Sunday, October 8, 2017

Individual Offsite Module Production Could be the Future of Prefab Housing

A while back I wrote about merging different types of construction to help modular home factories and builders create custom homes that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago.

Now there are even more advanced products coming online that will change the way we build homes.


Mitsubishi, the huge Japanese manufacturer is now in the prefab bathroom business by producing entire bathroom modules complete in every detail right down to the heated towel bars. Highrise and housing developers in Japan and other Pacific Rim countries are installing them by the hundreds. The results are so positive that several developers are going to use them exclusively.

These complete bathroom modules have been found to be almost defect free and readily accepted by the tenants and buyers. Even though they cost almost twice as much as site built bathrooms, the number of defects and callbacks can more than offset Mitsubishi’s bathroom costs.

Two more products are already in the pipeline that could add to making traditional site and modular building running to embrace them.

The first are modular kitchens. Choosing a completely plumbed, wired and finished kitchen module built by a Chinese or Japanese factory right here in the US may be the next big thing. With about 100 kitchen designs and dozens of color and style options, these kitchens can be produced quickly and shipped to the site or to a modular factory. These kitchens would be produced on assembly lines similar to auto manufacturers with little or no defects.

Finally a couple of US and foreign companies are either testing or in actual production of completed exterior and/or interior wall and floor panels. Finished drywall, electrical, insulation and finished exterior walls completed and placed on trucks and sent to the jobsite or to a modular “assembly’ factory. Roof sections, designed like SIP assemblies would complete the process. These roof panels could either be shipped to the modular factory or sent to the home site where the same crane and set crew that set the main house modules could then set completed roof sections in place.

Unique custom modular homes using these new module sections delivered not to a traditional modular home factory but rather to a modular home “assembly” plant could be a real possibility within the next 10 years.

Labor shortage. What labor shortage.


Carl Nolan said...

You're opening a can of worms Gary. As I see it the current modular home factory owner will never buy into the idea of not actually building the home in their factory so that leaves new people coming into the industry building your "modular assembly factories"

Personally I think it would solve a lot of the problems we are facing today and at the same time it could create problems for third party inspection companies.

You really should do some more research and continue to write about this as it just might be the future.

Bill Hart said...

Surely you recall Coach, perhaps first handed..the Ryan Homes Thurmont MD project product..I built just one, a presale and it was too too mundane to fly..but as Yogi said however... it aint over til its over..well perhaps! At least, if the Japanese have a hundred options on the kitchens that in its self is an improvement. Ryan had two.. a left hand house or a right hand house...Why did Ryan fold the tent.. Coach on such projects?

Tom Hardiman said...

Coach, good article. A couple of thoughts come to mind. This is just how the auto industry evolved in the states. Components of cars are made at several factories and shipped to the assembly plant. So its not a stretch to think homes could be next.

It is much easier (probably not the right word) for one of these Japanese companies to do this. There are only 5-6 huge modular home factories in Japan that control the market. Most of them grew out of other manufacturing industries like Toyota for example. They have deep corporate pockets and consider themselves as manufacturers first, not construction companies.

I think our challenge as an industry (both residential and commercial) is to be aware of these advancements and figure out what elements to embrace and adopt for what works here. We can't simply ignore it, nor can we flip a switch and have fully automated factories with the added overhead.

Thanks for sharing.

Josh Margulies said...

I do not think that was entirely true Bill. I was there also and my recollections are by no means all favorable: not of Thurmont nor of the field assembly product. What they did worked for many homes during their “closed wall” approach.

History understands these mistakes as part of a learning curve on which Ryan served thru times when the curve was both flat and steep

Bill Hart said...

Im aware both you and Coach were "there"! Inland and I recall we bucked Ed Ryan in Pitt SMA well before that time with simple open panel Inlands in fact. One year we did 1/2 of the FHA SFD market in Ed's own back yard. Anyway..back to the dimension, core and closed wall product; It did work for you.. with some areas perhaps in big metros DC etc but it certainty failed mispebly in Ryan's then franchisee covered the more typical outer burbs and rural of what is now the eastern mod market areas served today..why.. simple inflexibility in SFD line. Point of all this: is that the Chinese product.. will ...perhaps much more likely make it and..more important... stay..and stick.. simply because they are going in full bore, well financed.. and it appeared to me in retrospect the Ryan,and also KB in SCA were not totally committed and thus at the first bump in the road.. bailed!, at least where and when I was!

Josh Margulies said...

Part of the evolution of the technology. There were several hundred closed wall homes (sfd and sfa) built in md. I see them in my neighborhood today (no one else knows). They were a nightmare. But only if you had to build them.