What is modular construction? - Explained By Converge

June 8, 2023

Modular construction is an innovative building method that involves the fabrication of individual modules offsite, typically in a factory setting, followed by transportation and assembly at the desired location. The process presents a revolutionary shift from traditional on-site construction, promising numerous benefits such as improved quality, decreased waste, and faster completion times.

Read more: We explain the concept of post-tensioning.

The Increasing Popularity of Offsite Modular Construction

Offsite modular construction is commonly used in various building types including residential, commercial, and even industrial facilities. This methodology is particularly advantageous for repetitive or volume-based projects, where identical modules can be mass-produced. 

Examples include apartment blocks, hotel rooms, or hospital wards. This practice is also ideal for construction in remote or challenging locations, where traditional building processes may be difficult.

Types of Modular Construction

Several types of modular construction exist, tailored to diverse project requirements:

  1. Volumetric or 3D Modular Construction: This involves the production of three-dimensional units in a factory, complete with internal and external finishes, before shipping to the site.
  2. 2D or Panelised Systems: Here, flat panels (walls, floors, roofs) are produced offsite and assembled onsite to create a three-dimensional structure.
  3. Hybrid Systems: A combination of both volumetric and panelised systems, used for complex modular construction projects.

The Process of the Modular Construction Method

The modular construction process involves multiple coordinated steps, each playing a vital role in ensuring the project's success.

Step 1: Design Phase

This initial step involves thorough planning and designing. Architects and engineers work together to create blueprints, considering the unique aspects of modular construction technology. The designs must take into account the transportation and assembly of the modules, ensuring they are designed to withstand the rigours of travel and lifting. This phase also includes selection of materials, finishes, and fittings.

Step 2: Offsite Fabrication

Once the design phase is complete, the modules are constructed offsite, typically in a controlled factory environment. Here, walls, floors, roofs and even internal fittings are manufactured to precise specifications. The controlled indoor environment prevents weather-related delays and enables consistent quality control, ensuring every module meets set standards.

Step 3: Transportation

After production, the prefabricated modules are prepared for transportation. This involves protective measures like wrapping to avoid damage during transit. They are then loaded onto specialised trucks, trains or even ships, depending on the site's location. The transportation phase requires careful planning to ensure safe and timely delivery of modules.

Step 4: Installation and Assembly

Upon arrival at the site, a crane is usually employed to lift and place the modules onto the prepared foundation. This process requires skilled professionals to ensure accurate alignment and secure connection of the modules. Once assembled, additional onsite work is carried out, such as connecting utilities, installing exterior cladding, or applying finishing touches.

By following these steps diligently, the modular construction method allows for a streamlined process that can lead to significant time and cost savings compared to traditional construction.

Read more: Learn more about how post-tensioning is used while building bridges and buildings

The Impact of Modular Construction Technology

The integration of advanced modular construction technology significantly enhances the efficiency and accuracy of the entire process. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) allow for precise planning and seamless coordination between different project stakeholders. 

Additionally, the use of automated production lines in factories boosts the speed and quality of module fabrication.

Modular Construction Projects Around the World

Many impressive modular construction projects have been realised globally, demonstrating the potential of this innovative building method. For instance, the Apex House, Wembley, UK, and the CitizenM Hotel in New York, USA, are notable examples that efficiently used offsite construction.

The increased use of modular construction in various sectors, including housing, healthcare, and education, presents a promising future for this industry.

Ships and Modular Construction

Finally, it’s worth noting the use of modular construction in shipbuilding. Ship modular construction allows for parts of a ship to be built separately, increasing efficiency and reducing production time. Similar to buildings, these modules are then transported and assembled at the shipyard, showcasing the versatility and potential of modular construction methods across various industries.

Read more: Read up on the costs of post-tensioning and how it compares to pretensioning.

Frequently asked questions

Why use modular construction?

The main advantage of modular construction is that it is both time efficient and it facilitates mass produced modules for bigger projects. For example, identical hotel rooms or office buildings. Modular construction also has many environmental benefits

What material is modular building?

The modules used in modular construction are most commonly made up of three materials. These materials are: concrete, wood, and steel. 

Why is modular building faster?

The main reason why modular building is faster is because the foundation of a building can be completed on site at the exact same time as the rest of the building is constructed off-site. This usually results in a modular building being completed in about 50% of the time it would take to build with traditional methods.

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