Thursday, April 30, 2020

Who are Modular Construction’s new Disruptors?

It was Thomas Riley Marshall, who served as the 28th vice president of the United States from 1913 to 1921 under President Woodrow Wilson, that said "What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar."

That might have been what the country needed a hundred years ago but today “What this country needs is a Thomas Edison of modular construction.”

There’s been no shortage of speculation as to why the modular construction industry has been sluggish to disrupt and innovate like other industries in the digital era. Many conferences and webinars have been dedicated to bringing modular out of the 1960’s and into the Jetson Age, mostly to no avail.

There are plenty of Innovators in our industry but right now, viewing it from above, I see two people that have a shot at being our industry’s next Thomas Edison.

Vaughan Buckley

Vaughan Buckley, the entrepreneur from Philadelphia, is rapidly becoming a powerhouse in commercial modular construction and manufacturing. He owns VBC Modular. His large modular projects in Philly were just the beginning of his rise.

Next came his modular factory in Hamlet, NC, a former Ritz-Craft plant, that he has changed from building mostly single family residential homes to large commercial projects across the US.

He then turned his attention to the COVID-19 crisis and the need for medical facilities to meet the increase of patients by forming the Modular Mobilization Coalition. His efforts resulted in getting 30 factories to join together to meet not only the health industry crisis but affordable housing as well. Having factories in our industry working together to better address the shortage of modular capacity is not only disruptive, it’s amazing.

Ken Semler

Ken Semler, owner of Impresa Modular comes to mind when people in our industry think of single family homes. Starting with an idea of becoming the first modular home builder able to build anywhere in the United States, his company has grown rapidly by buying modular homes from more than 20 modular factories across the country.

He is actively involved in every aspect of modular housing having served in various elected positions in the BSC and MHBA. His innovative website allows new home buyers to get estimates of the homes they choose from his site, arrange for them to attend Open Houses at factories close to them, work with designers and sales consultants from Impresa Modular, all from the comfort of their kitchen table.

Now he has stepped up his game by introducing Impresa Modular Franchise, a network of builders across the East (for now) that will use his proven methods to get into selling modular homes. With few new modular home builders entering the modular home business, he saw an opportunity to not only bring new blood into our industry but train them in every aspect of the process from land acquisition to service after the sale.

The “Pop Up” factory, A Dark Horse in the Modular Industry

But there is one more disruptor, the pop up factory, sitting on the sidelines just waiting to enter the game. One way to cut costs and at the same time provide local solutions to the problem of affordable housing to areas is to build “pop up” modular home factories that build module after module, ship them a short distance to the job site and then closed down with the equipment being reused at a new ‘pop up’ factory.

Modular Factory in a Box

As a technique, modular, or volumetric construction, is particularly well suited to high-volume, repetitive components, or products that require factory conditions to achieve the desired level of quality. It can also allow parallel working on different aspects of a project simultaneously.

Pop Up factories have the advantage of being able to locate close to, or even on construction sites, or close to sources of materials and so reduce transportation costs, disruption and delays. It can also be more flexible, as leases or buildings are temporary, and so facilities can be scaled up or scaled down to suit the demand from a particular project.

If you haven’t met or talked with either Vaughan Buckley or Ken Semler yet, I have to warn you that once they start talking you could be listening to our industry’s next Thomas Edisons.

Gary Fleisher is a housing veteran, editor/writer of Modular Home Builder blog and Modular Construction Industry Observer and Information Gatherer

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