This may seem like a simple question but it isn’t. There are actually two types of modular factories in the US. The first is found mainly east of the Mississippi River.
These factories build most of the single family modular homes in the US.
The second type are the larger commercial oriented modular factories building mostly apartments, hotels, and other commercial projects. They use either wood frame or light gauge steel.
For this article I am talking about the single family modular home factory.
These factories focus on smaller projects and tend to be wary of Building Information Modeling (BIM), and rightly so. BIM requires extensive training, costs a pretty penny, and it does not necessarily make the factory more profitable.
BIM is expensive and requires training, and it might not increase profits or decrease costs.
For example Revit costs just under $6,000 and Autodesk Building Design Suite Ultimate costs $12,075. And that just covers the software—training ranges from $300 to $2,000, and advanced training can cost substantially more.
Last year I visited a modular home factory in the East that was trying to install BIM into their processes. The expense to get started turned out to be the least of it. They hired a BIM expert who began bringing it on line for the company only to see him take a higher paying job in CA a few months later.
They are now on their third BIM person and each time the new hire says they have to start all over as the last guy “messed it up”.
BIM can be successfully implemented when the modular factory is more vertically integrated. Currently the majority of modular factories do not handle the modules shipped to the project beyond the factory gate.
Vertical integration has rarely been needed in single family homes as the home is set and finished by the builder and the builder’s subcontractors.
BIM does lend itself to companies interested in pursuing government contracts. In fact, many federal government projects now require BIM for implementation.
As modular new home builders continue to disappear from the landscape because they are old enough to retire or simply can’t see a future as a new home builder, a sentiment shared by their site built siblings, the modular factories may have to shift more to building projects including ones for state and federal governments.
So the question remains. Should modular home factories use BIM?
The answer is really quite easy. They should begin looking into installing it, setting aside funding for it and possibly hiring a consultant to explain how and where it will improve production and profit.
Should they implement BIM without doing full research into how it could work for them. No.
BIM is here to stay but it’s time simply hasn’t come for those modular factories that are building mostly single family homes.
Gary Fleisher is a housing veteran, editor/writer of the ModcoachNews blog and Modular Construction Industry Observer and Information Gatherer