Modular Building Institute

Discussion Forum

The Risk of Doing Nothing

Original Comment:
As I reflect on the seventeen years I have been the Director of MBI, there are a few common themes that continue to be roadblocks to greater adoption of modular construction.

The first is the mindset that makes me cringe every time I see it in print: “Modular is the future of construction.” Sounds positive enough, but it is a dismissive comment and implies we are not quite ready for prime time. We are not talking about flying cars; we’re talking about a more efficient way to construct buildings. Its also quite an insult all the companies who have been successful in this space for decades.

Sam Kullman founded Kullman Industries in the late 1920s and was building modular diners up and down the East Coast for years to follow. THAT would have been the time to label modular construction as the future, not 100 years later. Think about that – 100 years later people are still dismissive of modular construction.

The second comment I often hear is this: “Modular sounds promising, but I don’t want to take the risk. I’ll stick with what I know.”

Sure, understanding how to successfully incorporate modular construction into a site-built world takes time and effort. But most GCs simply do not want to make the effort to learn something “new” or do not have the time. So, they do what they always do.

I have heard owners tell me that they WANT to go modular, but don’t quite understand how to budget for it. They can budget for the KNOWN waste, inefficiencies, and schedule overruns in traditional construction because they are all too common and quantifiable. It seems easier for them to budget for the inefficiencies of traditional construction than to learn how to incorporate modular construction.

“Status quo” is one hell of a barrier in construction. But what a terribly flawed business model. Would status quo work in ANY other industry? Thank goodness our healthcare professionals didn’t take this position, or we would be using leeches to combat COVID 19.

But that is all changing in the construction industry. “Status quo” is no longer a safe bet. The world is full of uncertainty now and doing things the way you’ve always done them just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Simply put, the risk of doing nothing is far greater now than the risk of innovating.

If you are in the construction industry and you do not have a plan to address labor shortages, how long do you plan to survive? If you are not actively thinking about every way to gain efficiencies from the people and resources you employ, what message does that send? That you are fine wasting money?

If you are an owner or developer, you need to ask your GC these questions:

What are you doing to ensure my project stays on schedule and on budget?

What assurances do I have that your workforce is qualified, competent, and reliable? Will they show up on Monday? Are you doing anything to protect your workers’ safety and well-being?

What are you doing to inspect the quality of my project during construction?

Are you asking these questions? Or are you willing to die on the sword of status quo? It’s a slow and painful death, but it’s death, nonetheless.
Started on October 30, 2020 by Tom Hardiman
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Additional Comments:
modular will become the norm, leaving behind the dinosaurs, like, todays 40 year olds. I know them, they are so afraid to change things due to unions and osha, and workers comp strategies, insurance, laborers that are so hard to find. But my dad refused to use a new fangled 'cell phone', and so he died never having touched one; complaining that he can't get an uber, or reserve and airline ticket, or see pictures of his grandkids on facebook. Bank on todays 20 year olds in construction to drive Modular to fruition in 2040. IPSOFACTO (my firm) does all the tech for Modular firms. Modular firms are like race horses and traditional construction firms are like, well they're not race horses...
Updated on October 30, 2020 by Steve Boullianne

What an important and articulate post, Tom - thanks for starting this discussion! For those of us deploying modular systems, we'd do well to circle the wagons and agree on some standardization around connectivity and site integration, to reduce the learning curve for our GC partners/friends. For the real estate owners out there who are attracted by the "better, cheaper, faster" that industrialization has delivered for decades, please consider that procuring a product requires an embrace of its existing constraints. Modular is a process innovation -- so its success relies on a willingness to change the old fashioned and siloed way of procuring design and construction. A willingness to change the basic procurement process seems to me the single most consistent predictor of modular project success!
Updated on October 30, 2020 by Dafna Kaplan

The issue for the Boston area is capacity. We work with a lot of developers and GC's that would like to use modular with the many MF projects we are involved with but there aren't a lot of factories, and the ones we can use don't have capacity or you have to wait a year to get into their production line.
Updated on October 30, 2020 by Kimberly Conant

Excellent points for discussion. As agents of change, I understand that our role is to break down barriers and restrictions against the industrialization of construction and modular construction. We have done this in Brazil, through specific forums and expert working groups. Lectures, articles, exploring success stories and customer testimonials also help. But one platform that I understand we have to work on is cultural change from engineering and architecture universities and colleges, which still do not include themes such as off-site construction, construction industrialization, innovative construction systems and modular construction in their programs.
Updated on October 30, 2020 by Paulo Oliveira

Great note Tom. Adding to your note the issue of Compatibility between dissimilar materials. Modular Builders as well as General Contractors and Design Professionals are all now acutely aware of the need to validate compatibility between contacting materials for any given project. Material manufacturers can help facilitate this function. One only needs to ask: "Show Me Your Compatibility Listing". It really is that simple. Regards, Peter Golter - 3M
Updated on October 30, 2020 by Peter Golter

Unfortunately the dated model architects and GC’s use to charge clients doesn’t work with modular, especially on the GC side. GC’s can’t double dip and charge the same for the modular scope as they would if it was site built. So instead of seeing modular as an efficient solution to build projects they see it as a disruption to their business model. Obviously this will get better with time and you’re slowly seeing some architects and GC’s embracing modular but not fast enough and in large enough numbers to make a real dent in the way we build buildings.
Updated on October 30, 2020 by Brice Leconte

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