Can Pre-Fabrication Save Your Next Construction Project?

 In Case Study, Industry, Insights


How construction managers like CG Schmidt are using innovative manufacturing methods to deliver projects faster, better, and safer.


For many outside of the construction industry, “pre-fabrication” or “pre-fab” is often seen as something of a dirty word. It can conjure up images of low-quality, mass-produced housing thrown up overnight in a newly developed suburb. The term itself dates back more than 150 years to the San Francisco Gold Rush days when miners could order “kit homes” through the mail, generally expecting them to be temporary residences. While their popularity in single-family housing waned after the mid-20th century, modern builders are finding new ways to reintroduce the pre-fabrication concept into the commercial building environment, reaping considerable benefits for their clients, while actually enhancing quality instead of sacrificing it. Thanks to the work of innovative construction managers like CG Schmidt and their trade partners, the industry is turning the concept of pre-fabrication on its head.


First, let’s define “Pre-fabrication” and how it differs from “modular” construction. Pre-fabrication in construction is the process of manufacturing and assembling building components or sub-assemblies at a manufacturing facility, then transporting them to the jobsite for installation. A modular building is this to an extreme, with at least 70% of the entire structure pre-fabricated and installed intact. Modular buildings are most often seen in the multi-family housing and hospitality industries as most rooms or units are nearly identical and easily replicated.


The simple truth is that we’re still finding out. Construction managers and their trade partners are continually finding new ways to pre-fabricate an ever-expanding list of building components, from safety items like guardrails to entire headwalls for hospitals and clinics. Determining what components can be pre-fabricated is often determined by how standardized the component is and how easily it can be transported and installed. Something like wood-framed trusses are typically great candidates, while something unique or complex like steelwork or masonry usually isn’t.


At Advocate Aurora’s new 84South Health Center, CG Schmidt in coordination with Staff Electric and JF Ahern pre-fabricated 40% of all overhead MEP racks off-site. Because the systems were manufactured in controlled conditions 0% rework was required on the pre-fabricated MEP systems and the racks were installed without a single injury. Additionally, the team was able to greatly reduce the schedule, allowing the clinic to begin seeing patients an entire month sooner.  


Reduced Schedules, Quicker Occupancy

Without a doubt, the largest benefit from pre-fabrication is speed. Traditional construction approaches tend to be sequential, with one task or trade dependent on another one being complete before they can start. It’s not difficult to see how one task being delayed can create a cascading effect through the rest of the schedule. Pre-fabrication, on the other hand, allows for components to be completed concurrently and stored off-site until needed. This method also helps shelter projects from labor shortages as labor can be planned around other projects to ensure adequate staffing.

2. Better, more consistent quality

Unlike the shoddy pre-fabbed homes of yesteryear, pre-fabricated components of today are often of higher and more consistent quality than ones built in the field because they are built in controlled conditions and inspected for quality both during manufacturing and again at installation. Projects that incorporate pre-fabrication methods often see dramatic drops in the need for rework and related warranty issues.


At the recently completed freestanding Monroe Clinic in Durand, IL historically severe weather threatened to jeopardize the project schedule. However, the project team used pre-fabricated wall panels and trusses that were manufactured off-site and delivered via flatbed truck for assembly. What ordinarily could have taken two weeks of on-site labor was installed in a matter of days. In the end, this schedule reduction allowed the team to meet the deadline and the clinic was able to start seeing patients on time.

3. Safer Jobsites, Fewer Injuries

Construction is inherently a hazardous industry. Even construction managers like CG Schmidt with robust safety programs and stringent oversight must contend with many people working in a shared space, on any number of activities, with all manner of equipment and material. With so many potential hazard areas, an incident can almost seem like a matter of “when” rather than “if”. But what if we could just remove entire work groups, materials and activities from the site altogether? With off-site pre-fabrication, that’s exactly what we can do, and with less congested sites, lost-time incident rates drop consistently across the industry.

4. Less Staging and Storage Space

Similar to “Just In Time Delivery” for material, pre-fabrication allows for items not just to be constructed off-site, but also stored off-site until needed, reducing the amount of space needed on-site. This is especially beneficial in tight urban sites where buildings abut one another, or in renovations to occupied facilities that must maintain operations.

5. Cost Savings

Ultimately, all of these benefits we’ve described lead to one very compelling argument for pre-fabrication: it can equate to some very significant project savings in less material wasted, shorter construction schedules, and quicker occupancy leading to faster revenue generation.

Questions about pre-fabrication or construction in general? Contact our construction professionals today.

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