Recently, the Coward Environmental Systems, Inc. team traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, to Advancing Prefabrication, North America’s premier networking and thought leadership conference dedicated to revolutionizing prefabrication, modular and industrialized manufacturing approaches across the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) supply chain.
One of the stand-out presentations in Phoenix was delivered by Kelcey Henderson. She’s the president of Continuum Advisory Group, a management consulting firm that serves the entire value chain of the construction industry. Continuum offers strategic planning services, market research, consulting, and process improvement. The firm also works with project teams implementing Lean construction and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).
Continuum Research Presents a Variety of Perspectives
“Last year, I moderated an owners’ panel that focused on strategies that enable the use of prefabrication,” Henderson notes. “Attendees wanted to know what they could do, from an owners’ perspective, to set the project up to maximize the use of prefabrication. It was such a hot topic that the conference organizers asked me to expand upon it in 2023. They wanted me to explain which project delivery methods and which contracting strategies either enabled or inhibited the use of prefabrication and share tips on the best ways to apply those strategies to a range of projects.”
Henderson agreed to speak. But when planning for the presentation, she decided that an industry survey was a very effective way to provide a variety of perspectives. So the survey was developed and sent to Continuum clients, colleagues, and other contractors and owners in the industry.
“I received 70 responses in just the matter of a few weeks,” Henderson reports. “That much response, so quickly, was a clear sign that the topic was relevant. The topic resonated with a lot of people.”
Some respondents were providers of prefabrication, including companies that build modules, provide off-site construction, or manufacture prefab. Other participants were engineers, architects, owners, GMs, manufacturer reps, trade partners, or worked in specialty trades.
“We sorted responses into three broad groups, says Henderson. “45 percent were owners and owner reps, 32 percent were general contractors and construction management firms, and 23 percent were partners and providers or specifiers of prefab.”
The survey asked questions about contract type and project delivery method to determine which formats respondents believe best enabled the use of prefabrication and which potentially inhibited it.
Contract Types Affect Ability to Incorporate Prefab
Henderson explains, “I asked which contract types the respondents felt enabled or inhibited prefabrication. IPD and design-build came in at the top of the list. Both were named in 26 open-ended responses. Conversely, lump-sum and time and material had the most people naming it as one of the contract types that inhibits the use of prefab.”
While the research shows that some contract types make it easier to use prefab solutions, other factors also came into play. “Many factors were listed as important,” notes Henderson. “People talked a lot about team culture and collaboration. It’s important to foster a workplace that allows for innovation. Survey participants also emphasized that it is critical to have early owner involvement. Partner capabilities also play a role. You must have the right partners who can design for and implement prefab effectively, but team dynamics are just as important. And, of course, this all goes hand in hand with corporate culture.”
The delivery method is also a key to deciding whether to use prefab or modular construction. Many types of delivery methods seem to support the use of prefab, and once again, Integrated Project Delivery and Design Build were rated highest. However, about two-thirds of respondents said that the Design-Bid-Build contract type makes it much harder to include prefab.
No Matter Which Type of Contract or Delivery Method, Early Involvement is Key
“Other factors also come into play,” Henderson continues. “Whether prefab is considered is also dependent on whether or not there is early involvement from the people who can deliver that prefabrication. Early conversations need to occur between potential providers and specifiers. Owners should establish prefab as a priority from the beginning and then enable the early involvement to ensure it happens.”
So, what can the industry learn? Kelcey Henderson identified these insights.
- Prefabrication works best when it’s identified as a priority from the beginning. Plan to include prefab in the beginning stages of your next project.
- Early involvement is critical. Bring engineers, contractors, distributors, and manufacturers together at the start to include prefab in ways that save time and money.
- Providing incentivization works. Give stakeholders a reason to include prefab to ensure they create processes and contracts that allow for the inclusion of prefab products and elements.
- Building solid relationships and investing in teams makes it easier to include prefab. Talk to manufacturers and distributors. Create relationships that encourage innovation and creative problem-solving. Take a team approach and involve stakeholders throughout the process.