How to Start Smart in Modular with BIM

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The 3D building information modeling (BIM) process improves planning, design, construction, and long-term operation of projects. A tool like Autodesk Revit offers insights and improves the flow of communication among project teams. So, in a process like offsite modular construction, it follows that prefabrication processes and coordination of onsite assembly will be facilitated when using BIM.

Image: Clayton Homes

BIM offers a better way to do things in modular construction. Procedures and workflows can be streamlined in a factory-type setting. Labor and materials can be utilized much more efficiently.

According to Bridging the Gap (BTG) Podcast guest Nick Coubray, the momentum of modular construction has increased in the past five years. More companies are entering the movement, with the labor shortage and increased cost of materials being two motivating forces.


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In the not-too-distant past, modular construction teams had to start with DWGs, PDFs or even hand-drafted plans for determining what they would be building. A separate designer would need to design frames for the buildings. Now with BIM, the Revit model contains all that information. Additional time and expense are not required for frame design. A cost savings emerges from leveraging the work already completed in the Revit model. Thus, using a BIM process enables lean, efficient workflows.

For instance, by knowing the exact design of a house up front, it’s possible to calculate exact quantities of materials needed in advance of construction. Coubray explained that materials waste can be reduced by 30-50% when using modular processes. Companies can pre-order materials (countertops for instance) in larger, more cost-effective quantities, since the size that will be needed consistently is already known.

When a company transitions to a modular process, its workflows become more efficient, and fewer materials are wasted. In addition, every component on the job fits properly. Potential issues are resolved in the design phase. By knowing in advance that standardized components will fit, rework is eliminated. Coubray said installation time can be reduced by up to 50% when using a modular process.

Modular wall; image: Autodesk

To start smart in a transition to modular, Coubray advised that the process should evolve. Teams will learn as they advance. A successful transition is one where the company starts small and takes an incremental approach: one component, one wall type, transitioning with the easier things first. Coubray told BTG host Todd Weyandt that it’s best to optimize and learn to manage a few simpler components before moving on to more complex ones.

Complications that cut into efficiency can emerge when a company offers too many options and choices to buyers. It is better to find a balance than offer too many options. Uncertainties should be eliminated where possible. Along the way, you can identify workflows and practices that need to be adjusted. When your company’s processes are working well, it might be time to add options and choices.  

To measure a return on investment during a modular transition, give your company at least three years before expecting to see measurable results. While units like bathroom pods pay off quickly when the process is fine-tuned, other components may take longer.

Companies that have transitioned to modular, have reported it’s helpful to learn from others in the industry. Many successful companies are willing to share their experiences and tricks they have learned for efficient modular building.


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