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Implications of New Construction Technology for Western Washington Mechanical Contractors (2011)

This research was supported through generous funding from the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Washington, the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund, the College of Built Environments and the Departments of Construction Management and Communication. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0823338. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Building Information Models (or “BIM”) represent buildings in three-dimensional computer models and associated databases. BIM is at once a visualization tool for depicting the building plans in 3-D, a database of building components that can be queried and filtered, and a collaborative communication tool for linking together various models, datasets and ways of looking at the building. Proponents of BIM technologies promise that the use of the tools will lead to more efficient building, closer collaboration and coordination between subcontractors, and clearer directions for labor resulting in fewer changes and fewer field issues.

The purpose of this report is three-fold. First we describe emerging applications of BIM tools in mechanical design and construction, and establish how these BIM practices support and challenge managers and workers who fabricate and install building systems. Then, we identify the implications of this technology for communication and collaboration among designers, managers and builders, and analyze existing practices in the Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC) industries to predict emerging trends in BIM use. Finally, we propose recommendations for mechanical contractors to improve the efficiency and efficacy of their implementations of BIM.

For this study, we analyzed data from our ongoing study of BIM practices at three building construction projects in the Pacific Northwest and from interviews with 125 AEC professionals across the United States. Specifically for this report, with the support of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Washington, we interviewed additional mechanical contractors for a total of 21 specialty contractor interviews.

We find that mechanical contractors are well positioned for the emerging changes in the AEC industry. The ways in which designers and builders manage information and data is challenging existing roles, organizational divisions, and work practices throughout the project process. We have identified four key emerging trends:

  • There is an increasingly important role for technologists on project teams
  • Mobile computing technologies link the field to the office
  • The line is blurring between design and construction
  • BIM is enabling and expanding prefabrication. Recommendations

Based on the analysis outlined in this report, we offer six recommendations: • Strengthen teams

  • Cultivate technology leaders
  • Strategize for multiple “BIMs”
  • Design environments not programs
  • Quantify current practices
  • Remember technology is an occasion for change

Communication among architects, engineers, the general contractor, and mechanical and other specialty contractors could be improved through clearer connections among all project participants. For this to occur, strat

Modular Prefabricated Residential Construction: Constraints & Opportunities (2013)


In 2012/2013, CERC received a Skanska Innovation Grant to study the potential for modular prefabricated construction for mid- to high-rise residential buildings in Seattle.

The current practices in the construction industry are labor-intensive and surrounded by significant risks associated with market, site and weather conditions. In addition, the construction industry has been criticized for lower productivity relative to other US industries in the last forty years. Many seek efficient improvements with respect to time, cost and quality. Modular construction moves the construction site to manufacturing facilities for a major part of the building and, in this way, improves its predictability, increases productivity, and reduces the risks inherent in construction. Modular buildings also generate great cost savings opportunities as a result of compressed construction schedules.

The key objective of this report is to provide a review of the potential for modular prefabricated construction for mid- to high-rise residential buildings in Seattle. To achieve this objective, we identified 9 major constraints and 3 main opportunities in implementing this type of construction. The constraints include market demand, transportation, logistics, costs, codes, permitting and inspection, labor and unions, architectural design and delivery, and regional manufacturing. Structural design is another constraint that is not covered in the present report, but should be carefully considered particularly in seismic regions such as Seattle. Furthermore, the major opportunities of this type of construction include schedule, cost, and quality. We also studied several case-studies of modular mid- to high-rise buildings from a variety of regions including the US, Europe and Australia to understand how this construction method has been utlized globally. Finally, we present the design and analysis of three student studio teams in an Integrated AEC studio which was conducted as part of Skanska’s innovation grant. The student team proposals are for mid-rise residential modular buildings in a hypothetic site in Seattle.

We conclude that there exists a great potential for modular construction in the delivery of high-rise residential buildings. There is a strong demand for multi-family housing in the Tri-county region, however, there appears to be significant oversupply of multi-family units coming onto the market in the medium term, which should be considered prior to any release of units onto the market. Therefore, it is suggested that further investigation is conducted to understand the fluid nature of the housing demand and supply in the region. When such a project is undertaken, the size and weight of the modules to be used in a modular building should be carefully considered with respect to transportation, logistics. Typical module sizes are 11 feet high, 12 to 16 feet wide, and 55 to 65 feet long. A maximum 200-mile distance from the site location is probably the most cost-efficient option with respect to transportation of the modules and trucks are usually the preferred transportation system. These transportation costs are minimal as compared to the potential for reduced site construction and financing costs as a result of smaller crew sizes and shorter construction schedules