Recap | A Closer Look: Construction Prefabrication

January 25, 2016 at 2:06 pm

By Cameron Snyder, Mortenson

The future is here. The rapid evolution of technology is taking design and construction well beyond what was possible 10 years ago and it’s helping contractors deliver projects with improved schedules and cost certainty. One such area where technology is enabling innovation is in prefabrication (prefab). Originating more than a century ago, the idea of modularized or prefabricated components in construction is not new. However, advancements in Building Information Modeling (BIM) are allowing for more precise, seamless application in commercial construction projects in order to realize quantifiable gains.

Last month at M.A. Mortenson Company in Golden Valley, NAIOP attendees learned about the current state of construction prefabrication, its benefits, and why use is growing in commercial projects. Tom Schmall, general manager, and Taylor Cupp, senior integrated construction coordinator, from Mortenson presented information on the company’s 15-plus year experience with multi-trade prefabrication. Mortenson is currently using prefab in several projects around the country including the Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, ND, which is scheduled for completion in 2016.

In the past 10 years, the decision to utilize prefabricated versus site-built building components has gained a tremendous amount of attention in the construction industry. This shift in construction strategy can be attributed to BIM, project management philosophies like Lean Construction and further enhanced by new project delivery methods such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). These new tools and strategies have allowed the industry to implement proven methods that have effectively been used by other industries, particularly the manufacturing industry. Prefabrication has emerged as one of these methods that benefits construction projects, and the industry as a whole, by increasing efficiency and lowering total cost.

An ideal complement to traditional on-site construction practices, prefabrication (prefab) reduces the time of project delivery and total cost, while increasing the quality and scope of possibilities on a project. The practice of prefabrication in construction involves the off-site assembly of highly replicable components of a building – wall systems, bathroom pods, roof trusses, and exterior panels, among others – that are built in warehouses prior to shipping, delivery and installation in a project.  These items are typically time-intensive to build on-site during the normal course of construction.
Prefabrication provides an added assurance that each component is consistently assembled to the required level of quality while still meeting tight deadlines. Assembly of some of a project’s most complicated and critical elements in an off-site controlled environment reduces congestion of both personnel and materials at the site, and significantly reduces time spent “off the ground.”

SCL Health’s Saint Joseph Hospital, Denver
Often lauded as a safer, faster and leaner form of construction, prefab offers numerous benefits. One example came during Mortenson’s construction of SCL Health’s 360-patient-bed Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, which opened in 2015. Healthcare projects, with the ability to reach a critical mass of repeating features, such as multi-trade above-ceiling racks, patient bathrooms and head walls, offer particularly good opportunities for a strong return on investment in prefabrication.

Mortenson was charged with building the 831,000-square-foot, 360-patient-bed hospital in 29.5 months. A traditional on-site linear approach would have resulted in a 36-month construction schedule, however through the application of prefabricated components, an 18 percent reduction in schedule was achieved. Prefabrication strategies allowed the project team to shave 72 days off the construction schedule along with $4.3M in indirect cost savings and reduced required labor by 29,500 hours. The hospital had one of the fastest-paced schedules ever achieved for this type of facility and was completed in late 2014. Mortenson published a study on the use of prefabrication, including results, which can be found online at

Sanford Medical Center, Fargo
Located in Fargo, the new, still-under-construction Sanford Fargo Medical Center is taking shape. At one million square-feet, it is the seventh largest healthcare project in the United States and the largest commercial construction project ever in North Dakota. Prefabrication is being used to help offset the area’s extremely low unemployment in the trades and other project complexities by pre-manufacturing many replicable components.

One example of this is the application of prefabricated bathrooms. These modular bathroom “pods” include all the finishes down to the shower curtains and fixtures – the exact elements if the bathrooms were built on site. The pods arrive at the project completely assembled – built in Boston and Ohio and shipped via trailer – and are hoisted and rolled into place for final connection on site. This “plug-and-play” approach for the hospital’s 360 patient room restrooms plus 86 other single toilet restrooms is made possible through the use of BIM and early planning with design and trade partners.
“The process of construction continues to evolve,” said Taylor Cupp, senior integrated construction coordinator at Mortenson. “Integrated construction and the use of Building Information Modeling allows for increased communication, which helps with the speed of construction while enhancing the overall quality of buildings today.”

Entry filed under: Industry News, Programs | Events.

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