MEP’s Role in the Move Toward Industrialized Construction
Adoption of industrialized construction (IC) is increasing in the construction industry. That can partly be attributed to demand and the pressure it is exerting on companies to perform faster.
So, more and more companies find themselves needing to undertake the transformational journey toward IC. The impact on their culture, skills, technology, and processes is significant. Most see the writing on the wall that they’ll be left in the dust if they don’t make changes now. Company leadership is being tasked to rethink ways their company will evolve to keep up or even be a step ahead of the competition.
To make the transformation journey smoother, shifts are needed in mindset, behaviors and processes.
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MEP trades play a key role in the industry’s IC journey. Trade contractors not only keep the economy going, they make things. And these “makers” are ultimately the people with the data needed for standardizing construction components.
An MEP shop can mature into a manufacturing facility, and that is a good end-goal for the trades. To do that, MEP contractors need to put themselves in the frame of mind of the consumer.
As Amy Marks, Autodesk VP of Industrialized Construction Strategy, described during her keynote address at MEP Force 2022, part of a company’s maturing process involves “expected experience.”
As an example, Marks compared the experience of ordering a pizza online to the experience of ordering equipment to show up on time on a jobsite. With a pizza, you can do everything on a mobile device in a few minutes, from ordering, customizing and paying to having it delivered. However, in the case of an active jobsite, multiple calls typically need to be made to order, schedule, confirm, and follow up on things like equipment and materials deliveries.
Marks suggested it would be great if the expected experience of ordering a rack could be as straightforward as ordering a pizza. She explained, if someone were capturing the frequently asked questions and answers about a rack, you would soon have the information needed for an online “bot” to assist with online ordering of racks.
Besides expected experience, Marks suggested manufacturing-inspired design could speed things along in MEP. After taking a show of hands from the audience, Marks confirmed there is an issue with models being designed that MEP companies cannot build from. But if the product could inform the design, at the end you would have a much better scenario with a design that could be commissioned. Marks added, “Kits and parts need to be in front of the designer. A model needs to be intelligent for what can be manufactured.”
The trend of productizing assemblies could help MEP companies overcome the skilled labor shortage. Using productized methods, companies can still maintain the illusion of custom building. For instance, Marks stressed that few people care about what’s behind the walls. “Those things don’t need to be customized every time,” she said. They can be productized because no one will see them anyway. Marks suggested contractors can standardize certain kits or parts (like wet walls) and then change the things that are built around them.
Transformation to IC will continue to increase. And it will be easier as investments are made by stakeholders in teams, technology, skills, and a digitally-capable workforce. The industry will be stronger as companies work together to bring about the changes that are needed.