3 solutions to help with labor stability and supply chain certainty in a challenged construction environment

Here we go again — another day, another bother. Construction leaders are waking up to yet another morning with a list of issues that doesn’t seem to get shorter.

It’s not that construction hasn’t always been challenging, but two years of juggling market instability, labor challenges, supply chain uncertainty, and project backlogs is enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sails.

First, there’s the people challenge; talent is hard to attract and retain, but even when you have a great team, predictability is an issue. In fact, pandemic-related absences cost U.S. employers more than $78.4 billion in the last 22 months. 

Second, managing a supply chain and material costs can feel like a game of hot potato. Raw materials have been difficult to source from international markets, the cost of construction materials jumped nearly 20% in 2021, and timelines for delivery to job sites is anyone’s guess a lot of the time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Those who use traditional building methods need new ways of doing things, so it makes sense that many construction leaders are turning to prefabrication and modular construction systems to gain stability and predictability.

According to Deloitte’s 2022 engineering and construction (E&C) industry outlook report, E&C firms are increasingly turning to technology, prefabrication, and modular construction. Nearly half of those surveyed (43%) said they plan to invest in new design processes over the next year, and modular and prefabricated construction are at the forefront as they look to distribute their build and sourcing capabilities.

Are these prefabricated systems and digital technologies enough to ensure certainty? Yes, for the most part. External factors will throw an occasional wrench in the best laid plans, but the very nature of prefabrication makes it much more dependable than traditional methods. 

There are three reasons construction leaders are looking to prefab — and more broadly industrialized construction — to improve labor efficiency, productivity and timelines, then in turn stabilize their supply chain.

#1: Prefabricated construction requires fewer people on job sites

Industrialized construction uses technology and advanced manufacturing methods — like prefabrication and modular construction systems — to automate the creation of building components. This means there’s less to build on site, and thus less labor is required.

With a prefabricated interior system, walls, glass, timber, and other internal components are manufactured at a plant. That means, for example, that power and technology networks can be embedded into walls, which in turn means fewer trades are needed on the construction site. 

If one of your challenges is managing too many timelines that come from managing too many subs, prefabricated construction systems eliminate the headache.

Bonus: there’s total design freedom and quality improves too.

#2: Diverse supplier and inventory approaches mitigate supply chain woes

Well-established industrialized construction companies tend to invest in a geographically diverse supplier base, as well as build long-standing relationships with logistics partners who help navigate supply chain challenges and avoid higher material costs. 

For example, DIRTT’s raw material inventory provides protection against external disruptions, including shipping delays. And we can strategically use raw material inventory to ensure we meet short lead times for partners and clients. 

While no company is fully immune to the spikes in commodity prices that have taken place recently, a diversified supplier base enables the use of competition to minimize material cost increases. 

#3: Technology enables a more efficient building process

In a typical conventional construction scenario, an interior space has to be framed and drywalled, which is time-consuming and messy. Then, a client asks for changes in the middle of the process, or there’s an issue with the building envelope that requires modifications. Now more people are needed. The project cost goes up, and timelines have to be extended.

When you can make many of your design decisions in advance, fewer people are needed on-site and you can protect against these disruptions. Technology enables that.

Using digital twins, real-world data is paired with digital simulation so a space can be designed and adapted before being built. DIRTT’s ICE software enables designers to produce custom designs of any space, and then visualize it in virtual reality (VR). 

The VR digital twin creates efficiencies and reduces the need for large on-site construction teams because changes can be made and space can be adapted before anything is ever manufactured. 

Once the design is approved, it’s sent directly to the factory floor where components are cut into custom sizes, mitigating material waste and reducing human error. Plus, prefabricated components can be manufactured for precise installation.

Industrialized construction has proven itself over decades, but in today’s world will become far more commonplace

The year ahead will continue to be challenging for us all. But prefabrication and modular solution providers can go a long way to help the industry achieve the certainty it so definitively needs. 

When people experience a prefabricated process for the first time, they come to appreciate how both logical and efficient it is to create a complete, ready-to-install interior construction system in a factory environment versus using traditional on-site methods. 

And because it’s a system that includes a combination of customizable physical products, digital tools, and services, it allows construction leaders to create adaptable spaces that are ready to embrace future change.

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