As modular construction becomes more common and developers look for high-quality solutions for cheap prefab homes, we ought to remember the homebuilding industry won’t be the first to have transitioned to from traditional methods of construction.
The most recent onsite-to-offsite revolution was in the shipbuilding industry, which adopted modular construction in the last few decades. The results were staggering and changed the business forever, and carry over for developers thinking about building cheap prefab homes.
Modular construction was the single best way to save time on shipbuilding and improve quality in the process. One might even assume modern military and merchant navies have always used prefabrication. That’s not the case. While shipbuilding is far from Prefabmarket.com’s speciality, AEC professionals can learn a lot from the relatively recent shift in boat building.
The emergence of CAD design in the 1970s enabled naval architects to predesign ship segments in a process known as block design. Builders, rather than assembling a boat’s parts piece by piece as done for millennia, began putting together completed segments at a shipyard’s building block.
By adopting modular construction, naval architects became significantly more efficient. As with housing, the process also reduces waste which, due to the high price of shipbuilding materials, cuts costs.
What do cheaper prefab boats mean for cheap prefab homes?
While all modern shipbuilding techniques use modular construction to some extent, lean manufacturing refers to a systematic process of eliminating waste that is more an ideal for many companies and sectors. It emphasizes standardized building processes and continuous material flow. While first implemented on a mass scale by Henry Ford, it was popularized by the Toyota Production System. Unsurprisingly, Toyota is also an innovator in sustainable, high-quality prefab homebuilding.
Lean prefab manufacturing has cut costs and cycle times by 40% in some factories. Crucially, it has mitigated the rising cost of building and repairing ships. (One factor driving up the cost is on-site labour, which prefabrication reduces).
Did you know: Toyota is just one of many large companies that dominate Japan’s house market, which differs from any other in the world in many ways. For cultural and economic reasons, consumers — after buying property — tear down homes and rebuild rather than renovating. Modular construction is preferred over traditional construction. New homes are ready in a fraction of the time, and, in the minds of Japanese consumers, are higher quality.
It’s no surprise the Japanese, pioneers in prefab across many industries, are world leaders in shipbuilding cost-efficiency. One should expect China, the world’s main shipbuilder, to follow suit as they announce wide-scale initiatives to adopt modular construction across the board.