The concept of prefabrication has become a hot topic among leaders in the construction sector in recent days. More and more contractors are using prefabricated materials on the job site over traditional methods. For those who associate anything “prefabrication” with an old, abandoned trailer park, this may be somewhat of a new discovery. However, prefabrication is not a new concept by any means. Records indicate that one of the oldest known engineered roadways, the Sweet Track, was built in 3800 BC using prefabricated timber sections. Currently, prefabrication is incorporated in the development of aircraft, automobiles, office blocks and warehouses, and in the exterior of large buildings.
So why has prefabrication become so prevalent on the construction site?
For one, there is a large savings component associated with having pre-made materials. Onsite labor is greatly reduced and so are workers compensation claims. Time spent in bad weather can be diminished, since the factory offers a covered, quality controlled environment. Also, it is much easier to hire skilled labor at a lower cost in a factory setting. Less waste is generated, and more items can be recycled back into the manufacturing process. For instance, it is more economical to recycle scrap metal in a metal factory than it is on the construction site.
But with the good, there is also some bad. Transportation of prefabricated materials and the risks associated with automobile accidents while materials are in transit are significantly increased. Also, special attention has to be given to the joining of prefabricated materials to avoid mishaps in construction. Large materials, such as the exterior of buildings, require the use of heavy machinery which may heighten construction costs as a whole.
Furthermore, using prefabricated materials directly impacts insurance coverages, especially if the job is covered by a wrap-up. Because prefabrication reduces a project’s onsite labor, the overall exposure is directly decreased. As such, trades that would traditionally perform onsite labor may now utilize prefabrication methods, and greatly reduce, if not completely eliminate any onsite exposure. Reducing onsite exposures will reduce wrap-up premiums and a contractor’s insurance credits. Since wrap-ups work based on the law of large numbers, larger projects may be required in order for a program to make financial sense when dealing with great amounts of prefabricated products.