Trends in offsite modular construction

Waleed Khaled, regional sales director, Losberger De Boer ME, says we want big projects to be delivered faster than ever

As the UAE counts down to Expo 2020 and fully embraces UAE Vision 2021, which aims to make the country one of the most advanced in the world, we are seeing demand for bigger projects to be delivered faster than ever before. This has created a shift in demand for modular construction methods in the region.

Essentially, off-site modular construction allows for a building to be divided into smaller sections which can be prefabricated in a factory setting, transported and assembled on-site. Individual sections can be manufactured simultaneously, allowing multiple activities to happen in parallel, dramatically decreasing project delivery timelines, with an average reduction of between 40 and 50 per cent for the large-scale projects we have delivered.

Markets and Markets project the value of the global modular construction market will reach US$157.19bn by 2023. Although the Middle East makes up only a small part of this, we are seeing an increased appetite in the region. In the GCC alone, we have seen orders for our modular solutions increase by 22 per cent and see no signs of demand slowing down.

The requirement for turn-key solutions is increasing across a diverse range of sectors, including residential, commercial, entertainment and leisure, education, healthcare and hospitality. Developers are seeking ‘plug and play’ solutions for both new projects and the expansion of existing structures. They are adaptable to any project, so are being used in more applications. Historically, we saw modular construction used for short-term venues – temporary modular structures were used for concerts, corporate and short-term sporting events, exhibitions and conferences. However, we are now providing semi-permanent retail solutions and sales centres, in addition to longer-term events.

While the list of sectors utilising modular construction has grown, construction timeframes and budgets are shrinking due to ongoing challenging construction market conditions. Developers are clamping down on inefficiencies, seeking ways to improve productivity levels and receive delivery of operational buildings at an accelerated rate. Modular construction embraces lean principles, eliminating waste in all forms – both time and materials. For instance, manpower can be decreased as a result of eliminating overlapping tasks. These savings can also be achieved in remote areas, as modular structures are transported directly to site, minimising costs and risks. By reducing the resources required, costs can be managed more effectively, mitigating the risk of projects exceeding budgets.

Despite timelines and budgets getting tighter, project sizes have experienced a dramatic increase. In Saudi Arabia, mega and giga-projects dominate the construction landscape. As a result, modular buildings are changing to accommodate the demand for taller, bigger structures.  In 2018, we accelerated the launch of the iconic Qiddiya project by delivering an integrated complex of 15 semi-permanent buildings, including the Panorama Dome – the only one of its kind in the kingdom. To deliver this impressive project within 60 days, our team worked 9,360 hours over 36 days – the same structures would have taken up to two years to erect using traditional, non-modular, permanent builds.

In addition to the modular concept enabling projects to be executed at an accelerated pace, off-site construction is meeting the demand for more sustainable construction solutions – getting greener and smarter, with buildings being designed with energy efficiency in mind. Off-site construction also allows for less disruption to the surrounding community, so large-scale projects can be erected with minimal impact on surrounding roads and businesses. The life-span of modular construction is lengthening and has the potential to outlast traditional construction. In this region, many buildings have a life-span of 15 to 20 years. The semi-permanent structures we deliver remain operational for up to 50 years.

Technology continues to impact the way we design and deliver structures and the adoption of new technologies is shaping how we approach turnkey projects in the Middle East. Virtual reality and augmented reality allow us to show the entire project before the construction process has begun. Increased transparency keeps waste down and enables tighter time frames.

While there are still limitations associated with modular construction, the region’s mega events and giga projects bring with them an urgency to meet challenging construction timelines. Decoupling the construction of modules from the onsite schedule reduces variability and allows contractors to tighten their delivery timelines. We are confident modular construction will continue to become more prevalent in the region, as developers embrace the benefits and efficiencies the concept offers.

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