Modular:
The future of construction?

A struggling housing market coupled with an increased scarcity in labour availability has seen interest and investment in modular construction methods soar over the past 12 months. The ability to fast-track projects by reducing the number of man-hours required on site combined with the better quality control that comes from a factory setting has captured the attention of the Irish Architecture, Engineering and Construction sector.

When properly considered and designed modular construction can be a faster and more efficient way to deliver construction projects. C+W O’Brien Architects have positioned ourselves at the forefront of modular design and are eager to increase this type of construction to avail of the many benefits that can help maximise the potential of a development site by delivering the most appropriate product and construction methods.

Over the last number of months C+W O’Brien Architects have visited numerous manufacturing facilities in Ireland, the UK, Europe and China to assess the capabilities and quality control standards. In addition, we have visited many modular projects on site to develop an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the delivery process. We will continue to do this to ensure that we are up to date with all the developments in the sector.

We are currently working on over 25 modular projects across the public and private sector. You can read more about our modular experience in our modular brochure here.


Architecture C+W O’Brien Architecture

What is Modular?

Modular construction is a method of construction where the building, or components of it are constructed off-site in a factory setting using the efficiency that comes with production lines. There are many different types of modular construction which are explored in more detail below. Modular construction is experiencing a boom, particularly in projects such as residential, hotels and student housing where units are often relatively similar and repeatable.

Types of Modular Units

Modular construction varies in type and complexity, ranging from 2D, to 3D and hybrid systems.

2D or panelised systems involve modular components that often arrive flat-packed to be assembled on-site. They may pre-cut, pre-sized, pre-moulded or pre-shaped components. They are efficient to transport and lend themselves to customisation, while also improving on traditional construction times.

3D or volumetric systems are container units that are prefabricated off-site, and installed as complete (often fully finished units) on-site. They are usually 80 – 95% completely when they leave the factory. Common volumetric units include bathroom, hotel room and apartment Pods.

Hybrid systems involve a combination of 2D and 3D elements.

Other systems include sub-assemblies which describe components that fall-short of being fully manufactured off-site, and require more labour intensive assembly. Unitized whole buildings are standardised entire building units that are fully prefabricated in a factory setting before transportation to site for installation.

Benefits of Modular

Off-site or modular construction provides huge opportunities for improving the productivity and efficiency of the construction industry. Some of the most significant gains from modular construction are in waste reduction, labour costs, and schedule reduction.

Acceleration:
One of the most reliable benefits of modular construction is the acceleration of the project timeframe. The McKinsey report (2019) outlines that modular construction consistently results in projects being completed 20-50% faster. Earlier completion dates allow developers to begin earning money from the project quicker.

Waste Reduction:
Waste can be significantly reduced using modular construction methods. As units or components are manufactured in a factory-like setting off-site there is a reduction of waste resulting from poor weather conditions, and standardisation can reduce excess materials and rework required.



Labour Force:
While traditional construction relies on a number of specialist, skilled workers, whose training is time intensive, modular construction can attract and develop unskilled workers, and aren’t reliant on skilled tradespeople. This provides developers with a means to overcome skills shortages.

Health & Safety:
By removing the majority of work from the building site, modular construction boasts health and safety benefits. Standardised, controlled manufacturing removes the hazards resulting from onsite construction, while protecting against seasonal dangers.

Sustainability & Environmentally Friendly:
Modular construction can provide a more sustainable alternative to traditional builds. Offsite construction can reduce waste by up to 90%, and usually use less energy in their production (up to 67%). Furthermore modular buildings can be produced using recycled materials, and can themselves be reusable.

Quality and Testing

Modular buildings undergo intense quality control and certification processes in a factory setting prior to their transport to site. This method of construction has been developed over the past number of decades, however use has been limited to temporary or high value projects. Decreases in costs and an increase in rental based products has led and increase in demand. For Modular to have success the larger market, the certification process is a key element to modular’s successful delivery. Every modular system is tested to ensure they achieve the relevant fire, acoustic, structural requirements and regulatory requirements. They are inspected by a number of third parties and design members.

C+W O’Brien Architects have been engaged in testing and certification of modular components including CE test certification for a number of modular systems we designed and coordinated. Components for testing were constructed and rigorously tested in Belfast & France with additional inspections carried out by the Dublin Fire Brigade.

Under the manufacturers quality control systems the modules are continuously inspected from start to finish within a factory setting. This ensures a high standard of quality and finish. The regular inspections also serve to uphold the relevant certification standards.

CE Test Certification