3 Common Flaws with Modular Construction (And What You Can Do About It)

Modular construction is about as close to manufacturing that the construction industry gets. With controlled conditions and standardized components, the selling points for modular construction are many. Additionally, fixed locations and cost-effective labor bring a much-needed dose of predictability to project budgets and schedules.  

With so many benefits, it should come as no surprise that this nascent industry is experiencing strong growth. In fact, Grandview Research predicts that the modular construction industry will grow at a rate of 6.4% from 2021 to 2028. Further, in BuiltWords’ Modular Movement: Venture Report, it is hailed as one of the fastest emerging technologies of the past decade. 

Interestingly, all countries are not equal when it comes to embracing modular construction. According to McKinsey, Japan and Scandinavia are fast early adopters as a way to meet increased housing demand and rising labor costs. 

Does all this sound too good to be true? That’s because there’s a catch (or three) to consider.  

While a strong modular execution plan can bring a project back on schedule, there are some frequently overlooked points that must be considered. When ignored, they have the potential to quickly disrupt a project and throw it into a tailspin.  

Here are three common problems associated with modular construction to consider (and what you can do about it).

3 Common Flaws with Modular Construction

3 Common Flaws with Modular Construction

1. Remote sites often have limited transparency 

There’s a reason why modular construction is able to achieve such cost-effective prices. The structure is built in multiple sections that are constructed at a site that is
not the final building site. The final building is only assembled once the completed sections are transported to their final destination.  

Again, this is one of the main ways that modular construction is able to keep costs down. However, there is a major drawback. The remote sites where the sections are constructed often have very limited transparency.  

This is because the people working in module yards are facing their own priorities and challenges which keeps them busy enough without having to give constant status updates. Additionally, module yards are often located in remote locations or foreign countries–creating an even larger communication barrier. 


2. Sequencing often causes delays 

Picture this: You have a sprawling job site that spans over a mile. The rental company has just finished erecting the Liebherr 1600 that’s going to be setting all of your modules. The first module comes in right on schedule, gets trailered up to its position, lifted, then set. 

Everything is going perfectly according to plan. With this type of strong initial progress, you know hitting the schedule is going to be a breeze.  

But your perfect project starts to unravel when the next module shows up…and it’s the wrong one. After staging it off to the side and waiting for the right one to show up, the project begins to enter a downward spiral. 

Time and time again, modules show up in the wrong order. Before you know it, all of your laydown space is used up, the project is behind schedule, and you’re struggling to track the crane back and forth across the site to set modules and maintain forward momentum on the project. 

This example is all too common when it comes to modular construction. While some projects do go according to schedule, many fall into the trap of sequencing delays. 

In fact, according to McKinsey, despite the productivity gains that come with modular construction, 44% of firms are putting longer completion times into their bids, and 98% of megaprojects are behind schedule.  

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t unique to just skids and modules. Prefabricated pipe spools, piece-marked structural, and shop fabricated cable tray are all subject to the pains of poor sequencing.  


3. Documentation and punch lists cause confusion 

Suffering through the delays caused by late module delivery is bad enough. But unfortunately, the trouble doesn’t end there–even after setting the last module. Completing the last phase of documentation and punch lists may seem simple, but it can actually be a major cause for confusion–and more delays.

Finding out that there is NDE that must be completed, or even the accidental discovery of unsound welds, can open a can of worms that can quickly derail a project’s delivery. Additionally, there are often tedious carry-over list items from the fabricators such as “Complete flange connection F12875”. Without a uniform tagging system between sites for all connections, correcting these sorts of issues can be like finding a needle in a haystack. 

All of this creates a lot of unnecessary confusion. And because quality control has shifted to a more reactive approach, it often results in a quality professional or engineer uncovering work that wasn’t done or tested properly. This sets off another chain reaction of even more discovery work. 


How To Solve These Problems 

Cumulus Technology

Don’t worry, there’s good news. Despite these three problems sounding cumbersome and challenging to solve, there’s actually a fairly simple solution. 

By accurately tracking all work completions in real-time, modular construction projects can enable an entire catalog of the remaining scope of work. 

  • Are your critical path modules being built correctly? Build intelligent workflows that sync with connected tools, integrating quality control into every step.  
  • Which modules are complete and in-progress now? Instantly view all statuses remotely and in real-time as work is completed. 
  • How many bolts still need tightening and has all of the NDE been cleared? Export a work progress report with full completion data.  
  • Has the documentation been completed correctly and verified? Leverage a cloud-based system to simplify work completion retrieval and review. 

Implementing a work completion system that provides end-to-end tracking of worker progress brings a much-needed layer of transparency to modular construction. It transforms project quality to a proactive approach, empowering projects to be done on-time and on-budget. 

To learn more, schedule a demo to test drive Cumulus for yourself.