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Modular Construction: More Than Just Containers

While shipping containers get most of the attention, modular construction has applications well beyond unitized buildings.

By Andrew Luk


September 12, 2018

Whenever I ask people what comes to mind when they visualize modular construction, they often imagine a pile of 40-foot-long shipping containers stacked on top of one another. While shipping containers offer solutions for expedited unitization, they are not the only means of modular construction.  In fact, there a myriad of alternative ways that modular building can bring forth greater efficiency and quality throughout the industry.

Many smaller aspects of construction can easily be prefabricated in a workshop and shipped to the construction site. Bathrooms, for example, are often modularly constructed for high-rise apartments. The unitized component is then delivered with all the interior finishes, fixtures and plumbing hardware already installed. For the project planners, this scenario offers timely advantages as bathroom construction work can be scheduled independently from the building structure. Modules can even be made before the building foundations are constructed. By replicating models in a workshop environment, quality control is much easier to manage to make sure that each meets the same standard.

Modular construction is not exclusively used on buildings either. In fact, most modern bridges have a substantial portion of prefabricated components and a lot of our civil and transportation infrastructure are built with modules as well. Large scale infrastructure projects necessitate modular construction by nature, such as the construction of steel bridges where prefabricated components like girders and deck units are bolted together at the job site.

Modular construction for concrete bridges comes in several varieties, each named appropriately for the technique used: precast segmental and precast girder. The precast segmental method involves dividing the bridge structure lengthwise into transportable modules (often less than 3m for overland transport, larger if the site can be accessed by barge) and joining the modules with high-strength steel tendons. The precast girder method divides the bridge widthwise and is therefore is more suitable for short span bridges.

From bathrooms to bridges, modular construction provides opportunities for all shapes and sizes. Across the globe, modular construction has seen a surge in use as it is able to provide fast solutions for a wide variety of urban issues ranging from lack of affordable culture spaces to a lack of affordable housing. While shipping containers get most of the attention, modular construction has applications which span well beyond unitized buildings.

Andrew is an Experienced Project Manager and Senior Structural Engineer with extensive and diverse experience in projects involving government facilities, heavy industries, mass transit, highway bridges and all types of buildings from proposal submission to handover. During his 10 years with IBI, Andrew has worked in the company’s offices in Canada, United States, and Israel. His exceptional breadth and depth of knowledge in Project Management, Building Engineering and Cloud Computing Architecture allow him to excel in multiple roles at the workplace. In his leisure Andrew likes to explore urban metropolises around the world.

IBI Group’s LEAD program is designed to support employees who have the potential and desire to be future leaders within IBI Group; with the goal of assisting participants to learn about themselves, enhance new skills, and develop leadership competencies.


Image by Angel Schatz on Flickr.

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