How to Overcome the Cost of Building Unique

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Aside from the modular industry, the buildings being built today are designed and constructed as “one-off” structures. It’s understandable: what developer wants their buildings to look like their neighbors’ buildings? For that reason, construction companies are essentially doing each project for the first time. Under the traditional construction model, each unique building is, in essence, a prototype. Unfortunately, there isn’t much continuous learning that can be applied to one-off projects.

Dancing House, Prague, Czech Republic; image: Architecture&Design.com.au

Some of the costs of building unique include:

  • Mistakes and budget overruns.

Much of the expense of projects today results because the learning gained from repetition doesn’t take place. There isn’t much opportunity for improving over time if you’re constantly doing something new.

  • Limited production.

With each project essentially being a prototype, it’s hard to get into a “groove” in construction. This makes it difficult to keep up with modern demand.

  • Compounded issues.

The cost brought by the lack of continuous learning is magnified by the challenges of a skilled labor shortage, supply chain issues, plus higher interest rates, fuel expense and raw material costs.

Building unique adds significant costs and pressures to companies in the construction industry.


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Conversely, if you consider the manufacturing industry, you’ll find examples for how to overcome the cost of building unique.

  • Standardization.

In manufacturing, most of each project/product and workflow remains the same, with possibly small unique features. Standardized products and workflows can save time in construction. The innovative process of modular construction, with its approach to standardized components, has a significant economic impact on projects, because it saves time, and time is more valuable than ever.

Modular construction; image: AIAContracts.org
  • Distributive design.

The benefits that result from distributive design models are notable, as explained by Andrew Staniforth in a recent Bridging the Gap Podcast. In advanced manufacturing, a distributed network of skilled suppliers can be used to furnish components of the final product, such as completed engines for an airplane. The same methods can be used in modular advanced building delivery. Different suppliers can furnish completed components – like kitchen or bathroom modules – to the assembly site for installation. Since modular assembly can save 30-50% of time on a job, it’s a more economical option.

  • Modeling direct to fabrication.

The aerospace and automotive industries model direct to fabrication. The information in the model drives the robotics and CNC machines. The BIM model in modular construction can serve the same purpose.

  • Single source of information.

Using collaboration on the product model, manufacturers know exactly what the finished product will look like before it is ever started. Construction companies are finding they can employ the same strategy using BIM and a platform like Autodesk Construction Cloud for a single source of information. Collaboration is important to successful modularization in construction, so trust and relationships need to be leveraged to produce a truly successful project.

Companies may avoid implementing construction technologies because of a negative experience in the past – “once bitten, twice shy.” However, the backlog of work continues, and demand is still high. With this abundance of opportunity, there is less and less time to continually build unique. As the industry is challenged to support production, technology must be a part of that solution, particularly industrialized construction.


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