Industry Voices—Why should healthcare embrace modular construction?

Now that we can look at 2020 through a rearview mirror, healthcare facility managers are gearing up to plan and execute their construction projects in 2021. Since many of these projects were initially canceled or delayed indefinitely due to COVID-19, 2021 will certainly see an influx of projects with shortened timelines in order to get back on schedule. To successfully achieve this, a modern construction approach is necessary.

Prefabrication and modular construction—one of the fastest-growing trends in construction today—is prepared for the challenge. The Modular Building Institute defines modular construction as “a process in which a building is constructed off-site, under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designing to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities, but in about half the time. Buildings are produced in ‘modules’ that when put together on site, reflect the identical design intent and specifications of the most sophisticated site-built facility—without compromise.”

As modular construction becomes more prevalent in the healthcare sector, you may wonder why our industry should embrace this trend. To help determine whether modular construction is right for your next healthcare facility project, first ask yourself three questions about your potential manufacturing partner: 

  1. What is the manufacturer’s maturity? Prolonged experience in the modular construction business and an abundant supply chain are crucial. For example, are there hundreds of workers available that can handle the volume coming their way? Are the required materials available on-site or within an existing distribution channel?
  2. Does the manufacturer of the final project have the capability to do what they say they can do? Research the manufacturer’s history and look into whether they’ve utilized prefabrication or modules in the past. What were the company’s most recent construction achievements?
  3. Does the manufacturer have the capacity to produce your vision? Many times, a manufacturer’s capability does not mean they have the capacity required for a particular task.

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An initial evaluation into a potential construction manufacturer is meaningful, but it’s also essential to consider both the advantages and challenges of modularity before moving forward. Let’s dive first into the benefits of pursuing modular construction:

Stay well ahead of schedule

Though both modular and regular construction processes start with a detailed design plan, permit approvals and groundbreaking, modular construction soon pulls ahead. The reduced time necessary for a project to be completed is modularity’s biggest selling point, and for good reason. At the exact same time as the lengthy foundation and excavation process occurs on-site, the modular facility is already being built off-site. That means there’s no need to worry about issues with inclement weather or delays from the groundbreaking process. You’ll stay well ahead of schedule—in fact, your time will be cut in half, a third, or even more—getting more patients into your hospital faster. A project that could take 12 months to complete can be finished in just 60 to 90 days through modular construction. SmartMarket Report found that 90% of managers reported increased schedule certainty when using modular construction compared to traditional means. Put simply, “speed to market” is one of the most common phrases in modularity.

Reliable and repeatable

Modular construction’s streamlined process means it also has a very reliable format and timeline. Your healthcare facility management team can take comfort in knowing that the project is getting finished without an impacted timeline or budget. The modules are completed in a controlled environment where materials and quality of work is checked before, during and after. With a process nearly guaranteed to stay on schedule, predictability and reliability are key. And, once you’ve built one healthcare facility with modular construction, your branding standard can easily be repeated with facilities of the same type, too. Future facilities can take on a standardized look, feel and color that will be familiar to your associates and patients.

Keep costs low

The cost benefits of modularity are notable, especially given the financial strain the pandemic has put on the U.S. healthcare industry. Costly delays can be avoided due to modularity’s quality control. There are specialized inspections in place as modules are constructed and moved down the assembly line to keep issues in check. This strategy catches and corrects defects as they appear, without affecting other areas of the project. Naturally, with less manual labor, reduced time and fewer materials necessary, your organization will pay less money as a result. With modularity, there is a potential to cut costs by a wide margin, no matter if you’re building a two-story medical office building or a 500-bed city hospital. 

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It’s important to weigh the cons when making an informed decision about modular construction, too. We’ve also compiled a few of the challenges that modularity can bring:

From the beginning, modular construction does require more upfront, complex decision-making for design, material selection and coordination. Due to modularity’s quick turnaround, it effectively “front-loads” a project team’s involvement before the typical start of construction. As with any manufacturing environment, any revisions made to the materials or design once the project is underway would have a significant impact on timing. A plan would need to be made and adhered to as the process continues. Additionally, with the construction happening off-site, the modules of your new facility will need to be carefully rigged and transported directly to the job site. Just one mishap during the transportation process could result in serious repairs. With that, even though the overall cost is reduced, the initial fees early on are likely to be higher. Connect with your manufacturer early in the process to understand anticipated costs, timing and other important decisions.

With the demand for healthcare construction growing greater in 2021, it’s crucial to know both the advantages and disadvantages modularity brings before you break ground. Modular construction is poised to transform the construction industry, and healthcare facility managers should prepare to be at the forefront.

Mike Wood is vice president of planning, design, construction and Energy at Medxcel.