In her MEP Force keynote on August 31, 2020, Amy Marks, head of Autodesk Industrialized Construction Strategy & Evangelism and known as the Queen of Prefab, made a compelling argument for mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) contractors to get involved in prefabrication now, even if on a small scale.
Marks explained that industrialized construction (IC) – applying manufacturing techniques to the built environment – is a common sense move for the construction industry. Just as it makes more sense to buy a standardized pair of shoes online rather than having each pair custom-made for you, it makes more sense to have standardization in construction than custom making one-off buildings.
Industry forecasts predict large increases in prefabrication within the near future. Besides the economic incentives of less waste, lower costs and reducing weather-related schedule problems, prefab provides the additional benefits of being predictable, safe and sustainable.
Marks pointed out that companies are investing in prefab because there’s money to be made in the process. Perhaps a confirmation of this is found in the fact that Autodesk is developing a software strategy around industrialized construction. Why bother if there’s not a lucrative future in it? In addition, the AEC software giant is using input from MEP subcontractors as that strategy comes to fruition.
There are worldwide forces propelling the adoption of prefab, including population growth coupled with a construction industry that is challenged to keep up with the demand for residential, commercial, medical, and education facilities. These pressures have translated to a demand for prefab, with anticipated shifts of up to one-third of traditional construction toward prefab in the coming years. Marks pointed out that MEP specialty subcontractors who recognize value of prefab are driving its adoption.
She suggested that MEP companies need to focus more on building “products” rather than “projects.” These should be products that can be used on many, if not all, of the projects they are part of. Once these products are defined, they should be improved as needed to make them as repeatable as possible – in true manufacturing fashion.
Of course, this product focused mindset results in a finite number of design choices available for projects. And that means contractors are responsible for enlightening others on what prefab products they supply and what they will not supply. For this reason, among others, collaboration is paramount to the informed decision making and trusted relationships that bring success on a project. Marks recommended collaboration among owners, designers, general contractors, and subs using building information modeling (BIM) for data transparency when working in the model. Autodesk Revit and BIM 360 are examples of digital platforms for this collaboration and communication.
As Marks reminded, the controlled build environment of prefab isn’t merely moving processes to an offsite location, it’s fine tuning the manufacturing techniques that will improve productivity, overcome skilled labor shortages and make costs and scheduling more predictable.
Curious about how your MEP business can take that first step into prefabrication? Contact eVolve MEP today to talk to a prefabrication expert. They can help you design a solution that makes sense for your individual situation.