Innovative, Sustainable, Affordable Facade and Building Systems
Leveraging decades of experience in structural design and end-to-end MCAD integration for offsite and modular construction, VECTORMINIMA develops and delivers the practical, competitive solutions our partners need to stand out in today's modular construction landscape.
Better yet, our pipeline of products includes some of the modular construction industry's most progressive solutions, including technology for semi-autonomous building assembly and MEP connection.
With VECTORMINIMA as your innovation partner, your enterprise is sure to be in the spotlight for years to come.
VMIN's first invention, patent pending is METALOQ. A simple to build, hybrid roll formed and brake formed steel kit frame. The gem of the idea is that steel fabricators will do what they do best, with almost no capital expenditures, and modular builder does what they do best with almost no capital expenditure.
In fact it opens up the entry for modular builders to come from existing suppliers, GCs, Developers, wood and steel wall panelizers and interested entrepreneurs.
Facade Systems Inc. has a role in finding clients in the steel fabrication business and modular business in North America, to facilitate our network for the success of VMIN, and to assist in setting goals for the roadmap of VMIN.
Modular builders, from any walk of life assemble the kit frame using standard tooling, without welding, jigs or robots.
#modular #modularconstruction #rethinkmodular
In Q1 2020 Julian Bowron posted this regarding the 20 Lessons for Modular Builders.
As a result of reaching out, I enjoyed many great conversations with colleagues working in the Modular and Offsite Construction Industry. The companies they work for (or own) range from recent start-ups to large established players, with most in the commercial segment.
The most noteworthy thing I discovered is that the companies in our industry are almost all “IP Islands” surrounded by a wall of NDA’s. As a result, many of us are facing similar challenges without access to solutions that others have found. In fact, I heard the same stories multiple times from people in 6 countries on 3 continents.
It’s not surprising that no one is in possession of all the answers. In the hope of saving colleagues from this “Groundhog Day” existence, I am sharing the best of the warnings and advice that arose out of these conversations.
BTW: If you shared, don’t panic, this post has been cleaned of any identifying or proprietary information.
And finally, if you find the tone a bit fraught, it’s because the industry is pushing the envelope on many fronts, resulting in many challenges and corresponding amounts of introspection.
1. Modular Construction is not a fix for the shortage of construction managers.
2. In the start-up phase, Modular Construction is not a fix for the skilled labour shortage.
3. Mass customization gets me a ton of customers, but my costs soar.
4. Only go down the modular road if you have the backing, patience and discipline to make it past the 3rd year.
5. Multi-lateral construction process moved under a roof doesn’t deliver conflict-free, lower cost construction.
6. You can't boil the ocean with a candle.
7. “Perpetual Crisis” is never a successful management technique.
8. Mistakes happen. It's how you deal with them that matters.
9. Software isn’t the answer to all life’s problems.
10. Precision is now free.
11. Upstream suppliers who embrace modular and panelized execution are flourishing.
12. Few companies in the modular space have in-house R&D, some are all R&D.
13. Don't automate a process you aren't already good at.
14. The correct production solution is often not obvious.
15. You can be a modular builder without a "railway" production line.
16. Rain falling on a partially finished building is one of the industry’s biggest challenges.
17. Don't, no never ever don't leave a problem for the site.
18. You are running a business. OPEX and CAPEX apply.
19. A rendering or prototype does not a technology make.
20. Values are more important than ever.
1. Modular Construction is not a fix for the shortage of construction managers. Conventional or Modular; Construction ain’t easy. To be both faster and better than conventional construction, modular construction requires managers that are both more skilled and more disciplined. In other words: By itself, modular construction is not a fix. Like any other methodology, it must be delivered by staff with the necessary skill sets.
On top of this, decision-making for modular construction has to take place faster and earlier. Because of this “need for speed”, the effect of mistakes will multiply rapidly. If you don’t have the experienced staff to swamp issues with management as they arise in real time, the consensus opinion is that you are better off subcontracting your projects to a conventional builder and going for a beer.
2. In the start-up phase, Modular Construction is not a fix for the skilled labour shortage. As with all manufacturing, the start-up phase of a modular enterprise requires highly-skilled personnel in fields such as product design, plant design and commissioning, production planning and production troubleshooting.
To get rolling, you need at least one experienced tradesperson willing and able to teach every production team (MEP, drywall and paint, framing, roofing, etc.). If you can’t access high-functioning staff during the start-up phase, you won’t be able to create a high-functioning company.
So be sure to locate your plant in an area with high educational attainment. Keep in mind that those older workers so often mentioned as an untapped labour pool want creature comforts like good lighting, clean washrooms and safe working conditions. If you are a progressive employer, the enjoyment factor will work to your advantage when searching for experienced staff.
3. Mass customization gets me a ton of customers, but my costs soar. Offering architects and customers whatever they want is fine for dimensionally neutral features such as the colour of cabinet doors and floor coverings, but it’s infinitely more difficult to offer a panoply of amenities, floorplans, facades, roofs, rated assemblies, seismic and hurricane ratings, etc.
The inevitable result of offering all things to all people in all places is best summed up by the Business 101 truism: “We lose money on every job, but we make it up on volume”. The most successful / highest volume modular companies operating today are focused on a narrow range of module form factors and market verticals, and their factories are designed around those products.
4. Only go down the modular road if you have the backing, patience and discipline to make it past the 3rd year. Because Modular execution requires detailed planning and it requires setting up and running an efficient factory, the first batch of projects delivered by a Modular Construction start-up can be more work than building the same jobs conventionally. The landscape is littered with companies that ran out of gas and died 3 years in.
5. Multi-lateral construction process moved under a roof doesn’t deliver conflict-free, lower cost construction. The most workable approach to modular construction puts as much of the project team as possible on the same side of the table and repeats the process again and again. In-house resources are the only way out of the Groundhog-Day cycle of rebuilding, re-educating and then dismantling teams. Outsourcing key roles reduces agility and de-skills a company leaving it dead from the neck up.
“Having everybody on the same side of the table” means working with an architect right from the massing and site-planning phase, performing detailed design, routing and conflict detection in collaboration with a production-savvy design team, coordinating like mad and performing the work of all trades with in-house forces. And then repeating the cycle with the same team. If you are your own client and self-performing the work: Even better.
6. You can't boil the ocean with a candle. It’s great to be ambitious. But when the investors and / or a commissioned sales force are given the reins of a modular start-up, they often push the new company to undertake multiple, large, overly complex projects before the organization has the necessary capacity to execute. This pressure can arise from an impending IPO or unrealistic projections developed to attract investors.
Don't fall into this trap and take any job just to have a job. Be choosy and critical regarding project scope, read every line in the contract and above all don’t over-reach. See lesson 7!
7. “Perpetual Crisis” is never a successful management technique. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Never let your pipeline get to the point that staff is overwhelmed. The result is panic hiring of expensive or unqualified staff, un-bid subcontracting, massive overtime, detailing and manufacturing errors and the inevitable damage to reputation and morale.
8. Mistakes happen. Its how you deal with them that matters. Ever since the phone was invented, a culture of secrecy has been hard to maintain and it’s not getting easier. Don’t make a bad situation worse by promoting a troubled project while pretending everything is fine. Customers and potential partners doing due diligence quickly figure out what is going on and end up questioning your honesty.
Better to be candid, reference failures openly as “Lessons Learned” and highlight your company’s capacity to improve.
9. Software isn’t the answer to all life’s problems. As many of you know, I am a strong advocate of MCAD, whatever-D BIM, single-source-of-truth models and numerous other hip acronyms and concepts. So, I am well aware that software can dramatically improve design process and purchasing management, then produce the “cut files” that run CNC machines and robots which churn out precision parts.
BUT…..the latest software isn’t a panacea and no software can solve management issues. As a corollary, 3D printing sure is cool, but the deposition rates for 99% of materials used in construction are still far too slow for commercial applications. (However, patterns and tooling components are well suited to 3D printing.!)
Keep in mind that the modular industry functioned 40+ years ago when all drawing was done manually.
10. Precision is now free. It’s less work to make an accurate component than a crooked one, it’s easier to install precise components in a precise volume, and it’s easier to assemble a building composed of accurate modules. Widely-available CNC machines are built to deliver tolerances measured in thousandths of an inch.
Don’t believe production managers that tell you precision is expensive or impossible to achieve.
11. Upstream suppliers who embrace modular and panelized execution are flourishing, and those that don’t are flatlining. Ask any light steel or wood framing company which has shifted to panelizing its product! In North America, panelization continues to outstrip volumetric modular as a delivery method.
12. Few companies in the modular space have in-house R&D, some are all R&D. A remarkable number of companies still make their products the same way they did when they were founded, in some cases 40-50 years ago. On the other hand, at least 5 start-ups are 3D-printing tiny houses with advanced materials like ceramics. Somewhere in the middle between trailing and bleeding is a good balance.
13. Don't automate a process you aren't already good at. If you don’t thoroughly understand a process, it’s likely that those expensive robots you bought are making the same mistakes, only much faster. And the real bottlenecks have been overlooked.
Before automating a process, build some “manu-matic” (manually activated) fixtures, get some product out the door and learn how the process works. When you have achieved smooth workflow and a good product, look at the statistics you have been gathering (you are gathering statistics, right?!) study the process, look for bottlenecks and focus automation where it will do the most good.
14. The correct technical solution is often not obvious. I heard many examples of “misdirection” arising out of rushed or ill-informed troubleshooting. EG altering welding sequence or part detailing can mitigate welding-induced distortion, which is an easier implementation than “10X more clamps". Maybe welding isn't even the right process and fasteners would be better? In-person, shop floor meetings that bring designers and production staff together in an ego-free zone are the best way to find root causes and develop a focused fix.
Above all don't be afraid of changing course when the evidence is clear that a course change is needed. Just because you've invested $10m and baked in an approach doesn't make the approach the right choice.
15. You can be a modular builder without a "railway" style production line. The eternal debate between "bring the work to the workers" vs. "bring the workers to the work" rages on. A typical plant produces modules with a spectrum of complexities. Modules with kitchens and bathrooms take longer to complete than living / bedroom modules. Confined linearly on tracks like beads on a string, all modules move at the same speed and have to dwell at all stations.
If time-to-shipping is dictated by the modules that take the longest to complete....well, you get it. It's just as viable to assemble product in stations and leapfrog finished modules to shipping using a crane or to tow them on wagons or wheels with a forklift. You are still a modular builder!
16. Rain falling on a partially finished building is one of the industry’s biggest challenges. Rather than “hoping for a stretch of good weather” during building assembly, develop a detailed precipitation management plan and build or buy the right equipment to ensure water can’t get into a partially assembled building.
17. Don't, no never ever don't leave a problem for the site. Remediation at site is at least 10X more expensive than the same work performed in the plant. Ensure that staff are empowered to point out problems both in the plant and on the site, without being labelled troublemakers. If a problem is discovered, push stop and resolve the problem in the factory before you ship.
18. You are running a business. Just because modular is cool, doesn’t mean that old-fashioned concepts like OPEX and CAPEX are no longer relevant.
Because of the crisis in conventional construction, many start-ups and investors have gotten caught up in the hype around modular. Over enthusiasm often results in a failure to develop accurate costing and pricing models prior to spending astounding amounts of money and baking in a specific strategy.
As an example, “smart buying” can save 10-15% on material costs, but won’t save 30% and may result in oodles of inventory and a corresponding reduction in agility. Likewise, automation may reduce labour costs, but the CAPEX can add $4000 or more to the cost of every module produced, wiping out labour savings.
Successful manufacturers understand their costs and study well-informed and detailed financial and production models prior to making significant investments.
19. A rendering or prototype does not a technology make. A great rendering or a beautiful prototype of a super-hip apartment can be very useful in attracting investors and potential customers, but it doesn't mean the intended structure can be permitted or even built. Before investing in a modular start-up, have a critical look at the compliance and deployment roadmap, then build a realistic cash flow study based on the barriers to deployment that the venture will face.
20. Values are more important than ever. Modular Construction is an industry of the future and is just as reliant on knowledge workers as Silicon Valley. Unemployment is at historic lows. If you are a member of the executive team, the most important task you have is to attract and retain a skilled and dedicated workforce.
The best available personnel will come from many countries, they will have a wide range of lifestyles, and if you are very lucky, they will have ideas you need to hear. And they will consider themselves worthy of respect and know that they are mobile.
In this context dictatorial, sexist, racist, nativist or homophobic values are not just wrong, they are counterproductive. Running a Dilbertian dystopia has never been less viable than it is today.
Copyright Julian Bowron 2019