How can we quantify the benefits of modular construction?
Modular is more cost-effective, responsive and faster than traditional methods of construction. But how can those benefits be quantified to unlock data-driven decision making for the industry?
A team from the Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology at the University of Cambridge have launched a new framework to help the industry apply a unified and consistent methodology for evidence-based assessments. This could impact at all levels including on jobs in modular construction as the industry seeks to present the benefits of modular in a fully quantified way.
The result of a year-long project, the new guidance describes the process of identifying and measuring metrics relevant to the industry then applying the methodology to produce case studies that evaluate modular project performance.
Framework and metrics
The proposed framework has four key principles and is designed to enable the industry to:
- Establish a database of project performance
- Assess the benefits and value of those projects
- Keep consistent records
- Facilitate collaboration
The project sought to establish metrics that would include impacts beyond capital cost. The research highlighted the number of methods already in use and the different ways they are implemented across the industry. The identified metrics including societal and environmental factors designed to be consistently measured across a range of organisations and projects.
But the challenge remains to identify and consistently measure the most important metrics across the industry.
Testing the methodology
Crucially, the team then assessed the outcomes of real-life projects rather than modelling hypothetical projects. This evidence base drawn from actual results is aimed at assessing the benefits of modular construction with an initial focus on the successful application of modular techniques in the education sector.
Data was analysed from six organisations and 46 completed projects in the educational sector, showing a desire to collaborate across the industry to establish a database on project performance. These featured variations in approach, scale and location across a range of projects allowing researchers to benchmark performance.
Challenges and key findings
One of the key findings of the Cambridge research team was the difference between ideal metrics and measures that it may be practical to make in a real-world situation. For example, trips to the work site and reworking costs were not routinely captured although both are often cited as benefits of the modular method.
The lack of robust data for benchmarking was another challenge, mainly as a result of there being no coherent method for measuring performance and outcomes in the construction industry. This lack of consistency across all methods of construction from traditional to modular served to highlight that this is not a binary choice but rather a spectrum of design choices that all have their place in the built environment.
The challenge for modular
No one is in any doubt that modular offers a way forward for the construction industry in the face of the housing shortage and represents the opportunity to create jobs in modular construction. There is compelling evidence that this form of construction should be widely embraced in the coming decades.
What the Cambridge team has done is to produce an industry-wide methodology for consistently quantifying results and developing an evidence base that serves to support decision making as it relates to incorporating modular construction techniques. This report should act as a useful guide for decision-makers and stakeholders in all construction projects.