Industrialized construction

Industrialized construction disciplines the building process with data

Productization of building components is the next frontier of built environment technology.

A construction team lowers a prebuilt building module into place.

Industrialized construction focuses on replicable, scalable elements

What is industrialized construction?

Applying the discipline and systematized fabrication process of manufacturing to the design and build process, industrialized construction is a scalable approach to the built environment that harnesses manufacturing techniques to achieve sustainability and efficiency across the entire lifecycle of a project. This approach radically re-envisions the AEC industry, optimizing it to make its outputs as consistent and replicable as widgets rolling off a factory assembly line—as opposed to traditional building methods, which create a series of untested one-off prototypes. Industrialized construction is about resource efficiency in all forms and encompasses the data behind a building’s design as well as the physical process of construction.

At every turn, industrialized construction aims to move the building process toward a new frontier of productization: that is, a new built environment that’s the synthesis of many discrete products (whether physical and digital) that are easily replicable, scalable, and granularly defined in terms of physical properties, embedded metadata, and performance thresholds. A thought experiment in this direction imagines: What if you could build a building like you build an airplane, bringing together many complex modular elements from all over the world in an all-weather, factory-controlled environment? The resulting product would come together with unparalleled predictability, speed, and cost efficiency.

 

Building exterior panels are assembled on a job site.

Prefabrication is often a part of industrialized construction

What processes and technologies are used in industrialized construction?

Because of its ability to offer a controlled factory environment and its immense potential for scalability, nearly any level of offsite construction is an element of industrialized construction. This includes prefabrication, where building elements produced offsite in a factory are transported onsite for assembly and installation. It also includes modular construction, producing standardized components for a structure or similarly designed family of structures in an offsite factory, then assembling them onsite.

Productization has many parallels with more established concepts such as prefabrication, but productization takes the offsite fabrication process further by crafting a wide range of easily replicable, tightly defined building elements that can be used across many projects. Access to a wide range of standardized building components could help architects focus their talents on the most involved and creative elements of function, program, and aesthetics—potentially never having to draw a utilitarian fire stairway again. The ultimate goal is to solve nearly any design problem with a combination of existing manufactured products rather than creating from-scratch drawings and models.

Productization is the process of designing with building components that are defined by the constraints of manufacturing partners, ensuring that anything placed in the building is known to be manufacturable. This concept incorporates the idea of “designing with guardrails” to provide a framework for designers to work within. It shares similarities with established concepts like prefabrication but goes a step further by creating a wide range of easily replicable and tightly defined building elements. These standardized components can be used across multiple projects, allowing architects to focus their talents on the more intricate and creative aspects of function, program, and aesthetics. In essence, the goal of productization is to address design challenges by using existing manufactured products, rather than starting from scratch with drawings and models.

Benefits of industrialized construction

A recent McKinsey study predicted that the construction sector could potentially save $20 billion and cut project lifecycles in half by adopting industrialized construction methods that address speed, efficiency, productivity, scalability, and safety.

Cost and accuracy

Standardizing building components and making them reproducible reduces errors and rework, which cost time and money. And with industrialized building components, it’s much easier to predict initial project costs.

Certainty and predictability

With robust building data, design and construction teams have a far better idea of what they’re going to build before groundbreaking. This advantage is compounded when using prefabricated and modular systems that are delivered and assembled onsite.

Sustainability

While 40% of landfill waste comes from construction activity, industrialized construction generates much less material waste by optimizing designs from the start and using efficient prefabrication and 3D printing techniques.

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Customers using industrialized construction

An empty airport corridor is brightly lit by the sun.

Bryden Wood

Drag and drop construction

This British engineering firm used Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) processes for a series of modular corridors in London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which were built in a fabrication facility near the building sites and dropped into place. For an office building project, the firm also made floor modules from steel and concrete frames, which arrived on-site precut and standardized.

 


A rendering shows a new academic facility at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

Gilbane Building Company

Ramping up construction cycles

To build this institution’s first new academic facility in 40 years, the Gilbane Building Company used BIM and VR to show administrators and academics how their new 78,000-square-foot engineering and science building would work. With a rapid 15-month construction cycle, the company used prefab elements as well, like the suite of mechanical systems on the roof, which were fabricated offsite in nine sections and slotted together.

 


Wood planks are honed into new shapes by a machine in a factory.

Viewrail

Generative design to increase production capacity

The stair systems designer built a custom generative design software with Autodesk’s iLogic, reducing design time from hours to minutes and increasing production capacity a thousandfold. By simply inputting basic parameters, the algorithm can generate production drawings, customer prints, and the machine code for fabrication.

 


Industrialized construction for the built environment

Learn how Autodesk manufacturing-informed design (MID) helps architects design more quickly and with greater certainty.

 

This seven-module Autodesk course on industrialized constructions examines productization, the convergence of technologies and business models, the role of machine learning and AI, and more.

 

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about industrialized construction

Why is industrialized construction important?

Industrialized construction is important because fully codifying and productizing the design and construction process creates an opportunity to optimize the built environment at every scale: the site, building, module, and individual components. This process can result in industrialized economies of scale that yield astonishing productivity gains.

What are the similarities between manufacturing and construction?

Both processes combine disparate elements to form new, cohesive assemblies that are planned in advance, requiring well-defined and differentiated design and fabrication phases.

How does industrialized construction benefit the AEC industry?

By embracing industrialized construction, the AEC industry experiences better cost certainty and predictability, time and money efficiency, and greater material sustainability. By moving more of the construction process into a controlled factory setting, the AEC industry can achieve more consistent performance parameters from its materials and built products.

How does industrialized construction benefit the manufacturing industry?

The manufacturing industry can benefit from industrialized construction by using the process to draw as much data as possible from its products to alter their formal and functional characteristics. This allows the industry to alter products to fit within a wider array of marketplace niches. Additionally, the time and efficiency benefits can help address workforce shortages.