate of production and product quality. Improved processes will lead to reduced levels of waste and subsequent costs. The use of CNC machines will improve efficiency. Also, with improved control of materials flow, raw materials can be recycled rather than thrown away, which often happens on site. Modular construction is also less likely to be affected by the weather.
Less time on site: With fewer activities being undertaken on site, less time should be required for on-site activities where conditions are less predictable and controllable.
Transport: Units can be transported to remote locations, again reducing the overall cost. Traditional construction also requires materials to be transported from their point of manufacture to the site, sometimes involving frequent, though often short journeys.
Standards: Quality, standards, inspection and control issues will be improved. Building components assembled on site are prone to workmanship defects, which costs clients and the industry considerable sums. Components assembled in a factory can benefit from more rigorous quality assurance checking. Therefore off-site construction can deliver a product that has fewer opportunities to acquire defects.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Modular construction will present significant challenges to all the trades, including the plumbing profession, whether in the domestic or commercial enterprises. Significant changes will also occur at the on-site installation stage.
It will also require fundamental changes to the training of 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. Many see these developments as a revolution.
Colleges and training providers need to be helped and supported by the manufacturers and professional bodies that represent the trades. In addition, the various trades must collaborate more. Just as importantly, college leaders need to recognise these challenges and, in turn, support the trainers by providing adequate resources. The training of lecturers and trainers will also need to be significantly reformed. One significant change will be how the trades work together in the new working environments, including closer collaboration between 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. Please send your thoughts via the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org