Leap of Faith: Adopting Prefab in the Electrical Trades
Written By Caitlin Dunn

“It’s the usual kind of adoption challenge. It’s new. It’s different than what everybody’s been used to in the past. There’s just so much technology out there right now,” says Steve Butler, Senior Industry Strategist for MEP at Autodesk. With his background in MEP engineering and design, Steve knows about technology in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing trades. He closely monitors trends in the electrical industry, challenges that the industry currently faces, and what direction it may be headed.

In an MEP Force special episode of the award-winning Bridging the Gap podcast, Steve said, “Depending on region, you’re seeing different trends emerge. Drones are being used a lot for photogrammetry, determining value on sight. IOT [Internet of Things] is a big topic, obviously. It’s crept into wearables, particularly in the US, but also into buildings. There’s a lot of interest in using sensors to measure the performance of buildings.”

However, the largest trend to emerge in Steve’s estimation is the modular and prefabrication movement. “There’s really two sides to it,” he said. “You’ve got the industrialization of construction. It’s really automating that whole construction process and taking it offsite. There’s obvious savings of time, money, materials.” He added, “There is a safety aspect to it as well. It will ultimately engage the trades a lot earlier in the workflow. I think that’s the most exciting one I see around the world today.”

As to challenges, Steve said the challenges around adoption of prefab and modular processes may be that companies are overwhelmed by the proliferation of technology. “It’s either that or emerging trends around tech and industrialization of construction,” he said. “The biggest challenge is finding the opportunity to take that leap of faith. Those that have benefit hugely, I think.” When asked by BTG host Todd Weyandt if he had any words of encouragement for those who are considering that leap of faith, Steve said, “Collaborate as much as you can. Share, and don’t be afraid to fail.”

As to which direction the technology industry is headed, Steve mentioned Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA). “It’s a hot topic,” he said. “It’s a term people are using around the world. Whether they fully understand it or not, it’s something that people are starting to embrace. That’s what’s going to emerge over the next five to seven years.”

And on a practical level, Steve described that DfMA finds its stepping stones in automation and offsite fabrication. “That’s going to be where most industries will go first,” he said. “And then, from that, they’ll start moving into DfMA.” If DfMA is “done right,” then builders will be using standard components in a way “they’re not using them today,” thus manufacturing buildings in a way that is very unfamiliar to many people. “From a design perspective,” he explained, “in the next three to five years, we’re really going to see the emergence of more generative design.”

All of this, he added, is bringing the trades upstream in the project modeling process, for instance in BIM levels of development (LOD). “As design-build is emerging, that’s taking you straight from LOD 100 to 300,” he said. “And with DfMA, you go from 100 to 400. The only people who can really do that 400 [level of development] are the trades.”

Asked if he has any tips on how to begin the inevitable mind shift that comes with this type of progress, Steve suggested, “Collaborate. You’re going to need to engage with owners more, and owners are going to have to drive this initiative.”

When it comes to adoption of modular and prefab processes, the takeaway is that contractors in the trades need to be prepared to work with other trades and keep an open mind. There are ways you can work more collaboratively with your peers and emerge stronger, while fortifying your industry for the long haul.

If your company is considering the leap of faith in adopting modular or prefabrication processes, you don’t have to face it alone. Partner with the industry experts of eVolve MEP and discover the resources and resiliency for your business to grow and thrive.

The MEP Force 2020 all-virtual event will be held August 31 to September 2. Register today for MEP Force, where you can gain a competitive edge in fabrication and prefabrication. Autodesk’s Queen of Prefab Amy Marks will be the featured keynote speaker. Then choose from over 75 breakout sessions where you can learn from other industry leaders about new technology trends that are affecting your business.

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