Allied Consulting Engineering Services, Inc.

The “Factory Built” Project Construction Team

W e are beginning to see and hear more and more about “Factory Built” buildings. More buildings are being designed and built utilizing varying percentages of “Factory Built” components. More Architects, Contractors and Engineers are finding themselves exploring the “Factory Built” option as part of an effort to satisfy their clients’ demands for faster construction cycles and better quality control. More Building Owners and Developers are asking more questions about the applicability of “Factory Built” construction to their current and future projects as means of reducing financial risk, as well as, weather and labor related delays.

There is a new member on the Construction Team to understand when “Factory Built” construction is being considered. If you’re an Architect, a General Contractor, an Engineer, a Developer or a Building Owner; you’ve worked on enough building projects to understand the relationships between the various parties in the design and construction process. You’ve been involved with the traditional construction delivery methods “Plan and Spec”, “Design/Build” and “Fast Track” projects and you understand your role and the roles of the other team members in each project delivery modality. You’ve contracted with the Architect, the General Contractor, the Developer or the End User and you understand your responsibilities to each and the responsibilities of each of them to each other. The new member on the team is the Factory.

Factory built buildings are not constructed of widgets selected from a catalog in a variety of colors and materials and manufactured to be interchangeable with widgets purchased from another source. Just as each member of the construction team brings their expertise and experience to bear on the project, each factory, views a project from their own particular perspective. Each factory is familiar with and capable of utilizing different materials and utilizes different construction techniques and details. Each factory has its own manufacturing process, construction methodology and is capable of and utilizes different degrees of automation and mass production techniques. Each factory has more experience with certain construction materials over others. Each factory has different lead times, different management philosophies, different financial strengths, different target markets. Each project requires a careful analysis to select the Factory that best fits the project’s needs.

Just as the Owner selected the other members of the Construction team based on their experience and expertise relative to the known elements of the project, the Factory should also be selected based on the known factors. The factors might include building type, construction type, number of stories, proximity to the site, transportation issues, schedule, workload, reputation, budget and ability to interact and communicate with the remainder of the team. Some factories manufacture wood products exclusively, some steel and concrete, some concrete and some a little of each. Some are more accomplished at higher price point/quality products and some at budget systems. Different factories have different busy seasons and different workloads. Factory Built commercial and multi-family building projects can represent a significant amount of a particular factory’s capacity and must be timed to coincide with available factory capacity.

A Factory with significant large project experience can be immensely helpful in assisting the other team members in selecting details and systems that are cost effective and buildable. Factories that primarily specialize in single family homes may not be able to accurately assess the cost effectiveness of a detail as it relates to the mass production of tens or even hundreds of identical assemblies as a matter of course. Their input based on actual experience can be very important.

The Factory’s experience setting boxes may be limited to two or three stories. A majority of multi-family residential projects are buildings of three stories or less. The tolerances associated with wood framing may be perfectly acceptable in such applications. Concrete and steel or a combination of steel framing and wood might be required to achieve the tolerances required to stack factory built modules more than three or four units high. Some factories may not have experience with more than one construction method. The old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, could well apply to a Factory with a limited scope of experience. The Factory should bring techniques, systems and experience to the project.

Yes, you can bid the factory built components to a dozen different factories and look for the lowest price or best accommodation of your plan to the Factory’s talents, or you could select the Factory based on its fit on your team, in your project and optimize the design from the beginning as a Factory Built Project. Find the factory whose reputation, technical expertise and “personality” best matches your expectations and needs and insert them in the Construction Team in the beginning as a participant in the design; from there focus on producing the maximum value for the project dollar.

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