Tracking Infrastructure

The Technology of Modular Construction

Posted by Jeff Pollock

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Jul 6, 2019 12:00:44 PM

Construction Drone"Modular construction's time may have finally come." This is how McKinsey & Company summarized the findings of its June 2019 report Modular construction: From projects to products, a follow-up to its 2017 report about reinventing construction to produce $1.6 trillion of productivity improvements. The possibilities include accelerated timelines (estimated 20-50%) and cost reductions of 20%. McKinsey reports that the primary factor enabling these possibilities is the application of technology. All manufacturers, modular or not, will want to understand the technology landscape in order to compete effectively. We offer a profile here.

"The maturing of digital tools has radically changed the modular construction proposition."   

BuiltWorlds presents a nice summary of the underlying technology in its 2019 Modular Construction Update. They report three technology groupings:


By virtue of its factory setting, modular construction is ideally suited to automation. Two relatively new technologies are being applied to good effect: 3-D printing and robotics. 3-D printing is especially prone to disrupting concrete manufacture given the nature of the medium. Concrete bridges have already been produced using this process in the Netherlands and China. As the narrator in this video demonstrating 3-D printing states, traditional pours will "soon become a thing of the past". 

There has been a surge in new robotics offerings that will benefit (or threaten) traditional construction as well. Most are offered to reduce human repetition (such as bricklaying and painting) and replace tasks prone to safety risks (heavy labor, assembling large structures). Two that have direct bearing on concrete manufacture are:

  1. TyBot, an autonomous rebar-tying robot that can augment and reduce labor need in the most critical path activity of bridge deck construction; and
  2. True Autonomy, an autonomous concrete polishing system that can be attached to any concrete polishing equipment.

Digital Twin

This started as building-information-modeling (BIM) years ago with computer-aided design offerings by well known providers such as Autodesk, Tekla and Allplan. Today these offerings encompass much more including:

  • Architecture design
  • Engineering design
  • Virtual/Augmented reality
  • Construction planning
  • Construction collaboration
  • Subcontractor integration

As a result of these improvements in BIM technology, a digital twin creates the foundation for three of the most important benefits of modular construction:

  1. Accelerated delivery schedule (less communication time and fewer mistakes)
  2. Higher quality (greater precision, fewer mistakes)
  3. Lower costs (shorter delivery time, fewer mistakes)

As such, all parties in the construction supply chain will soon need to be able to participate in creating and sustaining a digital twin for the projects in which they engage.

Production Planning & Management

McKinsey attributes the value of modular construction to "...the coordination of the processes within the construction facility and the optimization of the logistics of just-in-time delivery...". This is possible today through the application of production planning and management software. The report cites Silicon Valley modular construction firm, Katerra, as an example of how this is done successfully:


"Katerra uses an integrated technology platform across the construction value chain—solutions include global enterprise resource planning (ERP) deployment, and other industrial Internet of Things tools. The company utilizes building information modeling to directly reach its global supply chain infrastructure for ease of ordering, tracking, and manufacturing. Quality assurance in-factory reduces resources and process time, while mining advanced analytics helps to optimize productivity onsite."


As we wrote in our last post, Katerra incorporates RFID product tracking into its production planning and management technology mix to automate information capture and provide video access to assembly instructions. 


At the core, modular manufacturing is a way to create supply chain efficiency by simplifying communication and logistics through consolidation of the parties involved. The good news is that the technology used by modular construction companies can be used by legacy companies that want to avoid disruption. This is what we are building Idencia to do.

For the same reasons it appears that "modular construction's time may have finally come", disruption of the status quo is closer than we might expect. To quote McKinsey again:


"Disruption in construction has been talked about for decades. There is growing evidence that it is coming. This disruption will result in winners and losers and the construction landscape will look very different..."

If you'd like to discuss how we can help your plant participate more seamlessly in the supply chain with RFID tracking, please click below to schedule a conversation.


Request  Idencia Consultation


About Idencia

Our purpose at Idencia is to improve productivity throughout the value chain with RFID tracking solutions. Our subscription offering applies to products from the time of manufacture through end-of-life. As a cloud-hosted product tracking system that is seamless between manufacturers, contractors and asset managers, Idencia adds information value to all, eliminates redundancy and saves time.

Construction technology infographic courtesy of BuiltWorlds.



Topics: Market Insights, Productivity

About this blog

Tracking Infrastructure is a blog about innovation in the manufacture, construction and management of infrastructure.

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