Modularisation can vary in complexity from 2D elements that require more assembly on-site to 3D (eg. panels) to 3D units that are fully-fitted off-site (eg. fully fitted-out house, including services and finishes). Wood, concrete and steel are used separately or in hybrid.
The less modularised the more design flexibility and ease of transport to site; the more modularised, the more standardisation, repeatability and cost savings.
For example, RAD Urban modular supplier is looking to move 85–90 per cent of labour off-site into factories where productivity is higher and costs are cheaper. This could lead to 20–30 per cent cost savings on mid to high rise office developments. The move to automation is next with a predicted 10x efficiency gain.
While a move towards a manufacturing-style approach to design and construction of buildings is an imperative for sustainable growth, and is already occurring, there is still room for customisation and optimisation, as not all customers of buildings will want a mass produced, component-driven outcome.
Technology is allowing for the transition from an environment where work is a craft and can only be done by ‘professionals’ to a use of standardisation and prescriptive solutions, to systemisation which is a situation where the ‘craft’ work is actually done by technology, and professionals are the gate keeper between the public and the knowledge. This is described by Richard and Daniel Susskind, in their book, The Future of the Professions.
So, with all these benefits, why isn’t modularisation, off-site and industrialised design and construction occurring more broadly across more markets and regions, and at a faster pace?