Seasoned engineer Blair Davies is the partner behind two modular construction businesses, METALOQ and Catalyst Offsite. Blair recently joined W. R. MEADOWS Podcast hosts Riley Rowan and Jason Davoodi to share some of his insights on the rapid-fire interest he is seeing from developers for modular building.
Blair was initially drawn to modular because of his engineering expertise in building facades. (He also has a background in aerospace and automotive engineering, which bring to bear some unique advantages in how they approach modular manufacturing.) Julian Bowron is his partner in both companies, with expertise in steel fabrication and supply chain, followed by manufacturing and construction. Julian is a “volumetric modular” thought leader. Volumetric modular is defined as off-site construction of connective, pre-built building modules. These factory-finished modules are then stacked to create a near-complete building, left only with bolting and interconnecting building services to perform once it arrives at the building site. The overall costs are not reduced, but the project timeline is “cut in half.” This enables earlier building occupancy, which drives faster revenue streams.
While modular building has been around for decades, primarily with work camps and military applications, architectural aesthetics were never a priority. Today that mindset has changed. Now we’re seeing the fusion of these two disciplines, right at the time it’s needed the most. The housing shortage and the cost of putting heads in beds is higher than ever before. This is why 15,000 modular homes are built in the UK yearly. Additionally, the 50% reduction in the project timeline (because you’re doing construction tasks in parallel, creating the foundation and the building in separate locations simultaneously), and the greatly reduced environmental impact are advantages for modular construction.
Blair and Julian’s two companies are not focused on residential housing, but instead specialize in “modular, non-combustible, mid-rise construction.” In laymen’s terms, this refers to mixed-use, four-to- 10+-story steel-frame buildings designed and manufactured for geographies anywhere in the world. As Blair noted, when buildings get taller, costs come down.
Modular building is not as unregimented as traditional construction, and for good reason. There’s little room for error. The tight supply chains reduce cost and the tight manufacturing precision reduces waste. Modular construction plans require more up-front design complexity—and a higher degree of granularity–than the schematic drawings for traditional builder projects. In Blair’s companies, they use SOLIDWORKS 3D modeling software to design a volumetric, parametric model instead of a 2D model, driving the level of detail down to the very last fastener. The holy grail is plug compatibility between precise parts from quality suppliers.
When asked about his typical client, Blair remarked, “It’s NOT the traditional folks calling us. It’s the developers and builders starting to do modular. They have deals from governments, cities, and private enterprises, so they need someone who has a product and a service to accelerate their ability to do this kind of thing. They’re leasing space or building factories and then we’re helping them figure out how to outfit that factory, then they’re dropping products in these factories to build on the job sites.” This manufacturing approach is key to modular building success. Contractors cannot approach modular construction in the same way they do traditional-style building, with the only difference being that they’re doing it on one roof. True modular construction companies will approach this like true car production line manufacturing, where the factory workers have a well-defined task and they are not making decisions or improvising on the factory floor.
This factory-centric modular building industry bears a striking similarity to the Model T assembly line. In the words Henry Ford, “Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory, if the success of the job requires it.”
With the accelerating demand for housing, our population requires it.
To hear more, listen to the W.R. MEADOWS interview with Blair Davies here.