Mikko Saavalainen discusses the importance of keeping up with modern demands in modular offsite construction
The construction industry is undergoing a major transition, with the global trend towards shifting from construction on building sites to off-site manufacturing. While the United States may seem to be slow on the uptake, the tide is slowly turning with a greater need to provide affordable, adaptable and ecological homes.
The construction industry is undergoing a major transition, with the global trend towards shifting from construction on building sites to off-site manufacturing. While the United States may seem to be slow on the uptake, the tide is slowly turning with a greater need to provide affordable, adaptable and ecological homes. having a dramatic and positive impact on the profitability of construction projects.
The role of wood in off-site construction
The potential of wood in this process is undeniable and today, offsite timber construction has major aspirations. Prefabricated wood elements enable fast, efficient and environmentally sound design without reducing quality. Reports on the benefits of such a lean approach are compelling: In McGraw Hill Construction’s ‘Prefabrication and Modularization – Increasing Productivity in the Construction Industry’, a study of companies that have applied lean construction methods, 84 per cent report higher quality in construction and 80 per cent experienced greater customer satisfaction.
The report also highlights that almost 70 per cent of projects that used prefabricated elements had shorter schedules and 65 per cent had decreased budgets. Timber prefab construction also reduces other inconveniences such as the constant unloading of building materials, as well as the amount of on-site waste and the need to transport it.
Innovation in the house-building sector is crucial, and offsite timber construction could be key in achieving the high volume of housing required in the US. Using new and innovative products like Metsä Wood’s Kerto®LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber), homes constructed offsite can be turned around in a matter of weeks. Modern engineered wood products can be used for a variety of housing projects ranging from terraced and detached homes through to apartment blocks several stories high.
Finland leading the way in offsite construction – Lehto Group case study
Finnish firm, Lehto Group is aiming to revolutionize the traditional on-site construction model, by building homes in factories, where it is easier to control the quality and costs of production.
Lehto Group wanted to find a way to improve the overall construction processes, due to the fact that traditional on-site construction is error-intensive, as well as being slow and expensive, with builders often spending up to 60 per cent of their working time on operations not related to the actual construction work. This may, for example, involve making corrections to work that has already been completed, overcoming challenging working conditions or dealing with other interruptions in the project. On-site conditions are stabilized by carrying out complicated production work in factories, which in turn, reduces errors, improves quality and cuts costs.
The company is constantly looking at ways in which digitalization can enhance the efficiency of construction, and adopts a digital model for each building project early in the planning phase. This digital model serves as a platform that makes maintenance easier, cheaper and quicker and gives full visibility of the products and components that their buildings consist of. It is continued throughout the entire build process, and beyond, even after the building has been taken into use.
The Lehto Group bases its entire industrial production on the principles of modularity. The company has a range of pre-designed, compatible roof, wall and window elements that can be combined and modified to produce the desired result. Through this approach, the customer’s needs and the modules can usually be combined.
Through efficient offsite construction, ironing out inefficiencies, the use of technology and by combining modern construction materials, such as lightweight engineered wood, Lehto Group has managed to dramatically reduce the time and cost of projects. At the same time, it continues to pioneer a new greener approach to construction.
Hybrid construction – a global solution
Despite signs of progress in the US, regarding productive, efficient construction, more needs to be done to help house builders, developers and planners. Particularly when it comes to better understanding the potential that modern wood products can offer. That is one reason that Metsä Wood launched its Open Source Wood project, where architects, designers and engineers are invited to join forces to innovate and share information relating to construction based on wood elements.
The latest scheme in this innovative project is Metsä Wood’s Hybrid City initiative, which is searching for ways to make construction more sustainable while maintaining efficiency using current building methods.
Improving sustainability is imperative as construction alone uses 50 per cent of the world’s resources. However, the transition will only happen if construction companies can maintain efficiency. You could say that the world needs a Plan B.
Conventionally used materials such as concrete and steel dominate the construction industry, and construction alone uses half the world’s resources and causes 30 per cent of all CO2 emissions. Responsible construction companies are feeling the pressure to meet the growing demand for more sustainable building. The answer to this need, without compromising efficiency, lies in hybrid construction: modular construction that combines wood and other construction materials in a practical way.
The challenge of improving sustainability in construction has been that construction companies have been asked to change both materials and building methods at the same time. The results aren’t great. Instead, we need to find ways to help them in the transition by developing sustainable building elements that fit current ways of building. Hybrid is the solution.
Metsä Wood is calling on building engineers and construction companies to join in an initiative to discover the world’s best solutions for more efficient, sustainable, modular and practical building methods. The Hybrid City challenge can be accessed through the Open Source Wood platform (https://opensourcewood.com).
Mikko Saavalainen is Senior Vice President, Business Development at Metsä Wood. Metsä Wood provides competitive and environmentally friendly wood products for construction, industrial customers and distributor partners. It manufactures products from northern wood, a sustainable raw material of premium quality. Its sales in 2016 were EUR 0.5 billion, and it employs about 1500 people. Metsä Wood is part of Metsä Group.