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Prefabrication and modular construction
28 July 2020
Kuldeep Bwail

How Will Covid-19 Impact Prefabrication?

In so many ways, 2020 is poised to become a watershed year for global change. The Coronavirus pandemic has affected and will affect a range of industries, generations of people and the environment, but not always negatively. Similar to the positive effect of national lockdowns on improving the physical environment, it may be possible that the Covid-19 situation will generate greater popularity for the process of prefabrication in construction. Firms could find attractive benefits in using offshore building services design consultants to help develop high-quality MEP drawings, MEP prefabricated models and building services coordination required for prefabrication.

Why would the process of prefabrication be an attractive option for construction firms?

Using prefabricated materials can reduce overall project costs, improve job-site productivity and help complete projects on time or even faster, especially during emergencies. For example, hospitals and healthcare units for coronavirus patients, other patients and frontline workers were deployed within days using prefabrication.

Some of the reasons to consider using prefabrication in the post-Coronavirus environment are as follows:

Return to Work Quickly

Contractors are keen to finish pending projects and hit the ground running on new projects. Prefabrication enables them to do so.

Prefabricated Wiring Benefits
  • Modules with wiring are manufactured and assembled offsite, resulting in 50% or more of the total connections being created at the factory. Components are assembled to strict standards in a controlled environment, and they are delivered ‘ready to install’.
  • Modular power cabling and wireless battery-free controls help prepare modules with power, lighting and secure networking communications.
  • Electrical installations can be completed efficiently and quickly with structured cabling and modular wiring, and they can be adapted quickly for changing situations.
  • Modular wiring and flat cable-connected systems coupled to wireless controllers and sensors enable a complete installation quickly and at low cost.
  • Using computer design and modelling, power cabling can be pre-wired in the ceiling or wall space.
  • Switch drops and associated conduit drops are not required.
  • There is no need to coordinate the switch position with the studwork.
  • Less time is spent feeding electric cables through a closed wall.
  • The prefabrication process offsite can begin while site permits are being obtained, and product delivery can be on schedule.
  • Pre-wired assemblies result in fast and efficient installation.
  • Components are assembled offsite rather than be delivered separately to the site, requiring fewer shipments to the site and reducing the time taken moving materials.
Reducing the Chances of Disease Transmission

By reducing the number of interfaces and task dependencies between trades on site, there are reduced chances of disease transmission.

More Efficient Timelines

Profitability is driven by completing projects on time while ensuring quality. Using prefabrication can save time ordering materials and building panels and cables, as panels are delivered pre-wired and only need branch connections.

Measure Repeatedly, Cut Once
  • Prefabrication eliminates miscalculations, saving the waste of material, time and money.
  • Wiring solutions can be comprehensively implemented for the entire installation.
  • Experienced design teams can plan in detail, making precise calculations.
  • Component quality is consistent and created in a controlled setting.
  • Construction crews do not need to double-check measurements, as the design team has already checked them.
Improved Organisation
  • Prefabrication reports include specific data about each detail in the design drawings.
  • Detail numbers are listed on shop drawings, reports and labels on each device assembly.
  • A completed order is boxed and palletised by room number, area and section, making on-site installation simple, organised and fast.
Maintain Social Distancing

Social distancing is as important as profitability in labour considerations. On-site workers often labour with poor ventilation and in cramped spaces. Reducing labour on site leads to reduced labour interaction, enabling social distancing norms.

Improved Safety

Prefabrication improves the physical safety of workers.

  • Traditionally, it was common to have sharp edges lying exposed on-site, resulting in cuts and falls. Prefab wiring reduces material storage, waste, handling and the amount of dangerous materials on site. Tripping, falling and injury are reduced on a clear worksite.
  • Workers are typically exposed to heights on site. Using prefabrication, installation can be completed on the ground or vertically stacked, so that workers need not constantly be climbing up and down and coming into close contact with each other.

Specifically to deal with the challenges thrown up by Covid-19, here are some examples of how prefabrication work contributes to hospitals and healthcare:

  • In England, 52 new beds, 28 of them critical care beds, were built as fabricated pods.
  • A 20-bed isolation ward was completed in eight weeks.
  • In 10 weeks, wards for more than 150 new beds were built for delivery to three NHS trusts.
  • Even temporary mortuaries that act as holding points before burial or cremation have been created through the process of prefabrication.

Facilities for assessment, screening and outpatient testing of Covid-19 can also benefit from using prefabrication. Modular construction is built in the factory for hospital requirements and carefully created to meet the space and budget constraints of health authorities. As individual modules and units are delivered ready to install, there is minimum disruption to the daily work of medical staff and patient comfort. Using prefabrication also helps ensure the safety, security and needs of patients, doctors, nurses, care workers and other medical staff. Prefabricated units can be installed with a variety of sensors so that:

  • Lighting switches and dimmers are placed in convenient areas.
  • Sensors need not be wired-in, instead sending a wireless signal to the receiver.
  • Self-powered occupancy sensors can link wirelessly to intruder alarms.
  • Sensors can switch the lighting and heating off when nobody is around.
  • Windows can be installed with contact sensors powered by light.
  • Light-powered CO₂ sensors or solar-powered or kinetic sensors can be installed for flood detection.
  • Energy can be harvested from temperature differences between heating radiators and their environment, enabling self-powered heating valves to communicate wirelessly with a room thermostat or a smart home box for heating control.

In a Dutch university medical centre, challenges presented by the Coronavirus encouraged the use of modules with:

  • self-powered and battery-free switches used as call buttons
  • proximity sensors that allowed staff to know which areas were in use, to schedule cleaning in unoccupied areas and identify spaces not used and do not require cleaning
  • sensors attached to soap dispensers in restrooms, alerting maintenance staff to re-supply, ensuring people can always wash their hands
  • a sensor network to monitor patients with specific risk of contracting Covid-19<.

Moving ahead, either in the shadow of the pandemic or having left it behind, the IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (artificial intelligence) may supply additional data for further benefits. It is conceivable that smart modular buildings will be able to integrate IoT devices by themselves, generate data and use it to help Covid-19 survivors who are aged and unable to care easily for themselves. Care homes may offer the elderly easy, secure connections with friends, family and medical staff. Battery-free sensors and IoT technology could help prevent incidents such as unattended stoves being left on, overflowing baths and people becoming confused about their whereabouts.

Today’s Covid-dictated economy poses many challenges. Prefabrication wiring assemblies and modules offer a certain sense of liberty to contractors so that they can manage labour, materials, manufacture, assembly and installation efficiently within the constraints of the Coronavirus pandemic. Construction sites can be safer, more organised and efficient when prefabrication work is handled offsite. Employing less labour, saving overall costs and completing projects on time are some of the factors that make prefabrication an increasingly preferred option during the time of Corona. Offshore building services design consultants and shop drawings service providers can offer a range of services, such as providing residential design drawings and building services coordination, at competitive rates while maintaining high quality. This could signal an increase in the long-term popularity of prefabrication as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

XS CAD has valuable experience providing DfMA modelling and drawings and prefabrication services for structural engineers, MEP engineers, general contractors, homebuilders, architects and retailers.  Our range of services for structural, architectural and building engineering firms, such as consultants and contractors across the world, include modular construction models, prefabricated construction drawings, residential drafting services, architectural design services and shop drawing services for prefabricated bathroom modules and other units.  We create these models and drawings by using Revit, AutoCAD, Inventor and BIM 360 Design for cloud collaboration.