The Southern California Development Forum (SCDF), an organization that provides networking opportunities for those in the real estate community, hosted a panel discussion in February 2021 about the future of prefabrication and modular construction. Any component of a building that is manufactured in a factory before arrival and installation at a building site is prefabricated. Modular construction is a type of prefab construction but it involves an enclosed space like creating a room.
Ray Boff, national prefabrication strategy leader at DPR Construction, a commercial general contractor, served as the moderator for panelists from UC San Diego, RMOD a Relevant Group Company, HCA Healthcare and UC Davis. Boff began the conversation by asking why prefabrication and modular construction are important now.
Prefabrication and Modular Construction Gaining Momentum
Darren Seary, a vp of modular operation at RMOD said prefabrication and modular construction are a necessity right now because a 2019 report by McKinsey shows that California is going to need an additional 3.5 million housing units by 2025. Seary said the industry is looking at alternative means of construction to achieve that target.
Jim Carroll, associate vice chancellor and university architect at UC Davis, is facing some challenges to constructing the number of properties needed by 2025. He is concerned about prevailing wages since the projects are extremely expensive.
“You have to ask yourself, do we really have the trades to be able to build with the speed and consistency that we really need to get some of these units up fast,” said Caroll.
Eric Smith, associate vice chancellor in the capital program management of UC San Diego, is also worried about the need for student housing. The university could deliver housing faster if it had a modular design for manufacturing and assembly techniques to bring the cycle forward, he said, which would be a huge benefit in terms of the ability to house students at a lower cost, as well as bringing revenue that comes from the housing.
UC Prefabricated Projects
UC San Diego is working on two projects. One is getting ready to start construction while the other has been interrupted briefly by Covid-19. The university is using a system-wide scale, unit-wide scale and component scale to develop housing for one of the projects. As a result, UCSD is building bathroom and kitchen pods, which help save time on construction.
UC Davis has two resident hall projects over the last five years and also has two public-private partnerships projects. Caroll said that one of the challenges is quantifying advantages to make off-site work more competitive.
“I think the contractors are giving us more repetitive build capabilities and saving the money themselves on the offsite efforts,” stated Caroll.
Healthcare Industry Use of Prefabrication
Natasha Morre, senior process improvement analyst in capital deployment of HCA Healthcare, said that the health care industry has been toying with prefabrication for years. Morre is looking at patient remodels, exterior walls and more complex MEP racks. Morre’s team is also trying to figure out how to get the maximum benefit of prefabrication for freestanding emergency rooms and has started prefabricating items that repeat in their hospitals.
“Prefabrication and modular allows us to speed to market without sacrificing the cost of quality,” said Morre.
In summary, there are prefabricated modules of all types in all places. Each location offers unique opportunities and capabilities.
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