By Russ Ward
There was a little neighborhood market called Jim and Ruth’s near the small house I rented in college. Hidden from traffic in an old residential area of town, it seemed it was stuck in a time warp. It had wooden floors, a meat case in the back, and a white-apron-clad, paper-hat-wearing butcher (Jim) standing at the ready to slice your bologna or T-bone steak to the thickness desired. It was a great place to pick up the occasional item or sit on the bench out front and watch the world go by; the owners ensured it was a place to take a break and leisurely stroll the handful of aisles. You pulled a string to ring a bell when you were ready to check out and Ruth would amble to the old hand-cranked register. If you were in a hurry, the supermarket was down the road.
Remembering Jim and Ruth’s got me thinking about how far the shopping experience has come. Now, we would never wait around after ringing a bell or lounge on a bench when we can order entire meals ready to cook online and have it shipped to us the next day, all from the comfort of our couch. So businesses like Jim and Ruth’s have fallen to the wayside. Speed has surpassed the value of charm. And before you complain about that last statement, put down your smart phone and stop making Jeff Bezos a billionaire. Jim and Ruth never grasped the call to efficiency, speed and cost.
But they are not the only ones that have lagged behind this trend of progress.
The construction business is often one of those lagging industries, seemingly moored to traditional business models and old-fashioned, conventional solutions to age-old problems. Sometimes construction or design build companies don’t even think to ask, “Can this be done differently, better, less-expensively or faster?” This can blind them to a solution such as modular building. Modular and off-site construction can be a significant answer to the questions and the solution to slow, plodding builds that drag on for what seems forever, delaying returns.
One of the ways modular can help is by saving time. Construction of modular building components occurs simultaneously with site prep and foundation work. This allows projects to be completed in half the time of traditional construction. As shown in the diagram below, the design engineering and permit processes are always the same, whether modular or site-built. The real differences kick in after that, when more than one thing can happen at one time.
Another benefit with modular is the overall reduction of delays due to weather. Because 60-90% of the construction is completed inside a factory with modular, weather is no longer a costly risk. This can be seen specifically with elevators. Stick-built elevators are very susceptible to weather conditions. As a matter of fact, most elevator companies require temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit for the installation to even occur, and the average temperature for some states doesn’t even exceed that temperature most months of the year. In many climates, 20 to 30 work days or more are lost in North America in December and January alone. Additionally, many areas are prone to spring storms or excessive summer heat, making modular a huge benefit. Productivity of the factory is not reduced due to extremes in temperature or even the occasional thunderstorm. Because the factory provides optimal building conditions, there are fewer delays, quality is increased and completed buildings are occupied sooner, which creates a faster return on the investment.
The modular manufacturing process also means a more consistent product and a higher level of quality. For instance, inspections can take place as the build is in process, not after it is done. And people checking for quality have better access and more visibility. You see this with modular elevators in the rails and cabs. In modular, the rails are always plumb and level, making a better overall product.
Modular is simply faster and smarter, and closing your eyes to the inevitable is never the solution. Jim and Ruth closed their eyes to the advances in technology and improvements that could have led to a vibrant and thriving business and now, unfortunately, they have gone the way of the floppy disk and 8-track-tape-player. I will miss the old market…until my next Amazon delivery.