Who Will Lead the Prefabrication Movement?


This post is part of a series of articles found in “Prefabrication and Industrialized Construction,” a Dassault Systèmes whitepaper.


The shift toward prefabrication means embracing a new project delivery method. While the use of prefabrication offers clear advantages on many project types, the construction industry is notoriously slow to adapt to new business models.

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Widespread adoption of prefabrication is being seen from two drivers in particular: Building Product Manufacturers and Subcontractors.

Building Product Manufacturers

During the latest construction downturn, a handful of building product manufacturers flourished by consolidating with and/or acquiring a range of related building product companies.

Workers build a floor on a chassis at a factory. ©iStock.com/EdStock

The result is a handful of suppliers that are now able to deliver multiple building systems to a single project. This delivery system promotes a move toward prefabricated systems since it allows the supplier to move more product.

Take for example United Technologies, which manufactures both elevators and air conditioners. Such suppliers are more motivated to sell a complete system directly to the building owner, avoiding the battle to get each individual component specified by the designer or selected by the general contractor.


For some time, subcontractors seeking to secure bigger contracts have looked to become a resource to architect in the design phase. These design-build partners are able to advise architects on product selection, and consequently lock in their preferred products and services.

However, many of these companies are focusing on a new advantage of selling directly to the building owner. With today’s focus on sustainability, more building owners are taking a long-term view of new construction; the future operation of systems is now a greater part of design considerations.

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The emergence of design-build-operate-maintain contracts means subcontractors earn not only installation work but also a contract to provide maintenance work over the life cycle of their system.

Take again the case of United Technologies: while the supplier may only earn a small profit margin for installing its elevators, its labor force can earn as much as three times that by managing the operation of that elevator for the duration of its existence.

That movement toward life cycle maintenance is a major motivator for installers to be part of the early specification process — although building owners win as well with a more efficiently delivered product.

Next Steps

Forward-thinking suppliers and subcontractors already are promoting this new method of project delivery. As more building owners buy into the benefits of prefabrication, more members of the construction industry may find themselves adapting to this new reality.

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Patrick Mays, AIA
With over 30 years of AEC experience, Mr. Mays is part of the core team driving the AEC industry strategy at Dassault Systèmes. He was  General Manager for North America at Graphisoft, and served as CIO at NBBJ Architects, where he led the firm’s transition to BIM in the 1990s.


Related Resources

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