Prefabrication Productivity for AEC

By Akio


By Vicki Speed

From a residential high-rise in New York City to low-cost hotels in Europe, the application of prefabricated and modular objects and systems continues to capture the interest of owners, architects, contractors, fabricators and product manufacturers in the building industry.

Around the world, prefabrication proponents are finding ways to apply offsite construction techniques that go way beyond repeatable systems such as bathroom pods or mechanical pipe rack to more volumetric, pioneering, semi-customized solutions that address a wide range of common construction challenges.

In some parts of the world, like Japan and the United Kingdom, owners and project teams have necessarily moved to offsite construction methods because of land prices and the cost of labor,” said Ryan Smith, associate professor and director in the College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah (USA), and chairman of the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Off-Site Construction Council (OSCC). “Amortizing land is prohibitive in these countries, so owners favor methods that facilitate faster construction schedules. Labor is more expensive, also necessitating quick turnaround on construction duration.”

However, he added, the greater interest and application of offsite construction methods in recent years is largely driven by two ongoing challenges in the global construction industry: the need to improve construction productivity and skilled-labor shortages in some parts of the world.

North American Methods Shifting

Concerns about labor shortages are one of the primary reasons for increased interest in offsite construction in North America.

In its 2014 US Markets Construction Overview, FMI, a global provider of management consulting, investment banking and research to the engineering and construction industry, predicts that modularization and prefabrication will play an increasingly vital role in the US construction value chain because emerging demand is outrunning the availability of skilled tradespeople.

Meanwhile, many international contractors are looking to their European or Asian counterparts for ideas.

In our experience, prefabrication and modularization are primarily driven by our need to be more competitive and deliver a project at the lowest cost and schedule certainty – and the Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) subcontractors have taken the lead in delivering effective solutions for good reason,” said Don Goodrich, director of preconstruction services at Sundt, a construction company based in Phoenix, Arizona (USA). “The MEP trades are facing a considerable labor shortage. The increasing use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) helps bring the prefabrication conversation to the forefront as well.”

Deciding when to use a prefab approach is based on the challenges of a specific project, Goodrich said. “We’re translating prefab and modular techniques that we learn from one job to other jobs as much as possible,” he said.

In one case, Sundt transferred the modular technology approach from a private prison construction project to a much larger state prison project.


Modular construction at the Corrections Corporation of America’s detention facility in Otay Mesa, California (Image © Sundt Construction, Incorporated)

Global Multi-Trade Opportunities

Similarly, UK-based Balfour Beatty, an international infrastructure lifecycle services company, relies on prefabrication and modular methods to construct a number of different structures to achieve considerable value.

Some phases of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for example, were completed a year early. Likewise, Belgium-based Inter IKEA Group, parent company of the IKEA furniture brand, teamed with Marriott International, a hospitality company headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland (USA), to create low-cost prefabricated hotels in Europe.

FMI Senior Consultant Ethan Cowles expects the use of prefab and modularization to grow quickly in health care, lodging and education, as it already has done in the fast food market.

OSCC’s Smith agrees. “We see full volumetric prefabricated construction mostly with owners of smaller structures, some housing and some industrial markets,” he said. “Owners of fast-food franchises, automotive service centers, daycare, data centers, hospitals, multi-family and mid-rise structures, and others with repeatable structural requirements, are becoming more engaged in design-build and integrated delivery and are not so dependent on open bid requirements.”

Looking ahead, Cowles and Smith point to growing interest and demand for multi-trade prefabrication and modularization.

“The success of a multi-trade scenario will depend on the owner seeing value and capable contractors coming together contractually to maximize the benefits,” Cowles said.

Rethinking Conventional Practices

Despite the promise that prefabrication and modularization holds for the building industry, the approach is not without wrinkles – as witnessed by the lawsuits related to New York’s B2 Tower project.

Cowles and Smith noted that offsite approaches inherently require early coordination and decision-making to maximize the value.

Offsite construction also requires that owners, architects and contractors rethink the conventional processes that have been industry standards for decades.

“The building technology and methodology for offsite construction is not mysterious,” Smith said. “There’s very little technical challenge or complexity to the process, very little intellectual property, relatively speaking, in comparison to other manufacturing industries. The challenge has more to do with tacit knowledge related to the social, political, regulation and economic context in which offsite construction unfolds.”

Integrating prefabrication and modularization into the construction build cycle adds value, but it’s not a panacea, Smith said. “I don’t see these methods adopted on every project; but, most certainly, as components of an overall project build to minimize labor, increase productivity and improve schedules – in short, to add value.”

PREFABRICATION PRODUCTIVITY by Vicki Speed originally appeared in Compass: The 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine

Related Resources

Lean Construction Industry Solution Experience 

Collaborative and Industrialized Construction

Architecture, Engineering & Construction: Customized Efficiency

By Akio

The following is a reprint of a Compass: The 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine article written by Vicki Speed.

Customized Efficiency Permasteelisa

The Permasteelisa Group, based in Italy, is a leading worldwide contractor in the engineering, manufacture and installation of architectural envelopes and interior systems.

Compass spoke to Permasteelisa IT project manager Federico Momesso and communication manager Massimiliano Fanzaga about how the company is adopting more standardized technologies and processes to better meet the construction industry’s growing demand for customized building systems on short timelines.

Compass: What challenges do you face in meeting client expectations?

FEDERICO MOMESSO: Every building project is unique, requiring multiple companies – owners, architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers with different skills to come together. It’s a fragmented industry that does not yet apply the same advanced level of 3D modeling to move from concept to completion as other markets, such as the automotive or aerospace industry.

Part of this is because of the inherent differences. In the automotive industry, one design is modeled and reproduced many times; in the building industry, every design is distinctive.

MASSIMILIANO FANZAGA: As well, projects are increasingly complex, as are the shapes of the interior/exterior elements. Even though every project is different, owners, architects and contractors want projects engineered, executed and built much quicker than ever before.

Permasteelisa has the added challenge of adapting its services to meet the needs of a diverse range of customers from different cultures, each with very different expectations, resources and awareness.

What is your most common workflow?

FANZAGA: It has changed considerably over the years. Increasingly, the industry is shifting to an early-stage design review similar to the front-loaded design process in the automotive industry, to improve communication and collaboration between all parties, especially the architect and contractor.

Click to tweet: “#AEC is shifting to improve
communication & collaboration between all parties”

Ideally, we work hand-in-hand with the owner and project team at the earliest onset of design to engineer a technical solution that best meets the needs and budget of the project.


MOMESSO: One of the biggest challenges in developing our technology framework is to find a (3D modeling) solution that is able to work with all the different modeling systems our global customers use.

We must have the ability to capture more information and functionality to shorten lead time, reduce waste and rework and maintain our expectation of high quality. It’s a continually improving process.

How has technology helped meet market demand?

MOMESSO: We’ve relied on virtual design and 3D technology for many years. One of the company’s first applications of 3D modeling was on Frank Gehry’s golden fish sculpture for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. In those early days, the benefits of 3D modeling were primarily internal to Permasteelisa.

Our project engineers and designers relied on the system capabilities for clash detection and quality production checks. Today, Permasteelisa uses the virtual model to communicate and share design concepts with customers as a way to help them visualize design intent and balance costs throughout the process.

FANZAGA: Our strength is our ability to apply the best resources for any job anytime, anywhere to meet the customized requirements of every project. Not that long ago, every one of our 50 offices would have used different CAD and other design technologies and approaches to complete a job.

Today, we’re all speaking the same language thanks to 3D, regardless of geographic location. We have reached a point where all design/engineering are relying on a standardized IT environment, which allows anyone to work on any project at the same time. We’re also finding ways to pre-customize elements or use the same module on multiple projects.

Click to tweet: “Thanks to 3D, the #AEC community is
speaking the same language regardless of geographic location.”

How do you communicate to the installers which piece goes where?

MOMESSO: For every project, we provide detailed work instructions about how to install different modules, as well as installation maps that show the correct installation sequence for each floor/façade.

What if something goes wrong on site?

FANZAGA: Clearly, the world is not as perfect as we would it like to be and some problems can arise on site. In these rare events, our site managers decide the best way to adapt the modules to fit to the concrete structure of the building or, in the worst case, ask for new modules to be produced and shipped onsite. Luckily, those events are very rare!

How are you looking to advance your processes?

MOMESSO: For installation, we have been testing the possibility of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to precisely indicate where each unit has to be installed, which would minimize the risk of an incorrect installation sequence.

We’re also looking to extend the benefits of 3D to our customers and suppliers. Since those early days of 3D modeling in the building industry you can see considerable improvements, especially with the application of Building Information Modeling (BIM). As well, our clients are asking us to deliver solutions that can be connected to their 3D models.

We are currently implementing product lifecycle technologies. They provide a collaboration-based project backbone that enables centralized project management, which helps us to expand our online creation and collaboration capabilities as well as to foster lean construction methods.

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Related Resources

Façade Design for Fabrication

Collaborative and Industrialized Construction

The Permasteelisa Group

What is Building Lifecycle Management (BLM)?

By Marty R

Building Lifecycle Management (BLM) is the practice of designing, constructing, and operating a facility with a single set of interoperable data.

BLM puts into practice a BIM Level 3 approach that enables a highly efficient Extended Collaboration process based on Manufacturing industry best practices.

BLM is operationalized via a robust Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)* system, which creates an efficient environment for coordinating complex AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) data.

[*The traditional Product Lifecycle Management term commonly becomes Project Lifecycle Management when applied to AEC.]

Adding BIM data to a PLM system creates a BLM system:


Benefits of BLM

BLM enables BIM Level 3 and can increase construction predictability, long-term value for project owners, and profitability for AEC project contributors.

The core benefits of employing BLM are improved productivity, sustainability, and quality, and reduced waste, risk, and cost.

Tweet: Building Lifecycle Management (PLM + #BIM) improves #AEC productivity while reducing cost and so much more @Dassault3DS

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improves #AEC productivity while reducing cost and much more”

These advantages are achieved through BLM’s ability to eliminate rework, reduce RFIs (Requests For Information), centralize data, contextualize information, and more accurately predict outcomes.

Improve Productivity

Centrally managed data helps remove version control issues, chances for human error, and even the need to manage files.

With all users accessing a single live database via web services, rework (e.g., redundant drawings) and iterations can be drastically reduced.

As users proactively resolve issues in real-time using a BLM system, inefficient RFIs, submittals, and change orders can be reduced or eliminated.

Increase Quality and Value from Suppliers

Designers can make better decisions within a richer data context and maintain greater control over the quality of the finished product with BLM.

Collaborating in a BLM environment can help construction firms and building systems manufacturers develop a greater understanding of project requirements. With reliable data, builders and suppliers can improve coordination, execute more quickly, and accurately realize the design intent.

BLM also offers built-in governance and traceability, improving accountability across the disciplines.

Reduce Waste, Risk, and Cost

Regular cost overruns of 15 to 30 percent and standard risk margins of 20 percent or more illustrate the expected waste caused by traditional construction processes. By contrast, repetitive manufacturing processes typically yield only 2 to 3 percent waste.

Tweet: Building Lifecycle Management (PLM + #BIM) can reduce #AEC waste to just 2% @Dassault3DS

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can reduce #AEC waste to just 2%”

BLM is designed to reduce waste by more accurately predicting outcomes, identifying potential points of conflict, and optimizing processes.

By the same methods, BLM also reduces risk to the project schedule, worker safety, and overall construction budget.

Gain a Competitive Advantage

The potential opportunity for AEC firms to gain a competitive advantage is to embrace BIM Level 3 early, before the market calls for further mandates.

Getting ahead of the curve with a BLM system enables a team to become more efficient than competitors, deliver higher quality, gain the loyalties of owners and design partners, and retain a healthier profit margin.

Example: Manufactured Systems

Manufactured systems such as curtain walls and façades are often the most complicated and costly elements of a construction project.

The façade often accounts for 15 percent of a construction budget. Façade models traditionally do not include data on the fabrication process, but manufacturing time can be reduced significantly — by up to 50 percent — if the fabrication process is defined in the design stage.

Close collaboration between the designer and the façade manufacturer is enabled with transactable BIM data and a BLM system.

When designers work with building product manufacturers to ensure the design intent is realized and improve supply chain efficiency, the entire project benefits.

Example: Identifying Conflicts Between Fabrication Models

During the Design Review process, modeled fabrication detail of a structure designed in CATIA® is imported and integrated with a pipe model created in a different system.

BIM data from a range of systems are reconciled within the BLM environment, where issues are identified and tagged for follow-up.

AlignmentFabrication models of multiple building systems in a single environment.

Case Study: Swire Properties One Island East Success Story


One Island East, Hong Kong | Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of WiNG

Swire Properties Ltd. applied BIM Level 3 processes and technologies for its One Island East tower in Hong Kong.

The 70-story, 1.75 million square foot project was delivered on time and with zero cost overruns. 3D clash detection became a primary vehicle for enhancing the coordination process.

Over 2,000 issues were identified and resolved prior to tender, but the One Island East project team issued just 140 RFIs, a 93% reduction from traditional 2D drafting processes.

This project won the 2008 AIA Technology and Practice Award.

BIM Level 3 Project Outcomes

  • 70 stories
  • 1.75 million sq ft
  • On schedule: 24 months
  • On budget: $450 million
  • Greater than 2,000 clash issues proactively addressed
  • 140 RFIs: Greater than 90% reduction vs. similar projects

Manufacturing Industries Have Blazed the Trail

Manufacturing companies and their technology partners have been refining PLM for decades, and investing heavily in advanced systems.

Case in point, the first plane ever built without a physical prototype, the Boeing 777, was mocked up using a Dassault Systèmes application in 1994.

With today’s BIM data standards, proven PLM practices and technologies are now readily available for AEC to leverage — in the form of BLM.

Digital Mock-Up Process at Airbus


AirBus, model section

Airbus and its partners collaborate around a virtual model of an airplane. The model provides a Single Version of the Truth for 3D information and all data related to the designed airplane and its usage throughout its lifecycle.

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Cover: END-TO-END COLLABORATION ENABLED BY BIM LEVEL 3 An Industry Approach Based on Best Practices from ManufacturingExcerpted from End-To-End Collaboration Enabled by BIM Level 3 (Dassault Systèmes, 2014).

Related Resources

Download the Dassault Systèmes whitepaper, “End-To-End Collaboration Enabled by BIM Level 3: An Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industry Solution Based on Manufacturing Best Practices”

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